I recently saw a post on social media, by a young doctor who was travelling to the United States to give a lecture, on her speciality. She must have been only in her mid or late 30’s. I was envious as to see how such a young doctor from Malaysia could have been invited to speak at an international conference in the West. I am 62 years old and am still waiting for such an invitation. This made me think on this topic of “How to get invited as a speaker in conferences”.
Medicine is a peculiar field. It is probably the only field whereby being invited to be a speaker at a conference is deemed an honour. One does not ask for payment for such invitations. In fact, in many circumstances, the speaker has to spend his or her own money to travel to distant places to give these lectures. The only benefit to the doctor is a citation in his resume.
When I was younger, I always wondered what I could do to make organisers select me as a speaker in their conferences. I must say, I have come a long way in this area. Here, are some strategies I have adopted which I hope will serve as a guide for young doctors who have the ambition of becoming speakers to your peers.
- Be involved in the organization you would like to be a speaker in
This is perhaps the best and easiest way to be given the opportunity to be a speaker. If you are in the organising committee, you could nudge the chairman of the scientific committee to give you an opportunity to speak. I took this step. I wanted to be a speaker in the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia so I joined the committee and worked my way up until I became its President. I had ample opportunity to be a speaker in the conferences organised by this society. It was not easy. I started by first doing poster, oral and video presentations to impress my senior colleagues. Later, I found my niche and was invited as a speaker on different topics in the area of my interest namely Infertility and minimally invasive surgery. I also became involved with the Asia Pacific Association of Gynaecological Endoscopy (APGE) and have become a speaker in their meetings too.
2. Organise your own conference.
In 2003, I received a call from the then President of the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia asking me whether I wanted to take over as the Organising Chairman of the Annual Conference of the International Society of Gynaecological Endoscopy. The organising chairman of the conference that year had resigned. I reluctantly said yes and that was the best decision I made. Organising that conference was tough because we had just recovered from the Asian economic crises and getting sponsorship was difficult. We were also in the middle of a SARs epidemic. However, we managed to pull it off and I made many friends in the world of Minimally Invasive Surgery in Gynaecology as a result of that conference. When you organise a conference you decide on who you want to bring on as a speaker and you yourself can become a speaker. This is the next easiest way of establishing yourself as a speaker.
3. Be friendly with the industry in your area of speciality.
Pharmaceutical companies and instrument manufacturers are always looking for doctors to speak on their products. Be enthusiastic about engaging with them. Be a pioneer in the usage of a certain drug or instrument and you can be invited by them to be a speaker. I got my first break to be an international speaker in 2000 when I was one of the first IVF specialists in Malaysia to completely switch from urinary FSH to recombinant FSH. I was given the opportunity to speak at a meeting in Manila. As for laparoscopic surgery, since I have always been enthusiastic in this area, many industries approach me to evaluate their products. I have never declined these offers and try to test their instruments and give them good feedback. By doing this, I had the opportunity of becoming their speaker. Of course, I evaluate all products to ensure that they are good, before endorsing them. This is perhaps the third easiest way to become a speaker.
4. Networking is an important part of being selected to be a speaker.
If you connect with more people in your speciality and be friends with a variety of people, you will get a chance to be a speaker. We live in a world where the phrase “You scratch my back and I scratch yours” is true. If you invite some one to be a speaker in your meeting, he will reciprocate by inviting you to be a speaker in his conference. Most commonly, this is how life works. Network outside your speciality as well. There are meetings on women’s health as well as medico-legal where you can volunteer or be invited as a speaker
5. Be innovative in what you do
Doing routine work will not give you a break to be chosen to be a speaker. You need to do extraordinary things to stand out . In my area of work, which is minimally invasive surgery, I am always looking for innovative ways of performing the same task so that this innovation can become a topic of my next lecture. Examples are “adhesion prevention”, “Single incision laparoscopic surgery”, “vNOTES surgery” and so on. Organisers of conferences are always looking for new and fresh topics for discussion at their meeting to attract the attention of their members.
6. Publish papers in areas you are interested in.
This is perhaps the best method but the most difficult strategy for private practitioners. If you have published papers in some area of your interest and keep publishing in these areas, your peers will recognise you as an expert in that area and will invite you as a speaker. This is more difficult as most of us are solo practitioners in private hospitals and do not have the resources to publish papers. There is also no motivation to publish, as patients who consult us are not bothered about our publications.
7. Work hard on your preparing your lectures
When given a topic to speak on, work hard to give the best possible lecture you can. The key word is “be impressive”. If you give an impressive and enthusiastic lecture, your colleagues will look up to you and will give you other opportunities to speak. Don’t be lazy or be “last minute” in your preparation. Be diligent and read all the necessary journals so that you are very well informed about the topic and can deliver a good lecture.
8. Don’t decline a lecture opportunity
Sometimes an organiser may give you a difficult topic because he could not find another speaker. Take it on and read extensively on the topic even though you are not an expert in that field. Your hard work and diligence will impress the organisers and they will give you more opportunities in the future. Once, many years ago one of the organisers asked me to speak on “Egg Freezing” a topic that I was not familiar with. No one in Malaysia was doing egg freezing at that time I reluctantly took on the topic and did my best. The preparation for the lecture made me learn a lot on that topic. I benefitted not only from learning about that topic but also from impressing the organisers and now I am frequently called upon to tackle difficult topics.
9. Be a social media influencer.
Social media is becoming another way of getting noticed. You can write blogs, create videos and do podcasts, which can be seen by the masses. You will get noticed by your peers and can get invited as a speaker. In the book “Crush It”, Gary Vaynerchuk explains how social media can be a great networking tool to move your name up the ladder to greatness. Be cautious of being overzealous and going over board in social media with tik-toks and instagram. It’s a thin line.
10. Remain relevant during challenging times
Covid is an example and be adaptive to switch to other modality of lectures like webinars. Be willing to invest in audio and video technology to give quality presentations.
11. Improve your visibility in search engines like Google
This can be difficult because everyone is there to improve their visibility. Avoid paying these search engines to increase your visibility as it may appear like you are pushing your name too much.
In conclusion, being a speaker is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some doctors are just happy sitting back and listening to others speak. However, if you are like me, the ambitious type, start early in your career and impress your senior colleagues and people with influence so that you can be selected as a speaker. It is not easy. Everyone is clamouring for that spot in the limelight, but if you plan your work and career well, you can one day claim the attention of your peers to become a speaker not only in Malaysia but internationally. It is a lot of hard work but if you persist, you can reach the pinnacle of speaking to a hall full of your peers.
I would like to thank
My wife P Sarojini for editng this article
Dr. Gunasegaran for reading through the article and giving good suggestions.