Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interbike 2010 - Part 2

Wednesday dawned reasonably bright and early. Kevin had been up for a while, working on our unnamed project, while I'd been in la-la land, trying to recover from the long hours from the previous Saturday till Tuesday.

We headed over to the Media Center, a bit late, with me a bit nervous. I felt like I was at the back of the field with 2 to go. I had faith in myself but I still needed to have a couple things go my way.

We got to the Media Center early enough that the AC hadn't kicked in yet. I started to worry - it seemed awfully warm, and I really didn't feel comfortable wearing my new "dressy" jeans if just sitting made me break a sweat.

Kevin and I had to scramble a bit to finish preparation for the day. Like everything at a temporary little city, which is what a trade show is at some level, things still popped up magically, while we were walking around. Coffee, breakfast, network connections, printers... If I was a character in a Pixar movie, I'd be walking along and all the booths and lights and bikes and stuff would be sprouting as I walked by.

Of course in real life it doesn't work like that. I remember working for a vendor - we went crazy doing set up, even crazier doing breakdown. I remembered that and thanked my lucky stars that my job involved just the show.

I sat at one of the tables, feeling that stunned feeling you get when someone drops you off in a different time zone, in a different place, lacking sleep, and with no reference to the time of day. It could have been 2 AM, 5 AM, or 8 AM.

I felt like I had a lot to do but at the same time I had nothing. My brain started to freeze up.

Then, relief flooded over me.

Or, to be precise, cool air started blanketing the open ceiling media center, wafting in from above.


And, of course, Kevin finished his all important prep. We were on.

I made my first rookie mistake. I experienced my first lost opportunity - go to the huge crowd waiting to come in and get some ideas on what dealers wanted to see, why they were here.

I learned the hard way that in video media, you can't capture things that already happened. If you want to capture someone breaking a world record bike jump, you can't ask the rider to do it again. I can just imagine the scene.

"Hey, can you jump that 200 feet again? My camera didn't finish booting up when you made the jump."

Likewise, if you see anything, and I mean anything, you have to capture it right then, right now. Carpe Diem ("Seize the day" or "Seize the moment"), as they say. Ironic of course, for me, that I failed to grasp the full meaning of that little phrase. I thought I was doing the "Carpe Diem" thing well enough when I decided to take on the InterbikeTV thing. I realized it went further.

Mental note for next year - don't hesitate.

Instead, with my first appointment at least an hour away and my cameraman gone for a bit, I strolled down to the "Power Seminar". No, this isn't about power like being a king, it was about power like watts power. You know, power meters, and developments in the field.

I listened to the SRM guys talk a bit (I have a minor connection to them since I own a now obsolete SRM wired powermeter), but as they wrapped up, and well after I spotted one Jens Voigt sitting at the "presenters' table", I had to go.

Time to work.

Compared to the somewhat casual Tuesday, for Wednesday the media work really intensified. I had an interview scheduled literally every half hour for pretty much the whole day. Although it may not seem like much, when you combine it with criss-crossing the confusing convention floor (I'm still not fluent in "booth number speak" although I didn't get totally lost), waiting for the right people to break free, clear out people from the desired background areas, well, 30 minutes left almost no room for relaxation.

I rushed back and forth for the day, talking to all sorts of people, covering mainly stuff I could relate to (road and related).

I talked a bit with our two cameramen, Philip and Gabe. The latter, as pointed out earlier, was David's cameraman, and with David's experience and Gabe's savvy, they made a killer team. Philip would be my cameraman for just two days, with Javier stepping in his place for Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately by the time I built a rapport with Philip, he left.

But for Wednesday it was rush, rush, rush.

Initially, based on instructions, I would do a "pre-interview". With very limited time for actual talking, it'd be best for everyone involved - the vendor, me, and you the audience - to focus on what was important.

It's like the whole money thing. If you wanted to cover the topic of "new money from the last year", what would you cover? You'd talk about the new fives or tens or twenties. Who cares about one dollar bills? They haven't changed for eons. It's the quarters and nickels and that weird penny with a shield on it which have changed. Or those new bills mentioned already... you get the idea.

I wanted to talk about new and exciting. Talking to someone about something that's the same isn't exciting.

"Yeah, our cable is the same from last year."

That's kind of boring. Talking about new and cool stuff, that's fun. It gets me amped. And if I'm amped, then hopefully you'll feel amped too.

With the pre-interviews, I found an interesting trend. I'd walk up to the booth, find my contact, and ask them what's cool. Their eyes would light up, they'd start talking, gesturing, grinning, and they'd get amped. I'd get amped.

I'd give word to Philip, he'd start rolling the film (so to speak - he really had two monstrous memory cards in his camera), I'd start the piece...

And the booth person would go kind of dead.

Eyes kind of "caught in headlights" look. Stiff posture. Hands held self-consciously at their sides. Wooden. Stilted.


I thought of Ender's Game, a fantastic book by Orson Scott Card. And if you want to read the book and enjoy it fully, scroll down until you see the word HERE in bold all caps again, and try not to read the stuff between here and there.

