Though this column is being published afterwards, I am writing it the day before I fly down to Orlando for the HIMSS 19 Conference. As I gird for this show, much like others, I leverage my many years of attending them to develop a game plan, an approach that will help me yield the greatest benefit from my time spent there. And considering the hotel and airfare, it’s not time purchased inexpensively. More than the money, of course, we all have to be very judicious with our time and not squander it spending too much (or the wrong parts) in places like … bed.
Now don’t get me wrong, when I talk about bed, I’m taking about sleeping or, more specifically, sleeping off a long night or, even worse, a hangover. In my younger days, I’d been late (or at least groggy) for many a conference morning because of enjoying myself a little too much the night before. This is a rookie mistake that I see made as often by those who should know better as by rookies. When we are at a show, we are there for a reason, and that reason is not to party. Drinking too much hurts our performance in many ways.
First off, when we have one too many, we have a loose tongue. Now, I’m not even talking about saying anything really egregious or insulting, but even just being off our game, monopolizing the conversation for longer than we should, being just a little too animated or (very likely) forgetting everything someone has said to us. It’s hard to remember what they’re working on when you’re in your cups, and the sober do not find inebriation the least bit amusing.
But the ramifications go even farther.
Like many conferences, HIMSS has early sessions. To show up with anything other than bloodshot eyes, one probably should rise at 7 latest, and that’s tough to do when you’ve gone to bed at 2. You might get there, but your overall look will make folks ponder what the cat dragged in, and you’ll come across as someone who can’t handle their business.
The above is one of my favorite phrases and I use it with my kids all the time (though I don’t think they know what I mean). Someone who handles their business at a conference has their schedule optimized – it is neither too packed (leaving no room for the unexpected, which you should expect) nor too light. It has you showing up at a sunrise session, for example, and the executive dinner you were invited to. It has you prepared with healthy snacks you can eat between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner (so you don’t have to hit a vending machine and feel like garbage).
Now, your schedule can put you in the right places and the right times, but it’s up to you to act correctly. You can be at a dinner until midnight, have two glasses of wine and get six solid hours of sleep, or you can hit the same dinner, have four glasses of wine and then join the late-night crew for a few more. You can then get a fitful four hours of rest and show up downstairs in the morning to comments like, “What the heck did you do last night?”
These actions, and their resultant reputational hit, are not inconsequential. They create ripples that, like a pebble hitting a pond, flow out into the industry – one, like most, where everybody is separated by very few levels. I have always remembered this lesson, illustrated so well, in “The Hustler” with Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman. Newman plays the young hotshot pool player who wants to knock the king (Jackie Gleason) off his throne. They play a marathon pool session for what appears to be at least 12 hours. In the beginning, Newman is winning easily but, as he wins, he drinks, and his skill diminishes in proportion. Gleason, on the other hand, keeps his cool and his sobriety. After going down big, Gleason goes into the bathroom, freshens up and come out fresh as a daisy. His bright and buoyant appearance shocks the exhausted Newman, who begins to lose game after game, finishing totally destroyed.
But don’t let this lesson be relegated to conferences. There are many instances in business, as in life, where being (and looking) good to go counts for much more than being the life of the party. When you have to be at the top of your game from early morning until late at night for days, take it seriously, take it slowly and take it easy on the booze.