HLOL Podcast Transcripts

Health Literacy

How to Create and Run Successful Health Literacy Conferences (HLOL #85)

Helen: Welcome to Health Literacy Out Loud. I’m Helen Osborne, President of Health Literacy Consulting, founder of Health Literacy Month and your host of Health Literacy Out Loud. In these podcasts, you get to listen in on my conversations with some amazing people. You will hear what health literacy is, why it matters and ways we all can help improve health understanding.

Today I’m talking with Kari Stanley who is Director of Community Benefit at Legacy Health in Portland, Oregon. In this position, she develops and oversees strategies that align Legacy’s mission with its identified community needs. Kari also leads Legacy’s system-wide health literacy initiative.

I met Kari recently when she invited me to speak at their upcoming Health Literacy Conference. This is the second one she’s running. What impressed me the most was all that Kari and her team did to make the first conference a success.

I said yes to speaking at their conference. Happily, Kari agreed to be a guest on Health Literacy Out Loud and talk with all of us about her secrets of conference success. Welcome, Kari.

Kari: Thank you.

Helen: Let’s start from the beginning. Why even have a Health Literacy Conference? It seems like an awful lot of work.

Kari: I think to provide context, I should mention that Legacy Health is a six-hospital and primary care and specialty clinic healthcare system, so we are a traditional healthcare system in Portland, Oregon.

In 2010 we established our health literacy initiative. We intentionally have two goals. One is internal to improve health literacy practice for our patients to improve outcomes and quality. The second goal is equally important. It’s to improve health literacy in the broader-based community and raise awareness that this is an enormous public health issue and that we want to reduce health disparities by addressing the issue.

Helen: It’s a big, complicated system. Where does having a conference fall in that? Is that one way you’re reaching both internal and external goals?

Kari: Exactly. As a new initiative, we raise awareness among our employees by having the conference and also raise it as an issue within the broader-based community.

Helen: Your first conference obviously accomplished that because you’re on to Conference 2 right now. Tell us what were your measures of success for the first one? I know when we first spoke you were telling me about all the people who attended and all the organizations. How do you know that your first one was successful?

Kari: We had 360 people attend our first conference. Our goal was 250, and we were amazed at 360. We also had a goal, because as I mentioned we wanted to reach to the broader community, of having no more than 50% Legacy employees. We wanted the outside community. We had 43% Legacy and 57% outside from 69 different organizations. We were actually amazed at ourselves.

Helen: I speak at conferences all over the country. There are very few I’ve seen that are in numbers well over 300. The fact that it was your first time out is what I think was really an eye-opener. What did you do? What worked?

Kari: From the very beginning, we involved external stakeholders in the planning committee. We had the State Office of Equity and Inclusion, a community-based advocacy organization, the Public Health Department and a health plan. If we wanted to reach out to external audiences, we needed to invite them to be part of the planning from the beginning.

Helen: It was right from the beginning. It wasn’t like you just came up with this idea for a conference and then said, “Would you like to come?” They were part of the planning.

Kari: It was part of the planning. It also made an enormous difference in what we offered on the program, what speakers and topics we had and the registration fees. We really included them and their input from A to Z.

They were also instrumental when we got to the publicity part. Ordinarily we would promote to our own target groups, but they provide list serves and contacts in their own fields that were far beyond our usual list of organizations.

Helen: I think many of our listeners may be thinking about running a conference but haven’t yet run a conference. I know certainly that there are some conferences that have been going on for years and years. IHA out in California with Michael Villaire is an example of that.

Let’s take it from the start. Talk about that planning process. How long did it take? How often did you meet? I know you had a variety of people at the table, but how many are we talking about?

Kari: We have about 12 to 14 who are on our planning committee.

Helen: Is that 12 to 14 people or organizations?

Kari: People. I think we have four or five external organizations. Then we have the internal. The internal was also important. We have physicians, nurses, social workers and a variety of people representing different disciplines because they come at this from a very different perspective.

