Monday, April 28, 2008

How to Submit A Presentation for a Medical Conference

Submitting a presentation to a medical conference can be a daunting task. It can be so intimidating many qualified people feel they should not even bother, because who are they to 'act' as experts in the field. Or one may have been rejected in the past and figured the odds are against you, so don't bother making an effort again. Others just enjoy going to the conference and not having to 'work.'

Well, I want to encourage you to submit a talk. If more people submit talks, an increased variety of talks can be selected. If more people submit talks, new viewpoints can be heard. If more people submit talks, new leaders can emerge. If more people submit talks, more professionals gain the confidence of speaking on international, national and regional stages.

So what is the best way to submit a presentation? Here are some tips I have gathered from submitting many talks to national and regional conferences, speaking and attending those conferences, and being on the committees to select from all the submissions. None of these tips are guaranteed to get your submission selected, but they may increase your chances.

What Topic to Choose?

Start Early
The time to start contemplating the talk you plan to submit, is actually at the conference you are attending. If you are planning on going next year, look at all the titles and see what areas are not covered well in breadth or depth, and see what areas have way too many offerings. This will help you gauge what area/topic may receive increased consideration from next year's committee. Be creative and think outside the box. What topics are important but often overlooked? That is how I have come to love prognostication; rarely taught, often misunderstood, used daily in medicine.

Start with Something Familiar
It is always easiest to start with something you know well, so you can at least decrease the amount of background work you must do. And if you have a lot of experience in that area, you can likely perform/improv better at your presentation as you can pull from a vast knowledge base. The corollary is...

Start with Something You Want to Understand More
Giving a presentation should not just be regurgitating facts and stories you know too well. Stretch your horizons and use this opportunity of an external deadline to learn more about some new area. That area should pique your curiosity, so you will be engaged with the material, otherwise the talk risks coming off very flat. And hopefully you have some experience with the topic, even if tangential. I can read all about llama farming in the hills of Peru, but since I am at least 3 degrees of separation from that topic, I probably would not give a sincere presentation (at least not without a lot more work).

Pick an Under-served Category
Many times conferences will post categories for desired talks. Look for the category you don't think will be popular. Chances are the committee will not have a lot of selections to choose from and your talk may be picked.

Don't Be Afraid of Bread and Butter
Being unique can get your talk selected, but often times at medical conferences there is a need for some of the basics. If you notice a topic has not been covered in the last two years of the conference, throw it out there. You can email the conference coordinators to get the last few years of programs, and then sort through what has been presented. If you are trying hard to get your talk selected, stay away from the topic that has been given yearly by the same person. Not likely to change, but sometimes change is good.

How Many Talks to Submit?
Honestly, it depends on your goal for presenting at the conference. If you really want to speak about the one thing you are passionate about, just submit one talk. If you want to get more national/regional/local exposure, submit three and hope two will get chosen. If you ever have three or more talks at a conference, you will not enjoy the conference. You will miss out on many opportunities because you will be planning your talk. So if you get all your talks selected, do not be afraid to tell the committee you would like to decrease the number of talks you will present. They may be sad, but I doubt they will seek retribution.

Submitting Your Talk

The Title
The title shouldn't be that important. It is just a few words. My talk is 60 minutes, but my title can be said in 6 seconds. Big deal. But the title is very important! This is your calling card to the selection committee and to the attendees. Think of it like a newspaper headline. In 8 words or less do you want to know more about something. And do try to use less than 8-10 words, because a title that is too long tells your audience you may not have good editing skills and your talk is bound to go too long, and have too many slides that you don't have time to get to.

Choose your words wisely and your title can shine. Pick bland but descriptive; your chances are so-so. Pick flashy but confusing; good luck. Pick creative and informative; bingo. Stay away from cliches and puns. Sinclair's Maxim: There will always be at least one presentation using 'the good, the bad and the ugly.' Alliteration is good but don't go overboard. The colon (punctuation, not the anatomy) seems to be very popular these days. It allows for something punchy and catchy on on side of the colon and something serious on the other side. Kind of like a grammatical mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

A good title gives some information, but is slightly provocative poking the learner to want to know what you are up to. That way they come to your talk. 'Evidence-based' is a buzz word, but it may start to be overused for when the speaker wants you to know, "Hey, I looked some of this stuff up." (Yes, I am guilty of using EB in my titles.)

The Speakers
Should you present alone or with others? Speaking with other people sounds like a great idea in the planning stages. 'Sara will take this part, and Dave will finish the talk, and I will cover the medicines. ' But in reality the coordination makes collaboration on presentations should cause hesitation. For a multi-presenter talk to go well, you should plan on a lot more time for ensuring the multiple presenters actually enhance one another and not turn into the Keystone Cops. Having speakers from different disciplines or different regions can help in raising the level of credibility for a talk, but that should not be the only reason to collaborate.

The Abstract
Follow the rules.

The Abstract (part two)
Did you read the section above? I mean it. Word count rules, figure rules, title format rules. Look them over again and again. And hand check the spelling after your computer does it for you. Eye now these form personnel experience. Please hand check your spelling!

Understand if the abstract is what is going to be printed in the brochures and other printed materials for the conference. Are you writing for the selection committee or for the selection committee and the learners? If #1, you can add in some commentary, if #2, it is more marketing than explanation. Don't waste your word count on what other people know about the subject by endlessly quoting others or adding references. If you can't fill up more than 80% of the word count with your original thoughts, why should they give you 60 minutes to talk?

The Deadline
Finish it early. This way you can have others look it over before the real deadline and give you critical feedback.

If there are any other lessons I missed or parts you disagree with, please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Pallimed | Blogger Template adapted from Mash2 by Bloggermint