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.