We want to make sure that we develop our breakout sessions as well as our plenaries that would be of interest to the broader-based audience. It is really important to have a variety of people in the planning from the beginning.

Helen: From the time you had your first meeting, how many months did it take until you actually started having this conference or making it real?

Kari: We begin in June with a monthly meeting. The reason is that we want experts and national speakers. Their calendars fill up quickly

Helen: I know that.

Kari: Exactly. That’s why we have to begin then. We have found that by September or October, we need to have our national speakers down. Our conference does bring in national speakers and is a fairly expensive conference. That’s because we want the best.

You were asking how we know it was successful. The fact is that we had exemplary, stellar evaluations from people because we reached out for the best.

Helen: Even the first time around, you knew you wanted national speakers. This is a spring conference, correct?

Kari: It’s March. Correct.

Helen: Looking back, it took about nine months of this monthly planning from the get-go. I hear from you that you’re very clear about your goals. You had a variety of people at the table. You knew right in the beginning you wanted national speakers. But it’s not really a national conference, is it?

Kari: Not at all. It’s really targeted to Oregon and Southwest Washington, but we realized that as we develop health literacy experts within our local area, we will be able to have more breakout sessions particularly with local speakers.

One of the lessons learned was that if you have someone who is particularly an expert in an area, for example, a pharmacist in medications or some other area, the fact is that they also need to be an expert in integrating the issues of health literacy and health literacy tools with that particular topic. To ask someone whose area is in a particular field then to integrate it because the conference is about health literacy just doesn’t work.

At this point, we do have people like Dr. Cliff Coleman, who is a nationally known expert who’s local, but otherwise we realized that most of the experts in a particular topic integrated with health literacy are national.

Helen: Tell us about choosing the speakers. I’m happily the recipient of being at the end of an email asking, “Would you speak at my conference?” It’s always very flattering. What is the process that you, the committee or others go through to make sure these are the speakers that are right for your identified needs?

Kari: We spend the first meeting or two vetting speakers. We look at national speakers who have spoken at other conferences. We really have used other known systems, like state conferences. I recommend that anyone planning on doing this spend lots of time looking at other conferences. From that you can glean topics as well as speakers.

We then decided as a committee that we wanted to vette each speaker by watching an online video if at all possible. When we haven’t been able to find videos, we’ve actually used your podcast.

Helen: Really? You’ve used the Health Literacy Out Loud podcast?

Kari: Exactly. It lets us know a person’s presentation style. Knowing that someone has research or is an expert in a particular topic is very different from knowing that they are a good presenter.

We have definitely used the vetting process and heard from various members of our committee about particular topics that would or would not be of interest to their peers. It’s very important to us that we reach across the many different groups.

Helen: I’m fascinated with this and also flattered that you go to Health Literacy Out Loud to get a sense of speakers. By doing this, I certainly get to know people. I’m delighted that’s helpful in ways that I didn’t originally intend.

It looks like you look at the topic areas that have meaning to people who will be attending and the planners. You’re also looking at vetting your speakers so you know it’s someone who communicates that message really well. That’s the speakers and the schedule. What else do you need to consider in planning?

Kari: We really used our members to publicize the conference.

Helen: The publicity.

Kari: Exactly. This year we used list serves.

Helen: Those are online discussion groups.

Kari: Actually, when I was referring to list serves, my definition is names of organizations. We asked each member to list organizations and developed an online list of all the different organizations with emails and contact names. Then we sent them the information and asked them to publicize it in their newsletters, on their websites and to their association members.

That was very successful. I cannot tell you how many people did it or came to the conference because of it, but having 69 different organizations represented was far beyond anything that I would have ever been able to do from our usual mailing list.

Helen: That’s really interesting. I hear that referred to sometimes as word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing. Tell somebody you know. Then they’ll tell somebody else, but it sounds like this was very strategic from one organization to the next.

