Speaker Coaching Programs at Medical Conferences: Making Good Speakers Great

By: Sara Damewood (@_SonoSara); John Bailitz (@gritcoachmd); Jenny Beck-Esmay (@jbeckesmay); Mizuho Morrison (@mizuhomorrison) and Resa E. Lewiss (@ResaELewiss)

Everyone knows that professional athletes depend on coaches to improve their performance. Would you be surprised to learn that great conference speakers work with performance coaches, too?

Speaker Coaching Programs

Speaker coaching is a high-yield professional development intervention that can ensure credible lecture content and improve the storytelling performance of speakers.

The downsides are few:

  • time investment
  • people resources
  • the tasks of organizing a coaching program

The benefits are many:

  • a professional development investment in the speaker
  • impact on the speaker’s current and future talks
  • higher quality lecture content
  • a conference culture of self-improvement
  • better experiences for the audience

Importantly, a speaker coaching programs is a non-monetary means of compensating a speaker with something valuable when an honorarium is unavailable.

We benefited from speaker coaching programs at TEDMED and SMACC. So, we developed similar programs at the FeminEM FIX and SCUF conferences. And with this post, we wanted to share coaching program secrets that can help good speakers become great speakers at your next medical conference.

5 Tips for Developing a Speaker Coaching Program for a Medical Conference

1. Create a Speakers’ Guide
We crowd-sourced content to write a digital speakers’ guide with resources for topic development, message delivery, slide design, and stage presence. The speakers’ guide provides consistent training materials across the speaker and coach teams, and it serves as a reference for the coaches when giving feedback to speakers. Similar preparatory materials are available online from sites such as P3 and TED.

2. Carefully Select the Coaches
Coaches should be intentionally selected by the conference organizers or a designated director of the speaker coaching program. Criteria for selection could include a track record of mentoring and coaching, not just personal experiences as a speaker. Veteran speakers do not always translate into skilled coaches, and fantastic coaches may not be stellar speakers. To that end, think inclusively about your coaching group and seek diverse experiences and perspectives. Our speaker coaching program offers a detailed coaching handbook for the coaches. This includes goals, timelines, communication strategies, and expected deliverables. Such a “playbook” or coaching guide is highly recommended.

3. Ensure Productive Team Meetings
Coaches and speakers initially meet to identify the speakers’ perceived coaching needs and areas for improvement. Once a speaker’s topic is chosen, the speaker should script the talk and create a slide deck. The team then has follow-up meetings at regular intervals to fine tune the slide design, content, and delivery. It is best to use video conferencing platforms for these meetings. The speaker should practice and record a dress rehearsal of their talk for the coach to review well ahead of the conference date.

4. Enforce a Timeline
The coaching program director communicates with coaches and speakers on a regular basis, and they set clear timelines. Each speaker and coach team determines goals for completion of key tasks in the development of their presentations. Ample time is reserved ahead of the conference to refine the lectures. Encourage the teams to calendar each expected meeting from the initial one to the day of the presentation.

5. Showtime Support
On the day of the presentation, coaches should connect with their speakers to provide affirmation, positive energy, and support. Additionally, coaches can be integrated into the conference to introduce their speakers or facilitate questions at the speakers’ sessions. As these coaches are familiar with their speaker’s content, they are well positioned to pose thoughtful questions to the speaker and better engage conference participants

In summary:  A speaker coaching program is a positive and worthwhile investment in the speakers, the coaches, and the conference participants. Speaker coaching programs are relatively easy to implement and elevate the medical conference culture.

About the authors:
Sara Damewood is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and the Emergency Ultrasound Division Chief at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Twitter: @_SonoSara
John Bailitz is a Professor of Emergency Medicine and the Systemwide POCUS Director at Northwestern, Twitter: @gritcoachmd
Jenny Beck-Esmay is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an Assistant Residency Director at Mount Sinai Morningside – Mount Sinai West, Twitter: @jbeckesmay
Mizuho Morrison is an Emergency physician at Kaiser Permanente Southern California and clinical faculty at LAC+USC, Twitter: @mizuhomorrison
Resa E. Lewiss is a Professor of Emergency Medicine and Radiology in Philadelphia. She is the creator and host of the Visible Voices podcast, Twitter: @ResaELewiss

About the editor:
Michael Gisondi is a medical educator and medical education researcher in Palo Alto, CA. He is currently the Vice Chair of Education in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University. Twitter: @MikeGisondi

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For more details on our site disclaimers, please see our ‘About’ page

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