by John Moran
(Reprinted with permission by the author)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year at this time, we asked John Moran, executive media coach for Schwartz Communications, to share some ideas about making the most of trade shows. Given the article’s enthusiastic reception and positive response, we thought it might be helpful to offer it here again. The arrival of HIMSS11, taking place in Orlando this month, prompted this decision. As we said last year, we hope you agree his pointers are useful for any trade show, road show, or key business interaction.
February 2010 – The upcoming HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) conference in Atlanta gives Healthcare IT leaders a rare chance to touch a variety of important constituencies in a very short time period.
One minute you may be addressing a group of investors or technology peers in a presentation, while a short while later you could be describing your market strategy to a reporter in the hallway, or explaining your product to a prospect at your booth or having a quick exchange with an industry analyst at an after-hours reception. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, you may want to keep in mind a few basics.
Be real – too many emerging growth company executives try to project an image greater than their current reality. They exaggerate their current customer count and/or market impact. Worst of all is the claim that no one has a product quite like theirs; hence they don’t really have any true competitors. At that point, you also won’t have an audience. The most common feedback reporters and analysts give to PR people is to make sure their clients don’t claim to be the “one and only” and be willing to engage in buzzword-free conversations. Speaking of which …
Watch the jargon – don’t assume that being at an industry trade show ensures that everyone you speak with at HIMSS will understand the blizzard of buzzwords, acronyms and clichés that run rampant in Healthcare IT. People tend to use jargon 1) out of habit; 2) to demonstrate they really know their stuff; and 3) to ensure they end up in the proper “bucket.” Regardless of the technical validity behind all the jargon and acronyms, executives should guard against using too much techno-speak when talking about your company and products. Your story will seem empty when laced with too many worn-out clichés. Another danger is that your audience may not understand the value and importance of your story. Either way, you lose.
The importance of listening – successful salespeople understand the value of listening to clients and prospects. It is the single best way to understand and address important issues, as well as an ideal way to uncover new opportunities. Surprisingly, many executives fail to listen effectively when talking with investors, reporters, and analysts. They dominate the conversation with a filibuster on their product or service. These executives are sending a signal that says “This conversation is all about me.” Huge mistake! As is the case with customers and prospects, relationships with these folks are enormously important – and they are built on mutual and sincere respect. Separate yourself from the pack by asking about their projects or investments and discussing significant near-term trends.
Each conversation is unique – effective listening skills enable you to tailor each conversation to the listener’s needs and interests. Even though you may be talking to people in Healthcare IT, each conversation will be a bit different. The difference depends on the other person’s level of experience, familiarity (if any) with your company and the kinds of stories they are currently covering, companies they are invested in, and solutions they are exploring. Your ability to treat each conversation uniquely will increase your chances for a desirable result.
Tell business stories – far too many executives insist on delving into the nitty-gritty of their technology. Here’s a news flash – most people don’t care! In these short conference exchanges, talk to them the way you might talk to your CEO or Board of Directors. Emphasize the ways your products can help a business make money and gain an edge in the marketplace. Tell quick stories about your products delivering real-world value. Whenever possible, dress it up with ROI stats – and offer to put them in touch with your customers after the conference.
Exude energy and confidence – it’s infectious. Whether at your booth, in the hall or at a reception, the conversations at HIMSS are generally short and, hopefully, a prelude to more detailed discussions after the conference. How you deliver your message may leave more of an impact than what you say. Yes, you will probably tell the same story many times during the week, but each time must be as dynamic as the first. Remember, no one wants to listen to a person go through the motions. So keep your energy level high.
Effectively communicating key corporate messages is a skill taken for granted by far too many business people. For example, whether they admit it or not, most executives go into interviews with little or no preparation and they simply answer the questions they’re asked. If the article or report doesn’t come out to the executive’s satisfaction, then the blame is usually placed on the reporter or analyst who “just didn’t get it.” Chances are the executive did a poor job of conveying the story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. A better approach is to look in the mirror – that’s the person with the greatest impact on near-term coverage and the building of solid relationships that lead to continued long-term coverage.
HIMSS10 will provide you with dozens of opportunities to interact with clients, prospects, reporters and analysts. Keep in mind that they are talking to many people as well while at the show. After awhile, most of the names and stories become a blur. Stand out from others by listening well and keeping your remarks simple and meaningful. Your objective in Atlanta is to plant the seeds for discussions after the show that will be fruitful in 2010 and beyond.
About the Author
John Moran, Vice President, Schwartz Communications, has over 25 years experience in the communications industry, having spent 15 years as a radio broadcaster and the past decade in public relations. Since joining Schwartz Communications in 2000, John has represented a variety of technology clients and services firms. He also leads the Agency’s executive media coaching program and is part of the team that creates digital audio and video content for Schwartz clients.
In his role as executive media coaching specialist, John has helped hundreds of corporate leaders, healthcare professionals, attorneys, venture capitalists and technologists from North America and Europe. Combining years of broadcasting experience with a flair for translating complex business stories into compelling news items, John assists executives with message development, preparation techniques and presentation skills.
John Moran can be reached at 781-684-0770 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter: @jfmoran