Killer Keynotes and Conference Sessions

Ever been so bored in a conference session that you find yourself giving kudos to the marketing and/or PR professional that wrote the abstract? I have – too many times.

I go to a lot of conferences each year (sometimes upwards of 30) and make it a point to attend as many sessions as I can. The majority of sessions fall into the “okay” category. Some are truly outstanding. Some are downright awful. When I was younger, I was too embarrassed to get up and go to a different session. Now that I’m older, I’m more interested in getting value from a session than I am about what the audience thinks of me as I walk out the door.

As the 2019 conference season finally winds down, I thought it would be fun to discuss keynotes and conference sessions on the next #HITMC Twitter Chat on Tuesday December 18th at noon ET (9am PT).

  • T1 What attracts you to a keynote or conference session? Abstract? Education goals? Speaker bio? Format (lecture, panel, fire-side chat)?
  • T2 What is the right balance between entertainment and education in a keynote or session presentation? Can there be too much entertainment?
  • T3 What are the keys to a successful session submission? Share tips on how to make your submission stand out.
  • T4 Name your presentation/keynote turn-offs. What causes you to literally run to the door?
  • T5 Who was the best keynote/session presenter that you saw this year? Why was it memorable?
  • Bonus: What do you do when you are bored at a conference presentation? Do you leave? Do email? Contemplate life?

For me, the biggest turn-off is an “empty” presentation – one that is filled with bold statements but without substance to back it up. How many times have you seen slides that say: “Healthcare is at a cross-roads!” or “The status-quo is unsustainable” only to have the presenter go on and on about his/her opinion that healthcare is in bad shape. Opinions are fine, but an entire presentation full of them? No thank you.

I’m much more interested in stories. Tell me a story and you’ll have me enthralled. Don’t just tell me that “Rising healthcare costs are difficult to manage”, tell me a story of how you overcame that challenge by rallying your organization around a goal.

In my opinion, nothing beats a personal story – so much so, that even if the entire presentation has nothing to do with healthcare, I’ll still listen. Let me give you an example. At this year’s SHSMD Annual conference, Johnny Cupcakes was one of the keynote speakers. His entire talk had no direct tie to healthcare, but he held the audience’s attention for 60min with story after story of how he tried something, failed at it and tried again. Johnny took us on a journey with his stories. John Lynn was so impressed he even wrote a blog about it.

So what’s my definition of a killer keynote/conference session? It has to have:

  • Clean slides for my eyes (no more than 5 bullets per)
  • A presenter that varies their tone and pace for my ears (no monotone)
  • At least 1 or 2 new ideas for my mind
  • Personal stories for my heart

What’s your definition?


Friedman, Beth and Jenkins, Angela. “Five Stages of Writing a Winning Speaker Proposal for HealthIT Events”, Ten22 Blog, https://ten22pr.com/five-stages-of-writing-a-winning-speaker-proposal-for-health-it-events/, accessed 7 December 2018

DeVore, Caroline. “Four (Easy) PowerPoint Design Tips You Can Use Now”, 10 October 2016, Clarity Quest Blog, https://www.clarityqst.com/four-easy-powerpoint-design-tips-you-can-use-now/, accessed 7 December 2018

About the author


Colin Hung

Colin Hung is an award-winning Marketing Executive with more than 15yrs of healthcare and HealthIT experience. He co-founded one of the most popular healthcare chats on Twitter, #hcldr and he has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Healthcare IT Influencers”. Colin’s work has been published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, American Society for Healthcare Risk Managers, and Infection Control Today. He writes regularly for Healthcare Scene and here at HITMC.com. Colin is a member of #pinksock #TheWalkingGallery and is proudly HITMC. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.

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