As the week went on, and we got to chat with attendees who have been to MANY past HIMSS conferences, two things really became clear to me.
First, by all accounts, this year’s gathering was FAR smaller than recent years. The large open spaces with park benches, where vendors had pulled-out, weren’t supposed to be there. But to me and many other attendees, they were a welcome feature. We definitely took advantage of them to sort thru materials received, jot-down notes and thoughts from seminars attended, to catch-up on emails and generally just take a break from this (very large) conference. In short, if I ever attend another HIMSS, I hope they incorporate spaces like this into the plan.
The second and more important thing is just how important it is to “SHOW UP”. I “attended” HIMSS Europe this year, which was 100% virtual. Both my impression, and statements from other attendees was, “There is ‘virtually’ no value in a digital conference.” Sure, I mean, if you enjoy sitting in front of your computer in your underwear watching 8+ hours of webinars, knock yourself out! That’s YouTube’s business model. But it is NOT even in the same universe as the value of attending a conference IN PERSON.
Let me count some of the ways…
- We’re humans and we make connections with people by interacting directly. The sensory connection you get from Zoom is a tragic mockery compared with even coming masked-face to masked-face.
- Making the effort to “show-up”, both on the part of the attendees and vendors demonstrates a level of commitment far beyond “dialing-in to watch a seminar.” Early in life, my father taught me how important it is to “show up.” To be present, on-time and prepared. In my adult life, I’ve always found this to be true. Compare “I made the effort to be here” versus “I was too busy/afraid to venture out”. Which one would you rather hear from a vendor, a client or hell, just a friend?
- Unscheduled Interactions. Whether it’s an unexpected booth with a product or service you weren’t familiar with, or hearing a random stranger discuss some issue in their world, there is nearly unlimited potential that results from making the effort to show-up. Several times, as I stood looking at a vendor’s booth, I listened to other attendees talk about their business or a vendor explaining how they’ve addressed something in the past. That interaction can NEVER be replicated with a teleconference.
- Social functions. It seemed that many vendors put in the effort (and expense) of making opportunities to interact with attendees in a more relaxed setting. One way was “lunch and learn” where we not only could take a break and eat but it involved sitting around a table with a number of other individuals who shared some interest in that topic. If not for this format, I might never have met those folks. And there were also after-hours events, which really gave us the chance to meet new people and even some old friends and discuss what we’re experiencing in these unusual times. Could I have requested a “zoom cocktail hour” with those people? How? I didn’t even know they existed prior to that meeting!
In the weeks leading-up to HIMSS, I asked each person I met (professionally) whether or not they would be attending in-person. Many were people who don’t ever attend this conference, but one colleague told me “No, I really like video conferences. They’re much more efficient than traveling.” And at each encounter I had at HIMSS I thought of him because, except from two scheduled vendor appointments, there was literally ZERO chance I would have been able to connect with the people I connected with or discover the products and services that I stumbled across. Googling is no substitute for walking up to a booth and saying “Please tell me about your product.”