The American College of Emergency Physicians’ New Speaker Forum at Scientific Assembly fills up within hours every year when the call for submissions is released, and many aspiring speakers are discouraged not to get one of those coveted slots. However, you can build your speaking reputation and make it to medicine’s biggest stages through other pathways.
If you are interested in speaking at ACEP or other conferences, it’s important to spend some time thinking about what you would like to build as your personal brand. Are you fellowship trained? You may consider lecturing on areas in your fellowship or research interests.
If you are a rank and file doctor, however, you can still offer fascinating lectures to learners. Think about what makes you unique or what you are passionate about, and build your topics and brand from those sources. For example, if you work in a small, rural hospital, create a talk on the unique challenges of emergency medicine in a critical access hospital. Physicians in the ivory towers of academia have no idea what it takes to work in a rural hospital; this is your chance to tell them. Are you passionate about advocating for vaccines? Educate others on how vaccine uptake rates affect you as an emergency medicine physician on a daily basis, or talk about re-emerging infections that are presenting to EDs across the country.
Audiences also love interesting formats, so think beyond the standard lecture format to workshops, moderated panels, or demonstrations.
Find Calls for Speaker Submissions
Conferences take a really long time to plan. Large conferences like ACEP have their call for submissions usually a year before the conference. Make note of deadlines, because the first step in getting accepted is getting in before the doors are locked.
You can also contact organizations throughout the year and express interest. Request an email when speaker submissions open, and you are less likely to miss the deadline.
Do Your Homework
Course planners spend a tremendous amount of time vetting speakers. No one wants to put someone on stage who is going to read verbatim from slides or freeze and run panicked from the room. The larger the conference, the more exacting the course planners will be for prior experience.
If you have never spoken before, your chances of being selected for large conferences like ACEP are not good. The New Speaker Forum does offer this opportunity, but you can also speak at smaller conferences to build your reputation and skill.
Check with your local medical societies, and offer to give a talk at a meeting. Teach your local parent teacher organization about the importance of CPR. If your ACEP chapter has a state meeting, submit to speak during their curriculum. These are great stepping stones to gain experience.
You can also join ACEP’s Spokesperson network. The network offers media training opportunities at conferences, and this will help you hone your craft. As an official ACEP spokesperson, you can speak on behalf of the college for news media interviews and other speaking opportunities. Check out https://www.acep.org/spokespeople/ for more information.
Record your talks, even if you can only obtain audio files. Upload these files to your LinkedIn profile or your personal website so conference organizers can see your work and the list of where you’ve spoken before. This builds your credibility; think of it as your public resume for speaking.
Don’t be intimidated if you get a phone call asking about where you’ve spoken before or to further explain your course proposal. This is your follow up interview, and your time to explain why you are the perfect person to present that idea.
Submitting Your Ideas
When speaker submission open, go to the website and enter your proposed topics in their form. If you run into problems with the form, contact the organizer and express your interest but that you are having technical difficulties.
Don’t be afraid to submit several ideas, even if they are similar. For example, you can submit an offer to lecture on fever in the returning traveler, and also a lecture about tropical infections that are moving to our shores like zika and chikungunya. They are similar topics, but to a course planner, those are going to look and market differently, and gives you a better chance to get picked up.
When you submit your course proposal, where it asks for a brief description, this is what will end up in the catalog for people to choose your lecture, so this needs to be a catchy title and blurb. For example, for one of the lectures I submitted for ACEP, my submission on the website read:
Title: How to Push a Rope: Leading Your Boss So You Both Win
Brief Description: Successful leaders use their skills to not only influence their subordinates, but to help their bosses build a better organization. Learn methods to help your superiors better articulate their vision, define priorities, and create effective change. Air Force Academy Distinguished Graduate, military officer, and EM physician Torree McGowan will offer training to make you and your boss a winning combination.
Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn to get people to come to your lecture and explain why you’re the right person to give this talk. If you don’t believe you’re the right person to talk and state your case eloquently, people are unlikely to select your lecture from the hundreds of options.
For every submission you put in, save the title, blurb, and objectives you list so you can submit again or to a different conference. I save my lecture submission in Evernote so next year, I can easily resubmit what doesn’t get picked up this year. I also save the emailed lecture confirmation in the same note, so I remember where I’ve already offered that lecture. You will also get feedback from the course planners on why a lecture doesn’t get picked up, so note that down in your file so you can improve the submission for the next time. Sometimes the answer is “We just did this, but try again next year” so it’s nice to have it easy to resubmit. Once a submission is picked up, I move it to a different folder where I store the source documentation, outline, and slides that I’ve developed for that lecture, as well as feedback I receive after the lecture so I can improve it for the next offering.
Any topic you can tie into a conference theme is more likely to get picked up as well. For next year, the 50th anniversary of ACEP, think about if there is something that might be a fun history tie in to your topic, and that is more likely to get picked up based on the conference theme. SimWars this year at ACEP had a zombie resurrection in honor of Halloween; this is the type of fun unexpected twist that will get you noticed.
You will usually be notified that you were selected to speak a few months after submissions are due. Watch your email so you don’t miss your big chance!
Once you’ve been selected once, you want to make sure that you get invited back again to speak in the future. The pro tip to make that happen is to be easy to work with. When they send you forms, get them back in on time. Upload things when you are asked. You can continue to update and improve your slideshow after the initial upload date, but try to have something roughed out to upload by the submission deadline. Respond to emails. If you aren’t easy to work with, you can be the greatest speaker in the world, but you won’t be invited back because it’s too much work for the organizer to deal with the administrative side of having you there.
Once you are selected, enjoy the experience! Speaking at ACEP is a tremendous thrill. It’s intoxicating to be able to share your ideas with people who are passionate about the same things you are. My husband refers to ACEP as my “nerd herd,” and I love my herd mates!
Now that you’ve finally made it, reach back down and pull up another speaker. There are so many topics, and so many great voices, we will not run out of places to put them.
Best of luck on your submissions, and I’ll look for your name under the bright lights next year.
Dr. Torree McGowan, MD, FACEP is an Air Force veteran, and has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. She is a nationally recognized speaker and expert on mass casualty response and is a practicing emergency physician with St Charles Medical Group in central Oregon. See more of her work at www.erdisasterdoc.com or follow her on twitter @erdisasterdoc.