I’m fresh off the red eye from San Francisco, having spent the past four days at Stanford MedicineX. From start to finish it was a positive experience, and before the day to day takes over again, I wanted to get some of it down in writing, knowing I will inevitably leave out 90% of what there is to say.
This post is largely about my own personal experience; I’ll write more about some of the themes and sessions in a subsequent post.
Say yes to serendipity
MedX is at the sweet spot between clinical and digital health, drawing healthcare providers, patients, advocates, researchers, and entrepreneurs. Choosing between breakout sessions was tough, and at the start of the conference I hadn’t yet found my groove of decisive action. So when Erin Moore suggested I follow her to Brett Alder’s talk, saying he was an engaging speaker, I tagged along. And I’m happy I did. Brett is indeed an engaging speaker, with a natural ability (at least it seems as such) to read the crowd, get people talking, and know when to shift direction. He also did something that I find so incredibly useful, and so rarely done – he shared struggles he was having with his own website, using it as a springboard for conversation on how to get people involved. This brought forth really honest and forthright input from all of us, and allowed the conversation to go beyond a didactic approach that is so often taken in conference presentations.
Conferences are so much more than the sessions, of course, and social serendipity abounded. From the moment I set foot in IDEO for a full day design thinking workshop (which was fantastic, and worthy of it’s own blog post), I was greeted with people I had never met but whom I would work with/hang out with in a heartbeat. My small group was nothing short of amazing, and formed the basis for people I interacted with for the next four days. Even taking a moment in the lobby of a hotel to check out the conference materials turned into a chance to meet someone new.
…But don’t forget to plan ahead
Prior to the conference, I laid out some goals or myself, and I’m pleased to say I achieved each of them. I left the conference not only with new professional contacts and strengthened existing relationships, but with a deep well of memories to reflect upon. The atmosphere of the event was inviting, and I found myself talking with people I’d met 10 minutes ago as if I’d known them for years.
I also wanted to guarantee I could easily get around as needed, and figured a bike would be an easy way to accomplish this. I rented a bike from the Campus Bike Shop and it couldn’t have worked out better. For those planning on attending MedX next year (or any event at Stanford), I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Planning ahead also meant prep work for own presentation, knowing that I would be in front of a savvy crowd. One of my personal rules of presenting is that it’s on me to keep the audience’s attention. If they drift off it’s likely because I am not doing my job well. That said, I preplanned two specific elements:
- I selected interview quotes that underscored the themes emerging within my research, and printed them out in large print. Prior to my talk, I asked individual members of the audience if they’d play the role of the person being quoted. The thinking was that these voices weren’t my own, and thus it would be more powerful to hear them in voices different from mine. The audience was incredibly gracious, and I have to say there were some good acting chops in the room!
- I wrote out several tweets with shortened versions of the quotes, and scheduled them to be sent during my talk. The goal was to allow for people taking part virtually to have an easier means of being engaged, as well as create a record of some of the quotes in a public space. Interview participants have shared some amazing insights and stories, and I wanted to make sure were shared.
In circles like MedX, it’s entirely possible to know someone by their Twitter username, and not remember their actual name. Relationships built online are just as real as those formed in person, but there will never be anything that replaces an in person, face to face, all five senses engaged meeting. It only strengthens the online interactions, and gives context to the people behind the keyboards. I’m grateful to have spent some time chatting with folks like itsthebunk, dougkanter, ekeeleymoore, nickdawson, susannahfox, colleen_young, katiemccurdy, womenofteal, and bacigalupe. Just to name a few.
That said, the MedX organizers and volunteers set a high bar for bringing external voices into the room, hosting a Global Access Program which allowed anyone to sign up and watch much of the event for free. Additionally, the tweet stream was monitored to capture questions and comments, bringing a broader range of voices into the room. While not every conference may have the resources to achieve all of this, any event can take on a similar effort and shape it to the resources at hand.
Kudos to the team that pulled this off, and to the attendees that brought their energy and experience. It made for a highly worthwhile trip out west!