Okay, so those that have read Ender's Game, you understand how the book goes. And you'll immediately realize what I'm about to say, so I'm not going to say it. Because the "pre-interview" was the key. The "interview" ended up being worse. Once it's official, the person being interviewed suddenly felt self-conscious, started worrying about what to say, and their brains locked up. When it was just a "pre-interview", things went fine. So as to protect folks about to read Ender's Game who can't scroll without accidentally speed reading this paragraph, that's where I'll leave it.

HERE (for those that will read Ender's Game, continue on here.)

If you skipped down to here, don't worry, it's just an analogy that you missed. It's not major and I'll share with you my tactics on interviewing below.

Eventually, I realized that the pre-interviews seemed more engaging than the actual interviews. And although I may not watch a lot of TV, I absolutely hate watching self-conscious people talking to an interviewer.

I started to ask folks pre-interview questions, like how the company got started (i.e. if there was a story there), or what was new for 2011, or what they wanted to talk about.

Then, as they started to answer, I'd cut them off.

"Save it for the camera," I'd tell them.

Most of the folks literally clamped their mouths shut, like a teacher just yelled at them to shut up. They struggled to contain that great story, the great product, the great thing they've wanted to tell the world about by screaming about it from the top of the tallest building in the world. They were dying to tell me about whatever-it-was, the related whatever-it-was-two, and finally the whatever-it-was-three.

And I'd hold my hand up and keep that dam plugged, keep them from releasing all that enthusiasm.

I'd signal to Philip to roll film.

And we'd start the interview.

It's a lot of psychology, a lot of trying to read the person on the other side. I tried to steer them politely but firmly in certain directions. Focus on the question, focus on the concept, focus on the product.

I have to admit I let them go past the allotted time too often.

Like every time.

Okay, I got too much info. I thought it'd be easier to cut long things than to have painfully short interviews where you, the viewer, feels like, "Wow, that guy had nothing to say!"

I have to admit that I had a ton of fun doing this. I mean, yeah, it was really stressful at first. Then I realized that for the interviewee, the person on the other side of the mic, it was worse. They had their business on the line, their livelihood, and a bad interview... well, it'd be bad.

The key was that, for most of my interviews, I felt more at ease than the interviewee.

I'd help calm them down a bit, or try to. The super-pro interviewees helped me feel at ease. It was like one cooperative bike race, where both sides worked their strengths to help the other side. We both wanted a good interview, for different reasons, and cooperation and helpfulness would help us both meet our goals.

You'll have to go to Interbike.tv to see exactly how things turned out.

Alessandro Petacchi, and his Wilier.
He's skinny looking, especially since I think of him as a big, powerful sprinter.

The actual company name is Wilier-Triestina. The first part is pronounced "will-ee-err". Not "will-ee-ay", which would be French. I got Wilier down quickly, but it took me literally something like 5 takes to say Triestina.


I can say it now, of course.

Wednesday I met with a lot of folks. I learned a lot. Heard some cool stories that aren't really video or print fodder. Heard others that you'll be able hear (and see) on Interbike.tv.

At the end of the show day Wednesday we headed down for the Dealer of the Year awards. A certain Eddy Merckx made the presentation. Since everyone and their brother wanted to see Eddy, this meant that the crowds had to be tightly controlled.

Gabe went in to cover the event. Although not a cyclist, he already realized the importance of that Eddy Merckx.

To my surprise one of the cameramen dragged me along with him. Flashing our badges, we stepped into the hall. Once inside he told me to leave the bag I carried in for him behind a screen. And then told me I could get something to eat or something, releasing me.

In other words, he knew I wanted to go inside, and, without any prompting, he got me in the room.

I realized then that he was one of those "good guys". You know those guys. They have empathy, have good judgment, and know when it's okay to give out favors and such.

I should point out that I didn't abuse my presence in the room - I didn't trip Eddy, no hooting and hollering (except when appropriate, like when they introduced Eddy or he presented the award), and I modestly asked for one glass of wine.

Of course, when I ran into an old time friend Rob, we got to talking. He had blown by me on one of the climbs on the Lake Mead ride - a (real) Cat 2, he could climb and time trial in a manner I simply cannot comprehend. We tried to out-modest each other.

"You'd always kick my ass, I can't believe how fast you can time trial."
"No, you'd always kick my ass, I can't believe how hard you can jump."

Then we'd laugh and talk about something else. We caught up on gossip, and...

Suddenly that wine glass gained a couple ounces of weight.

I looked up, surprised.

My new best friend, the bartender, had leaned over and refilled my glass. I looked at him - he gave me a big grin. I could only grin back.

Rob laughed.

Then the King himself walked towards us. I took a picture of Rob with Eddy, who, unlike on the showroom floor, had a wry grin on his face. He seemed to enjoy this better than being cooped up behind a desk while signing countless autographs.

Rob definitely got a shot for the mantlepiece.

Before we left the bartender asked if I wanted my glass topped off.

I looked down at my mostly full glass. Looked at Rob. Looked at the bartender.

"You can go out with the glass, this is Vegas," he said to me.

That cinched it for me.

"Top it off then."

Suffice it to say that the rest of the night went by in a blur. Or haze. Or both. Let's just say it involves eating a burger at a country music themed bar.

Next up? Thursday. Day Two of Interbike inside.

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