Have you ever listened to a great jazz ensemble live? When each soloist takes his turn, he plays in tune with the key of the melody. 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 certain 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 key of the melody. Maybe, the conference will address adrenal masses. But, if you talk about adrenal masses and then, on a whim, deviate by discussing brain tumors, the conference will not reinforce important 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, it is the direction that the audience moves with unforeseen swerves that take them to new places. Bottom line. Teaching conferences also need spontaneity.
So, let us discuss a few a simple principles about how you too can create a conference that maintains the attention of your audience. Based on the same principles as a jazz ensemble, we will divide the remainder of the discussion about creating great conferences 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 mass.
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. In either case, whether you take a general subject area or pathophysiological mechanism, make sure 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 the interest of our audience. But, most of us never learn the art of spontaneity in a conference. So, how can we take our talks to the next level and become more than a droning speaker?
First of all, don’t use powerpoint as a crutch. Slides are only meant to be guideposts for an idea, not a source of exactly what to say. I can guarantee that if you are reading your slides word for word, a majority 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 having a conversation 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 provide your audience the chance to nod off and feel like they are only passively observing.
Finally, I would recommend adding some relevant analogies, jokes, or stories to enliven the conference. I’m sure when you think back about some of the best conferences, 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 it comes to giving conferences. Often times, it is not the fault of the individual that gives the lecture. Rather, faculty and residents are not taught the basic tenets of giving 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 a bit more spontaneous. With these tenets, you will give conferences that extra spice to keep the audience engaged and increase retention of the information that you present.