The Healthcare Information and Management and Systems Society (HIMSS) focuses on optimizing health care through information and technology. And one of the best ways to promote that mission is with its annual conference.
We spoke recently with two key organizers of the HIMSS conference, Executive Vice President Carla Smith and Senior Director of Exhibits and Meeting Services Elli Riley. During this chat, we discussed how the conference uses technology to engage attendees, attract and retain visitors, and forge connections among all their stakeholders.
What were you most excited about for this year’s conference?
Carla Smith: This year, we infused the name of our event with the word “global,” to become HIMSS 18 Global Conference and Exhibition. HIMSS is a global organization focused on the best uses of information to positively transform health and healthcare, so having a global conference helps us achieve a cornerstone of our mission.
Though it has been a part of our experience for many years, we are openly embracing the term “global” to help our audience — our exhibitors, our sponsors, and our attendees — understand the scope of this event.
Can you describe the audience for your event?
CS: Health information technology touches so many people, and it’s important to us that our conference speaks to all of them. We have buyers of digital health, we have users of digital health, and we also have corporations that sell into the digital health space. This audience spans an entire range, from the R&D of startups and entrepreneurs through to mature businesses. It covers the acquisition, implementation, and use of healthcare information technology. And then it goes beyond that to the patient and consumer side of the technologies and the information they can use to transform their health status and stay well in the first place.
Why a live event? With such a tech-oriented audience and subject matter, some might say connecting in person is unnecessary.
CS: You said the key word: “connect.” At the end of the day, we are all social creatures. The human species was built to work in groups. So, people come to an event like this to share and learn firsthand from each other. They create new connections, and they learn new things that they get excited to use when they get back to work.
Elli Riley: Face-to-face meetings are critical in this industry — and every other industry, as well. When you can actually meet face to face with a client, you get to know them better. You get to understand what their needs are in a different way than you would over the phone or by email. That's the power of an exhibition and conference: when you bring people face to face.
You’ve worked with Freeman for many years. How has the relationship between Freeman and HIMSS evolved to serve the forward-looking mission of your conference?
CS: We consider Freeman to be our partners. They’re with us every step of the way on a journey of relentless innovation. When we sit down with our Freeman colleagues, we say, “Tell us what is innovative. What is just starting to be used that you can teach us about?”
And together, we invent that which does not yet exist. Sometimes, we explore beyond the cutting edge to the bleeding edge of digital innovations. We pilot and test new ideas in our events, and then scale increasingly over the next few years.
We frequently hear that thanks to the partnership between Freeman and HIMSS, other events can use some of our innovations so they can experience success.
ER: We don’t want our show to feel like the same old thing every single day. We want it to feel different and look different every day. Our partners, like Freeman, help us with that. They really bring our show to life using the power of today’s technology, whether it’s helping our attendees navigate the show floor or using LED monitors to change the messaging up every day.
Tell us about some of the innovative highlights of HIMSS 18.
CS: We have some innovations on the floor that I’ve found to be really, really interesting. For example, our Developer Innovation Lab and the Innovation Live pavilion. Our Interoperability Showcase has been an enormous draw. We confront real-world healthcare issues in there. For example, how do you use technology to manage hepatitis C? How does that tie into labor and delivery and transplant care?
There are just so many interesting things going on, and you get to see all of them on the show floor.
How do you keep top-notch exhibitors coming back year after year?
ER: Our fantastic retention rate has a lot to do with what we provide our exhibitors. All our pre-show marketing is focused on connecting the right audience to the products and services they’re looking to buy. We do a lot of data analytics on what the buyers want and what the sellers want to receive, and we can use those analytics to pair our exhibitors accordingly, so they have a strong ROI.
And does Freeman help with the exhibitor experience?
ER: Freeman does an amazing job at providing turnkey packages that really make it easy for smaller exhibitors when they’re planning before the show and on site. Also, the pre-show webinar we put together for our exhibitors helps them manage expectations and prepare for a successful show.
You mentioned ROI. How important is that metric to your exhibitors and to your event?
ER: ROI is one of the biggest things our exhibitors care about. They want to get their names out there. They want to get their products out there. And when you bring the right buyers to the right show using the right technologies, you can really help your exhibitors reach their ROI goals.
CS: As show organizers, we measure success in multiple ways. Of course, financial ROI is one of them. Does it match our expectations?
The other big metric we follow is attendee and exhibitor experience. It's absolutely pivotal to us that our attendees, our exhibitors, and our sponsors have a powerfully meaningful and valuable experience with us. And so, we read every single survey that comes in. They are the voices that guide us into the future.