Health Conference Organisers, We Need To Talk…
I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream…or lie on the floor and have a tanty like a 5 year old.
It was the end of a long day at an Allied Health Conference, and my expectations of the day had been left well and truly unmet.
Because in our wonderful current era of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, we are still being subjected to overcrowded powerpoint slides, meaningless stats, and bureaucratic whinging.
I can’t help but feel that Health Conferences are stuck in the 1990s.
Yes, they have added a conference Twitter hashtag, which a small percentage of delegates use. And yes, I now find my way around the conference using an app.
Despite these efforts, however, many aspects of health conferences remain archaic. I’m keen to get a few things off my chest. These are the things that frustrated me about the Allied Health Conference that I recently attended:
Health conferences are expensive to attend. They are a stand-alone event, and the organizers try and recoup costs with the attendance and expo fees. This puts it out of reach of most of your average Joe health professionals. Entrepreneurial types can attend day long business and marketing conferences for far less, that will impact their business more, so they often choose not to attend. Because of the pricing, most people who attend these conferences are people whose work paid for them to attend.
Over representation of public sector delegates
Following on from the previous point, many of the delegates turn out to be public sector employees and academics. This provides a very skewed perspective of the health industry. Conference content tends to be based on theory, extremely slow track public sector trends and changes, and loads of stats. There is an under-representation of private sector action taking, ‘real world’ experiences, and innovative ideas that are bypassing bureaucracy and changing the health landscape.
Poor choice of expo stands
The delegates of the health conference were public sector employees and Uni based academics. The expo stands were largely Universities and education organisations. Can anyone say ‘Preaching to the converted’? Health professionals and academics have already been to University. They don’t need to be flogged a degree. There was a massive target audience mismatch here, and therefore opportunities missed.
Lack of private sector contribution
Where were the entrepreneurs? Nowhere to be seen. (Except for my 15 minute presentation.) I am sure that some entrepreneurs in the past have left a bad taste in conference organizers’ mouths by using the stage to ‘sell’. So I am going to call us out on that. To my fellow entrepreneurs, if given the stage, don’t spray your branding over everything, flog your program or mention your business name an unnatural amount.
At a health conference, entrepreneurs need to provide so much ‘unbranded’, genuine value that people are compelled to reach out to us. One slide at the end with contact details is all you need for people to find you.
Only then, will we be more likely to be invited to present at health conferences. This is the approach that I took with my presentation. The content was not about my business, so questions about it naturally came up in question time. I have also since been contacted by people as a direct result of the presentations.
Over representation of research and stats
I have a very healthy respect for research, and feel that evidence based practice is a crucial part of every health profession. But if I have to look at another complicated pie chart, graph or table I think I will scream. There is true skill in making research findings applicable, relevant and easy to understand. I encourage all academics to continue to develop their information dissemination skills. Us entrepreneurs can help you with this, just ask. God knows there is plenty you can help us with in return.
The Conference Showbag
Before the conference started I sat down with my free barista coffee (this was one thing they nailed) and my conference showbag. I excitedly rifled through the contents. I was disappointed. There were many advertising pamphlets for health services, health courses and public organisations. Another target audience mismatch. Also this was all ‘push’ marketing, with no products of value to ‘pull’ me to their service or organisation.
It’s hard to run a conference. I get it. But the entrepreneurial sector manages to produce frequent huge events with compelling speakers, actionable content and valuable showbags. So it can be done.
Health conference organizers, perhaps your ‘Call for academic papers’ could instead be a ‘Call for Ideas’. You might be surprised at the fun, innovative contributors you would get. And that’s way more fun that a slide full of stats.
Hi Karen! I have to say, your blog post totally resonated with me. I am a fellow Allied Health professional, ( Speech Pathologist), and work in both the public sector and run my own business. I have reduced my attendance at these AH conferences, because of the same issues you raised…same old complaints, reduced lateral thinking, great research..but as you said, stuck back in 1990’s and very limited progress…
Sad to see that the health profession lags so very much behind in technology…question is, what can we, as the private sector do about it?
The private sector also comprises of non tech savvy people, and I think as an entrepreneur, it will have to be us setting the new trends and paving the way…long road ahead! Of course, I speak as a Speech Pathologist….and I am aware that the Physio field is way more tech and entrepreneurially advanced than us speechie ones…
Happy to help if you have any suggestions:)
Thila, thank you so much for your thoughts. You Speechies are doing some amazing things. I think we, as the private sector, need to continue to provide amazing value and take advantage of our agility compared to the big slow moving public sector. Then all confrerence organisers need to do is give up the opportunity to share, and magic can happen! I love the way you think…
Totally Agree. We want answers, ideas, thoughts, and it’s one reason Im not attending the Australian Physiotherapy Conference next weekend.’Have looked at the conference program several times hoping for inspiration…
Can’t waste the time, travel, accommodation and conference costs.. Ho hum
Hi Wendy, so glad i’m not the only one! Yes it’s a big expense which could be justified if every presentation had ‘wow’ factor. Thanks so much for your thoughts. Karen
Karen…..love your passion and Love your thoughts. I think you live in my brain. I feel like i wrote this article! Great minds think alike. Our profession needs a major overhaul and i intend on delivering it. The aheels are in motion…….please look me up next time you are in WA Regards Marion
Hi Marion, i really appreciate you reaching out and would love to catch up one day! It makes me so happy to hear about health professionals that are push out of the traditional mindset. Please keep me updated on your amazing efforts!
Hi Karen, it sounds like you were at the most recent National Podiatry Conference. Too many speakers talking about their theories and very little practical information that can be used on a Monday morning. The programs at many conferences are far too broad, trying to cater for everyone, but pleasing no one. Great article.