By Jenabeth Ferguson
Friday is our call for speaker’s deadline. This is the time of year when folks from all over, representing many different interests in our industry, submit a proposal for a chance to be part of the conference program. Hundreds will try for a speaking slot but we don’t have room for them all, so hard decisions will be made. This also happens to be my most favourite part of planning the Symposium each year.
The process is a cumbersome one and requires a lot of effort from members of our advisory board and me. A committee of anywhere from 10 to 15 board members read all the submissions. And then they begin to rate them on content as a stand-alone, then compared to other submissions on the same topic, and sometimes up against other submissions from the same firm. The rating systems are not all the same; some score them from 1 to 5, others categorize them as yes/no/maybe and others give feedback in narrative form. They have a month to do this because it takes a long time to read them and truly digest all the effort everyone has put into submitting. At the same time, I am reading them too. At first, I read them without making any comments or judgement, absorbing and taking it all in. Then, I start to make comments in the margins. And yes, this is the one time of year I am old school and I print out all the proposals and carry them around like a teacher grading papers. Finally, I will start to make tallies of similar subjects, multiple submissions from same person and/or firm, types of organizations and their geographic location. This is also when I see holes in terms of topics and/or projects we wanted to cover and I go back out to experts and get them involved to fill in the gaps.
The fun really begins when I receive all the committee members’ comments. It’s just like every judging contest you see on TV nowadays in that there are very few instances where everyone agrees! Sometimes I find it comical and other times it makes the final decision so much harder. You also have to take their biases into account, for example, are they an architect and the topic is too technical, but an engineer would find value. Or are they farther along in their career and find it too basic, but an emerging leader would be interested. It’s my job to remember all of that. It’s also my job to keep track of topics, health systems of various sizes, geographic location of presenting organizations as well as making sure the same organization is not presenting on more than one panel and that every case study must have a representative from the healthcare provider co-presenting.
I do all of that over the course of a several of days with piles of proposals spread out on every surface, post it notes to help keep me organized and legal pads of lists. It’s messy and creative and hard and so much fun! Committee members get emails, texts and phone calls soliciting their counsel or clarification on what they thought. I sweat each decision. I have a series of checks and re-checks to ensure all our priorities for that year are met. And at the end we have what is hopefully a well-rounded conference program that has something for everyone and will educate and inspire our attendees.
In 2020, we did this exercise in the very early days of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. Frankly, as I went through the process, it was not very far from my mind that it may very well be an exercise in futility which of course it was, as we never held an event that year. The program was technically put together, we’d accepted the final presentations and then we kept putting off posting it through the month of May until we officially cancelled our 2020 event. Last year again I went through the exercise and while I was hopeful, we’d have an event there was still a feeling of uncertainty. In the end that program was pushed from September to December and looked a lot different by the time we got to Austin, but a good number of sessions carried all the way through.
I am about to begin my annual ritual of reading proposals and carrying those piles with me for the next month. Going through them any chance I get, and I cannot wait! For the first time in 3 years, I will get to do this with the joy I have always felt reading everyone’s ideas and starting to think about how the pieces fit together and talking to board members to hear their views and taking all the important factors into consideration to come up with the best program we can for this September in Long Beach.
If I don’t respond to email as quickly as usual in the next month or answer my phone as fast, know that I’m somewhere in a corner with a highlighter reading speaking proposals and so happy.
Vice President, Symposium Director
Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo
PS. Have a question or comment, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]