It’s Becoming Harder to Fake it as a Speaker

August 16, 2012

Not long ago I served as a panel speaker at a large, national medical meeting.  The subject matter was social media.  The panel consisted of myself, another doctor with a well-established platform and a third woman, a high-ranking member of The Society.

The problem was the third panelist.

As she began to speak the live tweeting began.  People on the other side of the planet wanted to learn more about this person headlining this major meeting.  So they searched for her blog, Twitter feed, and Facebook page.  But there was nothing to be found.  She was speaking about something she had never done.

Participants in the backchannel had some pointed comments about her.  Fortunately most of the audience didn’t know there was a backchannel.  But it was nonetheless an uncomfortable spot for those of us sharing what she had to say.

In 2009 I watched a senior VP at a major drug manufacturer get skewered when, after a presentation about Twitter, she was forced to admit that she didn’t have a Twitter account and that her expertise was limited to conversations with her communication team.

It used to be that you could fake it.  But these days your living CV is only a click away.  And anyone claiming authority of any kind can be cross-checked before the lights are even dim.

If you’re going to take the to the podium, be sure you can walk the walk.  Or at least take the time to set up a Twitter account.


Mike Sevilla, MD August 16, 2012 at 5:24 pm

I think I remember this….

DrV August 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Great memory, Mike. You were in the audience for one of these. But mum’s the word. Some details have been changed to protect the innocent….

e-Patient Dave August 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm

WELL said, and point well made.

Brandon August 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Dr V ,

I think this advice isn’t just for speakers. It could also apply to job applicants, artist, performers, actors, and many other professions.

The web has afforded us to cross check virtually anybody regardless of what they do.

Something to think about when touting you are a great actor, sales rep or school teacher. The web will attest (or not) whether you walk the walk or not.


DrV August 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Very true. Sometimes, however, I might even put too much weight into the digital footprint and pass judgment before words have left their lips.

But point well taken. Thanks for chiming in….

Adam Nally, DO August 17, 2012 at 8:59 am

Most interesting. I am surprised at the number of speakers I hear that don’t realize many in the audience can verify statements and comments made in real time. . . good points Dr. V.

Casey August 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm

It really has changed the dynamics of listening to a speaker, but I think it can also serve as a sort of distraction. Instead of the focus of any speaker being the topic at hand, it can become to discredit the speaker. Sometimes in real-time, sometimes by the questions/comments.

e-Patient Dave August 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Wow, Casey, what strikes me about that idea (people *seeking* to discredit a speaker) is that somebody needs to get a life. If that’s the best use of their time at a conference, was it worth the time away from their regular job?

I know a lot of people are spending time doing Not Much, but it seems to me that those people are juicy targets for the private equity folks who like to root out wastes of money, y’know?

Not sure whether to add a smiley to that, or not.

Some years ago the smartest guy I ever knew said “This is what happens when you get to where you have an aristocracy – people living off the fat of society, with nothing important to do. They dream up ways to be vicious.” As in the film Dangerous Liaisons, I guess.

Another e-patient August 22, 2012 at 11:12 am

I might agree with e-Patient Dave’s statement that someone seeking to discredit a speaker needs to get a life if it weren’t for a recent experience that I had at a patient conference.

Getting to this conference and managing medical needs in foreign surroundings was a complicated task for many attendees. We were all expecting to receive accurate and complete information. My experience allowed me to see that one speaker was faking it. My mental list of concerns was growing by the minute. I stopped taking notes, debating which would be less disrespectful: to sit there with a look of complete disgust and mistrust, knowing that I have zero ability to hide what I am really thinking, or find a reason to leave. When I started receiving text messages from others with similar concerns, I left on the pretext of needing to address an urgent matter and found that many others had done the same.

During the break that followed, I shared accurate information with other attendees and referred them to appropriate sources on the subject matter. While the speaker or a casual observer might categorize my actions as vicious, I feel differently. When one leaves their job to attend a conference, they are expecting to be addressed by experts who will further their knowledge which will enhance their abilities. When speakers are not experts in the field upon which they speak, those in the audience are done a disservice. Their time and money is wasted, and they must work with one another to repair any damage that has been done.

John Lynn August 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

So true. I had this happen at the AHIMA conference last year. The one session on social media was done by someone who hated social media and rarely used it. So, their presentation to the audience was an unfortunate message of why to hate it as opposed to how to use it properly and how to get value out of it. It was so full of misinformation and I happily pointed it out on Twitter.

The irony was that I was one of possibly two people that were in the back channel of that session. So, two of us commiserated about how off base the guy was, but sadly none of the other people in the audience realized the bad information they were getting.

DrV August 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

I think that large organizations have no idea where to turn for good speakers on the subject. My experience has been that these organizations at this point have a growing number of local experts capable of getting the right message across. Of course, many of the decisions regarding speaker selection are made on criteria that have nothing to do with qualification. Huge problem.

Jen Kestler August 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm

This post reminds me of a time in grad school when a professor was asked if he’d read a certain book. He replied, “Read it?! I haven’t even taught it!”

Although he was joking (I think), your post and some of the comments here address the trust we put into those labeled “experts.” Social media is a powerful tool when used correctly or incorrectly. It can make or break reputations.

Those new to the game put their faith into experts at conferences. If that “expert” is faking it, he or she does a massive disservice to those who invested their precious minutes to learn.

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