I have a love-hate relationship with speaking at industry conferences. I spend a good amount of time seeking out opportunities, developing ideas for presentations, filling out speaker submissions, and waiting to hear if I’ve been accepted by the conference. If you’re going to speak at a substantial number of conferences, there’s a certain amount of work that you come to expect. It comes with the territory: preparing the actual presentations, coordinating with co-presenters, meeting conference deadlines for supplying them with materials, and making travel arrangements. To be clear, this is something I want to do. This is by choice. I thrive on sharing what I’ve learned through my own experiences, whether that’s through my blog, by writing an article for a publication, or through a speaking engagement.
Of course, not every speaker submission that I send in is accepted. It is always somewhat crushing to get an email from an organization saying you weren’t selected to speak at their conference. Even though intellectually I know that the law of averages dictates that not every submission will be well received, it is still disappointing. Again, that’s part of the process.
The speaking engagements can also be disappointing, although this is the exception rather than the rule. To be sure, you never know if your topic is going to attract a sizable audience. A lot depends on the flow of the conference, the time of day, and the other sessions with which you are competing. I remember years ago presenting on the last day of the SHSMD conference on a sunny afternoon in San Francisco; my recollection is that I had less than 20 people in the room for my presentation. Prior to the start of the presentation I walked through the hallways of the conference center and they were nearly vacant. it was my belief (perhaps a rationalization) that the majority of the attendees had either already hit the road or were out enjoying San Francisco. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. My presentation was no less important because of the size of the audience. As always, I gave it my all.
I’m in the middle of healthcare marketing conference season. In the last 60 days I’ve been extremely fortunate to have speaking engagements at:
- AAMC GIA National Professional Development Conference
- Virginia Society for Healthcare Marketing & Public Relations
- Physicians Strategies Summit
- Healthcare Marketing Strategies Summit
And I’ve got one more to go. Later this month I’ll be speaking at the Spring Conference of the New England Society for Healthcare Communications in Boston. That is absolutely one of my favorite conferences of the year. It is a relatively small group and the members have always made me feel welcome. I’ll be presenting with Brooke Tyson Hynes of Tufts Medical Center. Brooke is a terrific presenter in her own right, so it should be a blast!
What I love is when everything goes right with a presentation. That’s the way I feel about my recent speaking engagement at the National Healthcare Marketing Strategies Summit in Orlando. I presented with Jill Lawlor of Cooper University Hospital and Lyle Green of MD Anderson. Our room was set up to hold 60 people. As the audience filtered into the room, it became evident that we would need more seating (a great feeling for a presenter). So the conference staff brought in another 20 chairs. We had 78 people in the audience and it was standing room only! What made it most rewarding was the engagement with the audience throughout the presentation, and the number of questions and comments immediately following the talk. We weren’t perfect. As a presenter you never are. But we did share great content with the audience – information they could take back to their hospitals and begin to act upon. That’s always my goal.
The benefits of presenting at conference far outweigh the challenges. There are so many good things that come from each speaking engagement. I learn so much as I prepare my presentation. It is a great exercise to be forced to package your learning into bite sized conceptual nuggets. You need to know a topic really well if you’re going to be able to convey it successfully to an audience of your peers. Of course it is rewarding to share information with a group, see their excitement, and hear directly from them how they plan to act upon some of the new ideas once they return to their hospital. That is the best payoff.