My job

I chaired a conference, lived to tell the tale, and learned some useful lessons

RCNi's Colin Parish reflects on chairing the inaugural Learning Disability Practice conference in September 2015

Colin Parish reflects on chairing this year's inaugural Learning Disability Practice conference in September.

Colin Parish at the Learning Disability Conference in September

Having worked as a journalist for the past 17 years, including more than eight years as a reporter on Nursing Standard, I’ve probably been to more conferences than just about any other nurse.

You name it, I’ve been there. Conferences on mental health, learning disabilities, wound care, emergency care, management, older people’s care, district nursing, health visiting, children’s cardiac care, dementia care, renal disease, education and cardiac care, I’ve seen them all. RCN Congress and the Unison health conference? I’ve been to dozens of them.

During this time I’ve witnessed dramatic entrances, inspirational speakers, entertaining presentations, great debates and a smattering of tears, tantrums and tiaras – the last a diamond-studded one on top of a Middle-Eastern princess’s head.

But I’ve also witnessed more than my fair share of death by PowerPoint – you know the sort of thing, where each of 32 slides is read out loud slowly and deliberately to ensure that the allocated hour is filled to the last oh-so-leisurely ticking second.

However, until this year, I’ve never really spent much time up on stage giving it out rather than sitting back and taking it all in. In September we ran our first Learning Disability Practice conference, and I chaired half of it.

It was an interesting, albeit slightly terrifying experience.

I don’t generally get stage fright, but it was a bit unnerving to look into the audience and see England’s chief nursing officer there, along with my boss and a whole bunch of nurses and other professionals waiting for me to set the scene.

As it happened the conference went incredibly well and I came away with one clear message for anyone else who is thinking of putting on a similar event: get the programme right and everything else will be hunky dory.

Of course, getting the programme right is the most difficult thing of all.

Venue, catering, accommodation and administration all fall into place if you know what you are doing or employ someone who does.

But the programme – that takes a huge amount of time and effort: What should the subject matter be? Should there be plenary sessions and breakouts? What about workshops and seminars? And, most important of all, who should the speakers be?

The chair’s job is simple if all of this is done well. Get the right speakers and get them to give the right stuff in an entertaining way, and the delegates will go home happy. And happy, well-informed delegates will take away important messages and hopefully make a difference to the lives of the people they work with.

It’s as simple as that.

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