You are listening to a presenter at a conference and think, "I have a great idea for a presentation, and I can do it at least as well as this guy (or girl)!" Sound familiar? Well, there is a lot to know about presenting at an EMS conference, and this article is my best effort to let you know what types of conferences are out there, what they are looking for, how to develop your presentation proposals and other aspects of the EMS speaking game.
Coming Up with Ideas
One of the first points that should be addressed in an article about delivering presentations also happens to be a question I regularly hear asked of speakers: Where do you get your ideas? My ideas generally come from dealing with a situation I haven't dealt with before, being part of an initiative that is new to me and I think would be of interest to an EMS audience, watching a co-worker (this can be a supervisor, manager or other) become involved in something and how they handle it, or even when just doing nothing. Presentation ideas can focus on clinical aspects (advanced, basic or even intermediate life support-specific), supervisory techniques and/or management strategies (be prepared to back up your idea with some results seen at your EMS agency), detailing an educational initiative (again, show how this would work in real life or has worked), and the list goes on.
My advice to the new speaker is to present what you know. If you are a paramedic working in a rural area and have significant experience with long transport times, talk about that. If you are a manager and have implemented a new time-management strategy or an effective electronic patient documentation system, present on that, and so on. Similarly, it's always important to do your homework prior to developing and delivering a presentation. Aside from adequately researching your topic, see what has been presented before in this regard, and always document your sources and give proper credit when using a quote or someone else's work.
Submitting a Speaking Proposal
Various EMS conferences (local, regional, state and/or national level) seek enthusiastic speakers with new, previously undelivered topics for their conferences. If you want to speak, keep your eyes open in various list-serves, websites, etc, for conferences conducting a call for speakers. The calls for presentations usually go out several months before the actual conference. Your proposal should include, but not be limited to:
- Presenter's name
- Credentials (should include both EMS certifications and academic degrees, e.g. NREMT-P, BA)
- Title and affiliation
- Relevant contact information, including mailing address, work phone, home phone, cell and e-mail address
- Conferences where you have presented in the past and what presentations you delivered (if applicable)
- Conference you are scheduled to present at in the near future and what topics you will be covering (if applicable)
- Learning objectives (at least 3 or 4) for your presentation
- A brief, to-the-point description of each presentation, the audience they will appeal to (BLS, ALS, educators, management, general audience, etc.) and the presentation length.
You want people to read your presentation title and description and say, "I would love to see that," so take time to find an appropriate and eye-catching title. (One of my presentations that details the need for a harmonious relationship between EMS and public health authorities in pandemic planning and response is titled "Plagues are a Team Sport," a suggestion from a friend after I queried for ideas on Facebook.) Your lecture description should also tell potential attendees exactly what you will be presenting. It's not good to read a post-presentation evaluation and see that your audience felt this wasn't the presentation they read about and/or signed up for.
A last point in this regard is that many conferences have specific forms they want filled out if you want to be considered--so just do it. Don't just send a resume and some lecture titles. There are many speakers out there who will fill out the required paperwork correctly. Be one of them.
The Fear Factor. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked, "Most of us fear public speaking more than death. If we are at a funeral, that means we would prefer to be in the casket rather than delivering the eulogy." It doesn't have to be like that for you if you follow a few simple rules. These include speaking from experience, making sure you've reviewed the entire PowerPoint several times in advance and have timed your presentation. This last point shouldn't be taken lightly: Practice your presentation to ensure the timing is down pat. Newer speakers have the potential to come up short on time because nerves make them talk fast. Also, and this tip is not for the shy, send your PowerPoint presentation to a few trusted friends to review with a critical eye. If they laugh at the jokes and appreciate the content, chances are an audience will as well.
PowerPoint is an easy-to-learn, useful tool that can be your best friend or a disaster. As a presenter, you need to know what it can do, as well as its limitations. Watch the colors (this applies to both background and font color), as well as various animations (if you cut and paste, they may not work). Keep the font and graphics appropriate for the size of the audience/venue, and, if at any time you wonder if a particular slide will be "appropriate," cut it from the presentation. Also, and you may have heard this before or been a victim of it, do not read the slides word for word. The audience knows how to read--they want additional information to what is on the slides. Finally, always have a back-up plan (this can include handouts for the audience and/or note cards for you). I was speaking at a regional EMS conference in Texas when a storm caused a power outage in the building. Thank goodness I knew my material, or the few minutes until the power came back on would have been quite hairy.
Success Begets Success. Although newer speakers have to look for opportunities, chances are, if you do a good job, conference organizers will ask you to return. Note that you should always have at least a few new presentations to offer so you won't be delivering the same material as the previous year. Also, speaking at one conference often results in offers to speak at other conferences.
Contracts. Be sure you get a contract for speaking services. In addition to covering both parties legally, it will confirm topics and length of time for your presentations, as well as what you are entitled to (this may include travel arrangements, hotel and other costs and an honorarium).
After the conference, there are still some ways to follow up, including:
- Re-evaluate your performance, including choreography (transitions, walking, gestures, etc.), the overall operation of materials (PPT, sound bites, videos) and audience participation
- Always read attendee reviews/evaluations after the conference (or ask the organizers for a synopsis), and be sure to use both positive and negative feedback to improve your presentation.
Deciding to develop and present on various topics in EMS is a large and time-consuming undertaking that will undoubtedly involve spending lots of "quality time" with your computer. This decision should be made for the right reason (money ain't the right reason) and with the understanding that the final product has the potential to be anticlimactic.
Raphael M. Barishansky, MPH, is program chief of public health preparedness for the Prince George's County (MD) Health Department and a member of EMS World Magazine's editorial advisory board. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.