On the conference scene (post 5 of 5)

This is the final post in a series of 5. For those just joining this series, the previous 4 posts shared the headlines from each of the conferences listed below, which I recently attended. You can read the headlines from these events by following the links to the respective posts.

1.    “Acting on Future Health” – Imperial College Business School (IB)

2.    “A Question of Quality” – HCA Healthcare UK

3.     “8th National Symposium: How patient experience data are transforming global healthcare” – iWantGreatCare

4.     “The Private Healthcare Summit 2017” – Intuition Communication

This final post is where I wanted to share some top tips on how the typical conference formula might be updated to intensify the value, relevance and impact of these events.

One thing that all of the above, and many other conferences have in common is a very familiar conference format and structure. Typically, conferences start with a somewhat uncomfortable nodding around the morning coffee and registration just enough until people warm to each other or recognise familiar faces. As proceedings begin the heavy hitters come out – someone with ‘Global’ or ‘National’ in their title. They set the scene and give some policy context to the day’s proceedings. Then, as the day progresses one sees less well known people on the bill who have some amazing things to share but typically speak to half the audience who disappear after lunch! Yet it is in these late sessions when the real human stories are shared. Finally, these events end with a lot of loose ends and not many practical take-away actions.

So, how about:

  • Starting the morning plenary with show-stopping, real human stories of how healthcare has been accessed and experienced; there are plenty of authoritative, inspirational people about to approach for this. Storytelling is at the heart of human experience after all, so this will engage the audience. Then, I suggest, spend the rest of the day unpacking the elements of those stories and together determine how these stories might, or might not, influence future policy.
  • Making sure there is good representation on the faculty and across participants. This is a challenge, I know. But:

The IB conference pulled together many sectors from devices, pharma, finance and the built environment. It was lacking in clinical representation, however. This was ironic given that the conference was about ‘health’ and an acknowledgement in the day’s discussions that the supply side of health (pharma, tech etc.) accounts for only 20% of global healthcare spend, whereas circa 80% is spent on the demand side (i.e. clinical interactions).

Given we’re in healthcare to meet people’s needs, all conferences should subscribe to the Patients Included Campaign. We seriously need to get patient leaders into and engaged with all our conferences to ensure that the conversations are relevant. If you don’t know what I mean about patient leaders check out David Gilbert’s website.

  • Leveraging the collective experience of those working in all aspects of healthcare. Too many conferences self-select participants so the discussion can be biased. If we widen the representation and move away from the ‘usual suspects’ on the faculty, we can draw on many more ideas in trying to solve the problems of the day. Saffron Steer hosted a Healthcare Roundtable earlier this year in partnership with Wolff Olins and we were determined to get representation from the NHS, private and voluntary sectors to discuss making people’s needs and preferences a practical outcome versus a value statement. The cross-party thinking and discussion gave us a much richer outcome to the event.
  • Increasing interaction with the audience to amplify the value. We could start with revamping how Q+A usually runs. This is mostly thrown in at the end of each presentation allowing two or so questions, yet this is where the real value is delivered. So, more space for Q+A, and shorter, sharper speaker presentations or panel discussions would be a start. There are also many technologies (like Kahoot) that allow you to poll the audience in real time or allow participants to log a question using their smartphones. These technologies bring a lot of energy into the room, open opportunities for the shy amongst us to put questions forward and are a lot of fun to use.
  • Finally, have someone (or more people if the event is huge) objectively sum-up the main themes and messages from the day, offering some practical things that delegates can take away and try out the very next day that they get back to their businesses. This was done very effectively at the IB event, adding significant value to delegates.

If you’re thinking of hosting any conferences soon, I do hope these ideas help to make your event different, more engaging and memorable.

Thank you for reading this post. I’d be interested to hear more about any discussion that it might’ve inspired. This has been ‘Away from the Heard’ – The Saffron Steer blog.