From the VetPartners Experts: A Lesson on Getting Started as a Speaker in the Veterinary Industry

Jul 3, 2019 at 12:11 pm
Bill Schroeder

Veterinary professionals have long depended on the continuing education (CE) system to keep them at the forefront of successful concepts and trends so they are best prepared to meet and treat as many pets as possible.  I’ve been fortunate to have been part of that process for more than 20 years and have enjoyed helping tens of thousands of people understand how to develop a message and reach pet owners in their local market. Speaking and educating at veterinary conferences and events has truly become one of my favorite things to do.

Over the years, many have asked me questions about speaking in the veterinary industry. How do you pitch your ideas? What topics should be covered? Where does one begin? Here’s how you can share your knowledge and help to further the industry with great education.

Have something to say, with appropriate goals in mind

It all starts with having something valuable to share and the goal to help advance the industry. Unfortunately, many mistakenly look at the privilege to educate as being an opportunity to sell products or services. If this is your agenda, you are probably barking up the wrong tree. Nothing will turn an audience off faster than a sales pitch dressed up to look like an educational opportunity.

Here are a few quick tips on developing your message:

  • Speak on topics where you have “expert level” experience and qualifications.
  • Start by writing articles for industry magazines, journals, and blogs.
  • Understand your audience, and provide relevant, actionable education.
  • Never be commercial, and always disclose any potential conflicts of interest.

Get noticed by the venues

Once you’ve determined the lane you are qualified to educate in, you will want to stretch your legs and test your message with an audience. Begin networking with the professionals who are tasked with booking speakers for educational tracks at veterinary conferences. These people are selected by the meetings because of their understanding of the particular aspect of the industry that their track covers (for example, practice management tracks are managed by seasoned practice management professionals). Often, you’ll know that “you’re ready” to begin speaking because you’ll already have personal relationships with the professionals managing the educational tracks, as they frequently look to known and trusted sources to fill the slots.

Here are a few quick tips on reaching educational track managers:

  • Join VetPartners and become active within the association.
  • Deliver a “HotRocks” presentation at a VetPartners meeting.
  • Write articles in veterinary magazines, journals, and blogs that demonstrate your expertise.
  • Develop sample presentations that can be submitted as examples of your work.

Start small

One of the greatest bits of advice I have received over the years is to make the mistakes in front of as few people as possible and learn from those so that when you have the attention of the masses, you are delivering with as few errors as possible. Seek out the regional meetings and begin to practice your craft in front of smaller audiences. Then, as your popularity and confidence grows, you may choose to seek out the larger national venues. This might be another way to interact with the folks who manage the educational tracks at the larger meetings, because they frequently “scout” speakers at the smaller venues.

Here are a few tips on working with smaller veterinary meetings:

  • Call the conference office and ask for the person who manages education.
  • Realize that they may have limited budgets and resources.
  • Start with your home area—you’ll have a greater likelihood of knowing the people involved.
  • Plan ahead for the big meetings—keep your schedule free on those dates so you are available to speak should the opportunity arise.

Present like a pro

While volumes could be written about presentation techniques, my best bit of advice is to be prepared and to be yourself. An audience will feel most comfortable when you are relaxed and confident. Practice your delivery while recording yourself on your cell phone and then study your delivery looking for ways to improve. Great lessons can be learned by watching and listening to ourselves.

Here are a few tips for developing presentations:

  • Create slides that are light on text and easy to read.
  • Set goals early on and check in with the audience frequently to make certain you are meeting their needs.
  • Speak with the audience, not at them, and remember to keep them interested.
  • Leave plenty of room for questions and audience participation (10 minutes per 50-minute session works well for me).

In the end, presenting should be a fun and rewarding experience for the audience and speaker alike. Our community will grow to serve many more pets and their owners if our industry experts step up to share their knowledge. Good luck—I hope to see you on the road with a full room of engaged attendees!

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Bill Schroeder is a founding owner of InTouch Practice Communications. For the past 24 years, he has enjoyed helping more than 7,000 veterinary practices educate their clients and share their messages. He has a bachelor's degree in communication from Western Illinois University, is a former United States Marine, sits on the Board of Directors for VetPartners, and is a graduate of the Veterinary Management Institute at Purdue. Bill and his family live in the Chicago suburb of Schererville, Indiana, where he remains active in the Marine Corps veterans community, loves his Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks, and spends way too much time learning about digital marketing.

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