Balance key in picking keynote speakers

January 28, 2013 in Medical Technology

You don’t get the star power of a former U.S. president, the leader of one of the country’s most respected hospitals, a world renowned cardiologist, the country’s health IT chief, and two highly charged and high-powered political debaters, by leaving things to chance.

So when former President Bill Clinton takes the stage at the 2013 HIMSS Annual Conference Exhibition, when Werner Thomas tells the audience about Ochsner Health System’s work to get back in the game after Katrina, when Eric Topol discusses the creative destruction of medicine, when Farzad Mostashari, MD, inspires his audience to be more meaningful, and when James Carville and Karl Rove go at it on the issue of healthcare, one knows there is planning, calculating and perhaps some cajoling involved.

Karen Malone, vice president of meeting services for HIMSS, is responsible for making it happen. She admits to being susceptible to star power. But the mix of speakers has to be right, she said. It has to be balanced. It has to be on point.

“First of all we look for balance in the keynote platform each year.” Malone said.

“We want to have industry representation,” she said. “We also want to have representation from other environments that impact healthcare, such as the political faction. Then, we’ll sometimes also look for representation from others that are leadership focused  – motivational or inspirational. Chelsey Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of Canada Geese, was one of those inspirational speakers.

Malone and her team usually like to start the week with an industry leader. “It helps to set the stage for the week,” she said. At HIMSS13, Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Oschner Health System in New Orleans is set to be the first keynote on Monday morning.

“We wanted someone from the CEO level who can talk about technology and how they see it as far as really being a great investment from healthcare delivery,” Malone said. It makes sense, too, to kick off the New Orleans conference with a speaker from the Crescent City.

A visionary can help balance the platform, and this year that designation falls to Eric Topol, renowned cardiologist and author.

Malone said the team also looks for someone who is headlines.

“And, if it happens to be someone from the political faction like Bill Clinton, who also happens to know a lot about healthcare, that’s what we look for. We look for some connection to healthcare and/or technology,” she said.

To wrap up the conference, Malone looks for a headliner name, – “quite frankly, to keep people.” At HIMSS13, it will be two headliners – James Carville and Karl Rove, giving their views on healthcare and other hot topics.

Over the years, HIMSS has landed many “big gets” as speakers. Michael J. Fox was considered a “big get,” someone that many HIMSS members had suggested, she says. But, it took several tries to make it happen.

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