Have you ever listened to a great jazz ensemble live? When each soloist takes his turn, he plays in tune with the melody’s key. Also, he stays with the main elements of the general theme. If the soloist deviates from the key and doesn’t maintain some semblance of the original tune, the solo sounds bizarre and out of place. Even though he must play within a particular framework, a soloist also plays a unique melody, creating something new and innovative as he goes along. Sound interesting… But what does this have to do with radiology conferences? Well, let’s get to that next.
What makes a great teaching conference? Great conferences need some general theme, similar to the melody’s key. Maybe, the conference will address adrenal masses. But, if you talk about adrenal lesions and then, on a whim, deviate by discussing brain tumors, the conference will not reinforce essential concepts about the adrenal mass. And, the trainees will not remember the important points.
At the same time, residents or faculty that give great conferences also add some unique flavor that allows the participants to make the experience memorable, just like the unique melody. Perhaps, it is an unconventional thought process or a funny joke that reinforces a concept. Maybe, the direction that the audience moves with unforeseen swerves takes them to new places. The bottom line is that teaching conferences also need spontaneity.
So, let us discuss a few simple principles about how you, too, can create a conference that maintains your audience’s attention. Based on the same principles as a jazz ensemble, we will divide the remainder of the discussion about creating great talks into two parts: how to create a theme and then learn the art of spontaneity.
Creating A General Theme
As we discussed above, the key to aiding retention is to make an overarching theme. So, how do we decide on that? There are many ways to do this. One way, take a specific organ and then divide that subject into individual topics. For example, if you are talking about adrenal masses, introduce each adrenal tumor type and find individual cases to demonstrate the appearance and pathophysiology of each adrenal lesion.
Or, you can find a pathophysiological mechanism and present cases that conform to that diagnosis. In this situation, we can take masses that cause mechanical renal obstruction. Whether you take a general subject area or pathophysiological mechanism, ensure all the cases tie into the theme. This way, you will reinforce the retention of your audience.
Learning The Techniques Of Conference Spontaneity
Just as important as creating a great theme for a lecture topic, residents and faculty all need to learn how to be spontaneous to maintain our audience’s interest. But most of us never learn the art of spontaneity at a conference. So, how can we take our talk to the next level and become more than a droning speaker?
First of all, don’t use PowerPoint as a crutch. Slides are guideposts for an idea, not a source of exactly what to say. I can guarantee that if you read your slides word for word, most of your audience will drift away. (especially residents who had a long call the night before!) Instead, talk about the general ideas behind why you created the slide as if you were conversing with a friend.
Second, let your audience actively participate in the conference. What do I mean by that? Perhaps, you want to have the audience answer multiple-choice questions. Or, have the listeners take cases under your direction. Either way, you will not allow your audience to nod off and feel like they are only passively observing.
Finally, I recommend adding relevant analogies, jokes, or stories to enliven the conference. When you think about some of the best talks, something in the lecture clicked with you to make you remember a concept or theme. Usually, one of these techniques would have helped you to retain the new knowledge.
Creating Great Conferences
Unfortunately, quality varies widely among residents and faculty when giving conferences. Often, it is not the fault of the individual that gives the lecture. Instead, faculty and residents have never learned the basic tenets of providing a great conference. So instead, think like a jazz ensemble and use the basic principles of creating a general theme and utilizing my techniques to become more spontaneous. With these tenets, you will give conferences extra spice to keep the audience engaged and increase retention of the information you present.