What I’ve Learned from My First Big Trade Show

Detroit Auto Show 2009 Journalists photo
Everybody in this photo is a journalist.

I just finished covering the Detroit Auto Show as a journalist for Discovery. Here are a few things that I learned:

Lamborghinis with models photo
Care for a foot rub?

1) What works in a 5 seconds TV clip doesn’t always work as well in person. The pretty girls standing next to exotic supercars (Ferraris, Lamborghinis) that you usually only see briefly, well, they look a bit more awkward when you see them standing there all day. I almost felt like going up there and asking: “You want me to bring you a chair?”

2) Old experienced journalists, especially those with white hair and pirate mustaches, are experts at cutting in front of you during a one-on-one, and they’ll ask 3-4 questions and then say: “One more question”.

And then they’ll ask 10 more. As soon as the interviewee is done answering, they say something like “Now…” or “Ok, but…” and then take a few seconds to think of a follow up question. These words are just placeholders so that nobody cuts in.

Elon Musk photo
Elon Musk.

3) Even if you meet the people you really want to meet, you might not actually be able to have a conversation with them. I was looking forward to meeting Elon Musk of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity, etc.

I actually got to talk to him a bit, but it was only while photographers were asking him to pose in front of various things (the electric Roadster, the car frame and powertrain, etc).

He was laughing at the situation a bit, and I said: “Maybe you should’ve brought a piece of Falcon 9.” He said: “Yeah, but it wouldn’t fit in here. It’s 180 feet tall,” and I said: “I hear it’s all assembled now,” and he said that it was, and something about testing next summer, but then the press conference had to start rolling.

Compared to most other CEOs who gave speeches at press conferences, Elon wasn’t very smooth, but I’m kind of glad he’s not some smooth-talking manager-type. He rose to the top because of his brains, not his silver tongue. Not that you can’t have both, but if I had to choose…

After the announcements were done, he was surrounded by a horde of TV cameras and I never could get close to him again.

All photos by Michael Graham Richard.

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