If you’ve ever sat through a speech or presentation at a health IT conference and thought to yourself, ‘I could do that,’ you’re right—you could.
Sharing your knowledge with your peers at health IT meetings can be a lot of fun and offers personal and professional benefits. It’s a great way to meet new contacts, build your reputation in your industry, and the practice you’ll gain speaking to groups can translate to other aspects of your career, giving you confidence and experience to crush your next big management presentation, for example.
Tech entrepreneur Kate Matsudaira is a veteran event speaker and her advice to others who want to see themselves on stage is to get past the fear of rejection. “It’s easy to think, “Why would anyone want to hear what I have to say?
“But everyone who’s up there is there because they have something to say that the event organizers thought was worth sharing,” writes Matsdaira in her blog post about conference speaking. “Anyone can have a great idea, and the people putting on conferences want to offer the best content they can for the people who attend.”
Mike Moran, a Program Director at HIMSS, agrees that content is king when choosing presenters for an event. "Past speaking experience can be a plus, but it is not mandatory," says Moran. "The topic is very important. It must be timely and address the event’s theme and subject-matter focus."
Choosing a Topic
So how do you decide what to talk about? A good starting point is to share an experience or perspective that others can benefit from. For example, lessons learned during an EMR implementation.
Programmer and speaker Ashe Dryden suggests taking notes when you're learning something new as a way to capture ideas for a talk. “How did you expect something to work? Did it work differently? How would you compare it to something similar that you know well? Channel your learning into a story,” says Dryden.
Conferences are also interested in expertise around new IT trends and issues in the news. Ransomware, for example, is a hot topic for this year’s IT security conferences. According to Dryden, anything where people “have more questions than answers” makes for an interesting talk.
Finding Speaking Opportunities
For familiarity and comfort, it’s easiest to seek out speaking opportunities with organizations or groups that you are active in. Local user groups and meetups and local or state chapters of a professional organization are great places to get your feet wet. It also helps to know or network with organizers of local meetings and tell them you are interested in presenting.
If you’re targeting national conferences, most will have websites where you can find their speaker requirements. Also try sites like Calling All Papers and Lanyard that curate conference links and news about speaking opportunities.
Larger meetings try to line up speakers from six months to a year in advance, so be aware of their lead times in your planning. Established, well-known conferences, while prestigious, can be difficult to break into for first-time presenters. Be open to newer and lesser-known events that are trying to gain an audience.
Preparing an Abstract
When you propose a talk for an event, you don’t have to have your entire presentation fully thought out, but you will usually need a synopsis or abstract. This is your pitch to the conference organizers. Different events require different types of information, but the basics include:
- A title and a short write-up of what you’re proposing to talk about
- Background on what makes you an expert, including any blogs or external validation of your expertise
- Key takeaways: explain what an audience will learn from your presentation
Some conferences only ask for a 100 to 200 word write-up. Others may require a more detailed outline or ask you to prepare a video. Whatever the requirements, make sure you follow them carefully. Don’t overwhelm reviewers with supplemental information that isn’t asked for, and don’t ignore explicit word counts for your abstract or deadlines for submission. You should also read the event overview to ensure your proposal is in keeping with the conference theme.
Remember that there is competition for speaking slots—not every proposal gets accepted—so add some sizzle. If you’re proposing a case study, show that you have compelling and specific results to share. If you’re positioning yourself as an expert, explain why you have a unique perspective. "Include a catchy title," adds Moran. "This will catch the reviewer's attention."
And don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback before you submit your idea. A peer in your IT group or a colleague in marketing can help you put a fresh spin on your proposal that will help grab you the attention of event organizers.