Guest Editorial: Earn Your Place on the Stage 

Guest Editorial: Earn Your Place on the Stage 

By Rob Lawrence May 01, 2018

It’s high on the to-do lists of many EMS leaders and managers to get on the national circuit as speakers and presenters. Becoming a popular voice at conferences can enhance both reputation and resume. 

In every conference planning cycle, there are key milestones: the initial call for presentations; the selection of content; and then the dreaded day when speakers are notified of their acceptance or rejection. Acceptance is the source of much happiness, and social media comes alive as speakers make their gigs FBO—Facebook Official. Rejection creates disappointment, resentment, and sometimes verbose stupidity. An electronic rash of “didn’t get in again,” “what are they thinking?” and worse occasionally flows as people vent their frustration in the Twittersphere.

Major regional and national EMS conferences receive abstracts and applications to speak at about a rate of eight submissions for every available “podium” slot. It’s the role of the organizing/editorial staff and usually editorial advisory board members to pare the proposed presentations down to a final selection that is current, credible, and delivered by capable presenters. The selection task is never easy, as many entries inevitably have similar themes, given the relatively narrow scope of conference tracks, and finding the standout presentation can be a challenge. The pure math of selection means there are always going to be more rejections than acceptances.

So how do you go about getting a place on the national stage? Ray Barishansky has been a regular and popular speaker at various state and national conferences for many years. He offers the following sage tips:

Write before you speak—A magazine or online article for a trade publication is usually around 700 words long (the length of this editorial, in fact). Write your subject up and submit it for publication. It may attract a considerable amount of red ink and critique at first, but this process develops the writer and guarantees a quality final product. Having a peer-reviewed research article published is also an excellent way to go and assists with raising your profile.

Go local first—Most major conferences request a list of previous engagements and experience. Build a catalog of speaking gigs. There are many EMS conference opportunities out there, from local to regional to state. Get on the program and get good reviews, and the invitations will follow. 

Develop a style—Many conference audiences want to be “edutained.” Develop a solid subject matter, delivered in a way that engages the audience and helps them retain what you say. Work on the rhythm, speed, volume, pitch, and style of your presentation and, of course, never just stand up and read the slides (this is a conference-review kiss of death). A good conference speaker employs a little showmanship on top of their subject knowledge to be memorable. Browse through a good book such as Talk Like TED to glean presenting tips.

Topics, titles, and titillation—A catchy (and perhaps corny) subject title attracts the eye in the brochure and may lead the attendee to your session. Below the title comes the subject-matter description, where the reader will be invited to join you and enjoy a fast-paced, dynamic, interactive, energetic, lively canter through a hot topic. Be careful in crafting both title and description, as they may well fade at the selectors’ table. A good title must be followed up with a factual description of the subject matter and not just filler words about why the audience should attend. (The above image is a word cloud of the most popular terms contained within the presentation submissions for EMS World Expo 2018, to be held Oct. 29–Nov. 2 in Nashville. Visit

If you get through, congratulations, well done, and go get ’em. If you weren’t successful, don’t give up, take note of these pearls, and make next year the year you get selected for the national limelight. 

Rob Lawrence, MCMI, recently joined Paramedics Plus as its chief operating officer for California. He previously spent nine years as COO of the Richmond Ambulance Authority in Virginia. He is a member of the EMS World editorial advisory board.

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