“Five meetings a day!?!?!?!?” stormed my boss. “That’s ridiculous. You should have double, triple that. You should be meeting with vendors every half hour, all day!”
“Are you serious?” I asked. “If I do that, I’m going to be a useless, frazzled zombie by lunch. I’m going to be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and I’m definitely not going to be a good representative of the brand.”
“I don’t care,” he continued. “That’s what I want. That’s what you should be doing.”
From my best recollection (this took place many moons ago), I added a few more meetings, but never came close to reaching the number he had in mind. I know myself, and I knew what kind of shape I’d be in if I fully complied with his wishes.
Fast-forward to a few days before this HIMSS and our Managing Editor Kate Gamble says, “I’m so thankful I have the freedom to approach this show in my own way, to determine what I do with my time so I’ll get the most value for me and the publication.”
Of course, I couldn’t agree with her more. Since I’ve been the one deciding what I do with my time, the meeting-crazed approach has turned into a much more relaxed affair. I book meetings with people I know — mostly to catch up and strengthen the bonds we already have. But my favorite part of the show, and the most cherished part of my schedule, is the free time. I can imagine this is akin to the “free play” time my son has in pre-school.
I like having free time not because I’ll be doing nothing, but because anything can happen. I’ve spent hours at trade shows outside the session rooms talking to folks who — like me — were getting more out of our chat than the PowerPoint going on inside. We’d just find a place to sit and relax, to talk, to interact.
In fact, outside a session at this year’s HIMSS, I joked with CIO David Chou, “If you always know where you’re going, those are the only places you’re going to wind up.” In fact, I ran into David while lost in the vast catacombs of McCormick Place.
At a previous show, I honestly remember once sitting with my buddy Dale Sanders for half a day as people keeping coming by us going in and out of conference sessions.
“You two still goofing off?” they’d ask with a laugh.
“Yup,” we’d say.
So I’ve accepted the fact that this is what I love. I love FREEDOM to go with the moment, to bounce from one conversation to the next, and continue any one of them as long as I want. This approach is much better to me than the customary 25-minute speed date, the last few moments of which are spent clock watching, followed by, “Sorry, gotta run to my next meeting. It’s clear across the exhibit floor.” (Picture cloud-of-dust cartoon exit.)
If you were at this week’s HIMSS, I hope you took the time to really experience the folks you saw there, to talk with them, to look them in the eye (and not look over their shoulder to see who else might be around), because that was the whole point. With all our communication gadgets, we are likely losing the art of real conversation — the kind where we feed off each other’s tone of voice and body language in a dance as artful as any that requires tights.
Long term success is, and will always be, about the reputation you build and the relationships you forge. This week was a great opportunity to spread the former and strengthen the latter — something hard to do when you’re cutting every conversation short to start the next one.