A few months ago, an email arrived announcing an upcoming conference on healthcare communications. Normally I would have deleted it instantly, but instead I just put it aside and moved on. Days later I went back and read it in detail and found that not only was the email promoting the conference, but it included a request to serve as a speaker. Again, I put it aside thinking I didn’t have much to offer. But I kept returning to the email in the following days. Even though the idea scared me, I knew it would be a good opportunity, especially for someone who is considering the launch of a consulting firm in healthcare communications. I finally responded; I explained to the organizer that I might have something I could talk about, but that I wasn’t even working in healthcare anymore. I told him I would understand if he didn’t think I was an appropriate presenter.
In fact, the conference planner seemed delighted to have me and offered to put me on a panel. I would only have to talk for 8 to 10 minutes. I began work on my presentation which focused on some blog-style communications that I’d sent to hospital staff during Wave 1 of the pandemic. I started to feel more confident. About two weeks before the presentation I heard from the organizer again: the other panel member had withdrawn. I had the choice of doing the entire presentation by myself, or they could cancel the presentation. With a deep breath I decided to take the leap, and on December 8th I presented to colleagues across Canada on four different communications strategies I used during the early days of COVID to keep our hospital staff up-to-date and engaged. It was a great experience, and I received many positive comments.
As a relative newcomer to the concept of networking, I was very pleased and surprised to receive LinkedIn invitations from other conference participants. Two have already led to interesting opportunities: one is from a woman who has recently opened her own healthcare communications consultancy and is willing to chat further to discuss lessons that she has learned along the way. The other is a woman who is working as a communications expert in a hospital – we have switched from LinkedIn to email to exchange ideas. I have also acquired some new followers on my social media platforms from conference participants.
In addition to speaking at the conference, I was able to view many of the other presentations. One highlight for me was the opportunity to listen to two people from the social media team at Ottawa Public Health. Truthfully, these folks are like social media celebrities to me, particularly for the innovative way they use humour even though they deal with life-and-death topics. They have become the public health department with the largest social media following in North America! They talked about the importance of having a consistent voice for their channels, even though there are actually four people writing. They talked at length about the risk of burn-out in social media. Kevin Parent, the team lead, talked about social media being “the ultimate soap box upon which to stand and share your views”, but cautioned that there is a need to do so responsibly. The presentation was a real treat.
The conference was an excellent experience, and I would say that in addition to some new connections, I will take away a few things:
- Content ideas for future posts (particularly related to mental health issues)
- Recommendations on how to make frightening or potentially antagonizing information more accessible
- Recommendations on making content more welcoming for gender diverse audiences
- Best of all, some confidence: even though I feel like a newcomer to this field, I learned that my experience is useful and does lend me some credibility.
According to the organizers, this is the only Canadian conference on healthcare communications. It seems like an important place for me to be. In fact, I’ve already volunteered to sit on the organizing committee for next year’s conference.