Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Change from Within

Yesterday, I spoke at an international conference on mobile health systems and participated in a panel discussion. The theme for the panel was "The upcoming big-data deluge". The presenters included a business leader from a large IT company, a professor from George Washington University, the director of an international healthcare organization, and me. We would each identify and address what we believed to be the challenges of managing, filtering, interpreting and protecting the ever-increasing volume of biomedical data being collected not only in hospitals and practices, but also through consumer devices and self-evaluation tools.

Preparing for my presentation on Monday night, I researched facts and figures on the proliferation of sensor devices through products such as telephones and video games. I put together a cost-performance curve that anticipated the continued reduction in costs over the next ten years. Based on the proliferation rates, I calculated for the next five years, the per-week volume of new data being collected worldwide. The numbers were impressive and well beyond the capacity of any current system. All my numbers in place, I created a set of PowerPoint slides, submitted them to the conference website and went to bed.

The next morning, I headed over to the conference center and made my way to our designated presentation room. It was about eight times larger than I'd anticipated and, even though I was about fifteen minutes early, almost filled to capacity. I thought, "Hmm... these guys must be pretty well known to draw such a big crowd. This ought to be fun."

I walked up to the front of the room where the moderator and the other speakers were huddled, and said, "Hey y'all, I'm Mark." We shook hands and the moderator filled us in on the format. We'd begin the ninety-minute session with each of us providing a five-to-ten minute presentation and then open the discussion to questions from the audience. The order of the presenters would be alphabetical by last name; I would be last.

The business executive spoke first. His firm employed more than 100,000 people; his PowerPoint slides were polished and well done. He spoke primarily about the expertise of his company and its capacity to handle whatever data the world of medical forms and devices can throw at it. He was precise, to the point and clear. Eight or so minutes after opening he returned to his seat.

The professor's slides were, well, professorial. Each was crowded with enough detail to require five-to-ten minutes of explanation.  Many of them, he read verbatim. About five minutes after the ten-minute timer began flashing red, he skipped ahead to his conclusion slide, black with text, and read it to the audience.

The international healthcare director had well prepared slides that spoke to real issues encountered by his teams in the field. He gave equal time to solutions that had worked and ones that had not worked. Rather than waxing philosophical about the future of healthcare, he spoke to the biggest challenges he faced on a day-to-day basis.

It was my turn to speak. The moderator introduced me. I walked up to the podium and clicked to my first slide (to the left). I made a mental pass through all my facts and figures and looked up at the audience. As I did so, I flashed back to sessions with our weekly writer's group and thought about simply telling a story. In the moment between the time I clicked to my first slide and the time my mouth opened to speak, my mind changed everything I would say and present. Rather than talking about data, geopolitics and technology, I said, "When I was twenty-one or so, I stood at the checkout counter of the hospital where my wife Rene had just given birth to our first child, Joy. I had about two-thousand dollars cash (which was all the money in the world to me) and no healthcare coverage."

From there it just kind of rolled along. I managed to get in my facts and figures, but in a completely different context. The audience seemed to really like it. They laughed and even applauded from time to time.

Five minutes later, I sat down and we dug into the discussion. Afterwards, before I could stand up to shake hands with my fellow panelists, a queue of people wanting to talk with me had formed. I spent the next hour meeting people from all sides of the healthcare industry who wanted to know more about the systems we were developing and how they might use them. It was pretty amazing.

Afterwards, I felt grateful for all I'd learned from Jenny and Will about just telling your story. It's powerful.

Happy Wednesday,

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this. Congratulations on staying in the moment and telling your story. And so happy to hear that it was effective with your audience!


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