The Art and Science of HIMSS Networking
By Jodi Amendola
By now you have scheduled your meetings, RSVP’d to all your party invitations, and if you’re a Type A personality, you’ve probably already packed your briefcase and most of your suitcase. But you still have some prep work to do if you want to maximize the benefits you receive from attending HIMSS, which remains the best annual forum for networking with prospects, customers, the media, industry analysts, and potential partners.
To achieve success with your networking efforts you must:
1) Know what you want to accomplish (e.g. networking, media interviews, intelligence gathering, lead generation, scouting new partners and/or business opportunities, etc.;
2) Be prepared; and
3) Follow up on your leads after the show.
Sounds pretty simple, right? But the key isn’t accruing a stack of business cards, reciting well-rehearsed talking points, or sending follow-up e-mails before your plane touches down at your local airport. Those activities will probably yield some results, but to achieve the greatest possible success you should think quality vs. quantity.
Just between us… the real secret for getting the most out of HIMSS is getting people to listen—not just hear—you, and to remember you and some of what you discussed. Ideally, you will provide at least one “light bulb” moment that resonates and sticks with your audience. And that’s not simple–or is it?
Below are my secrets for building relationships with the movers and shakers at HIMSS. Remember, you will be competing with lots of noise, hype, giveaways, competitors claiming they’re as good or better than your company, short attention spans, and overstimulated brains. Here’s some tips:
- You never know where your next lead or opportunity will come from. While it might be a pre-planned meeting, you may meet your next business partner or client in the elevator, waiting for or sharing a taxi, or like one of my colleagues, waiting in line at Starbuck’s. Don’t be shy. Smile and take the opportunity to prospect, but do so in a friendly, conversational manner.
- Industry pundits, analysts, and editors are overwhelmed with people and pitches. To break through the trade show tinnitus, you need to be different and compelling. That doesn’t mean you have to be a comedian, the ultimate social butterfly, or the next Steve Jobs. You do have to be you authentic and passionate in certain areas – no one wants to talk to a robot — but be concise and to the point. Why? Because, in reality, you are selling yourself first and your product or company second.
- Get organized. Plan ahead and figure out what you want to say to the various types of professionals who attend HIMSS. You may want to stress different information and benefits depending on whether you’re talking to a CIO, a CMIO, the head of contracting services, or the vice president responsible for performance improvement. Remember you may only have 30 seconds to deliver your elevator pitch and capture someone’s attention so make it relevant. It’s okay to weave in humor if it feels natural, but don’t force it.
- Explain what your company does in simple terms. No marketing fluff — just tell them what you offer and explain why they should care. Be specific about the pain points that your product or services address. This information, framed within a question and answer format, is often an effective means to capture their attention. “How much time do providers waste trying to reach patients about lab results? An average of six calls back and forth. In addition to that time drain, patients become frustrated as they wait for days to hear their diagnosis. With our solution, patients are instantly alerted with a text or e-mail the moment their lab results are available.”
- To break the ice or establish a personal connection, learn and share something personal during your meetings. What’s their best stress reliever during HIMSS or their trick for enduring flight delays? If they are more reserved, start by sharing a story about you, such as how much you’re looking forward to your daughter’s nightly rendition of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” via Skype.
- Try to include easy-to-understand metrics. “Our hospital clients have seen a 40 percent average increase in patient satisfaction within six months of implementation. Patients love it. Providers love it. It’s a win-win.” You can always follow up with more complex data after HIMSS.
- Do some research to prepare for scheduled meetings. For example, if you have media interviews, review their 2013 editorial calendars for relevant future article topics and weave those specifics into your conversations. “Our Chief Technology Officer is deeply involved with helping our customers achieve Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements. We’d be happy to provide her as a resource for your August Roundup on Meaningful Use or as a sidebar to your October article on EHRs.”
- Express appreciation for their time, reiterate the calls to action, and leave them with a smile. “Thanks again, Bob. I’ll contact you next week regarding the August and October columns,” or, “Great to meet you Steve. I’m impressed with your commitment to ongoing performance improvement. I’ll be in touch next week to go over how we can help.” It’s always a good idea to let them know that, “If you ever need my help, just give me a ring or send an e-mail.” Remember, networking is a two-way street.
- Fulfill your promises. Follow up with an e-mail within a week regarding the opportunities discussed. Don’t forget to mention at least one of the personal aspects that surfaced, such as, “Did you enjoy your tour of the Garden District as much as you expected?” or, “Were you able to get your Starbuck’s before your important meeting?” They’ll notice and appreciate that you cared enough to pay attention.
Truly connecting with people is both an art and a science, as any great leader will tell you, but it’s less daunting if you remember that you’ll mostly be relating to one or two people at a time. The important thing is to be yourself. Smile and they will smile with you. Networking doesn’t have to be a chore or intimidating. Showing up prepared with the right attitude can even make it fun as well as profitable. Have a great HIMSS!
Jodi Amendola is CEO of Amendola Communications of Scottsdale, AZ.