Make speaker selection an informed decision

Create criteria or ask for recommendations

Once topics are in place for a conference and speakers with expertise in the areas have been uncovered, planning committees must select which experts to invite to speak.

A call for abstracts works well, says Sandra Cornett, PhD, RN, Director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University in Columbus, and a member of the planning committee for the Philadelphia-based Health Care Education Association annual conference.

The committee had 45 abstracts returned for 15 slots for speakers to address the topics it had selected for an intensive workshop and concurrent sessions as well as poster presentations.

To help determine which health care professionals to invite to present, Cornett divided up the abstracts and sent them to committee members for evaluation. She made sure that at least three committee members evaluated each person.

To aid the committee in the evaluation process, a review sheet was created. Abstracts were scored in four areas that included the following:

  1. Relevance to conference attendees/HCEA (1 to 10 points). In this area, committee members were asked to check a box to indicate whether the topic was tailored to staff development, patient education, or community education.
  2. Relevance to the focus of the conference (1-10 points). Committee members were asked to check which topic category the speaker planned to address, including regulatory/accreditation issues, training modalities, leadership/management strategies, addressing disparities in health care, technology/innovations, resources, and research.
  3. Clearly stated and measurable objectives (1-15 points).
  4. Overall quality of submission (1-15 points).

"You can’t just send abstracts to a committee and ask them to look at them without giving them criteria," says Cornett.

It is difficult to know the quality of a presenter unless someone on the committee has heard him or her speak. Most people in the field of education at least have been in front of a classroom so have some experience in front of a group, she notes.

When Virginia Lundquist, RN, MS, staff development director for Willamette Falls Hospital in Oregon City, OR, helped plan a regional conference, the committee had to determine whether to spend most of its money on a national speaker or get several regional speakers. It decided to provide more selection by having a variety of speakers.

"The benefit of using local speakers is that usually at least three people on the committee had heard them speak. We also had them submit bios to the committee, but the initial contact was based on recommendations from people who had heard them speak," she recalls.