Kari: We do have it on our website. Last year we only had hard-copy registration forms, but this year we will be offering online registration. That’s new for us. That’s exciting too.

Helen: That’s great. I’m sure there are other things you need to consider like food, timing and location. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Kari: Actually, it’s an interesting dilemma for us. Since we have so many people and need so many breakout sessions, we’re more limited in location spaces.

We have a target of 500 this year since we had success last year, so if we have breakout sessions, we need six or seven rooms. We have a location. We wanted it near public transportation and to have parking easily accessible.

We decided to keep our registration fees because we do have a very significant grant from Legacy to an amount that’s reasonable for a variety of organizations.

Helen: You have reasonable attendance fees. It sounds like this could be kind of expensive. You need a facility that’s big enough and you have national speakers, but you want to keep each individual’s or organization’s registration reasonable.

Kari: Yes. That’s where the community-based representatives have been very important on our committee. They have weighed in as to what they feel would be reasonable within organizations that are outside of the hospital and a primary care or specialty care clinic who might have professional development registration or dollars.

We don’t offer scholarships. We decided that was more complex. What we do offer is lower registration fee prior to January 10. Then after that it’s a slightly higher fee. We were amazed at how many people really got their fees in and wanted to get their registrations in by the date. That was good.

One of the things that we’re doing this year with our second conference is that we’re able to open up registration sooner. The second time, you have more of the first-time steps down. We are able to start publicizing the conference sooner.

Helen: This is really interesting. I think this is what the core of so many people who run conferences want to know. As we’re talking about the budget issues, you mentioned you have a good beginning from Legacy Health. You also have your registration fees. That sounds like the money coming in.

I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to share about money coming in, but I’m also interested in money going out. We don’t need numbers. What categories of things do you have to consider in paying for the conference?

Kari: We do have one other amount of money. That’s from sponsorship. At our first conference, we only went to a few of our key partners, partly because of timing and also because it was the first conference. We did get support from every organization I asked. That was as much for visibility, credibility and collaboration as it was for the amount of money that they gave.

Helen: That sponsorship might be an ad, booklet, table or something.

Kari: It was recognition at the conference. With it, they were able to introduce one of the plenary speakers.

Helen: That’s money coming in. Can you just talk a little bit about what you need to consider for money going out and what kinds of pockets it goes to?

Kari: The largest was obviously the location and food. That was really the bulk of it. Then for AV support, we consciously decided not to videotape the presentations.

We were told by many people that so often when you spend money on videotaping, no one watches it. Having said that, we have used other conferences and videotaped some of their presenters. With that, we decided not to videotape it. We did have a photographer who took pictures but did not videotape the sessions.

The largest costs were location, food and paying for the speakers. We offered CME and CE credits to people. That’s very important to professionals. Really, those were the largest categories.

We also did paid the wages of a Legacy employee for coordinating the conference.

Helen: You’re not the only one doing this?

Kari: No. That’s really an important part. I oversee the committee and overall health literacy initiative. It’s really important to have someone who can segment your responsibilities and be a coordinator who handles all the interactions with the speakers, the logistics, the CME, working with the hotel and doing everything from A to Z.

She actually has conducted conferences before. Her expertise and mine are complimentary.

Helen: You’ve done similar kind of work but not for health literacy before.

Kari: I’ve done many events, but I had never done a conference of this size before.

Helen: I hope this is encouraging for listeners everywhere. With the right kind of team and thinking about this right from the beginning, I have been and remain really impressed with all of your putting it together to make sure this is a success.

Before we end, I really want to find out a little bit more about those measures of success. I know as a speaker and conference attender, it’s always on those forms, was the room too hot or cold, and did the speaker know what she was talking about kind of measures. Do you have other measures of success?

Kari: Since we offer CME, we have specific requirements that we must abide by. One of those is asking people to complete an evaluation. On the evaluation and online survey, we’ve asked them what behaviors they plan to implement following the conference. Then three months post-conference, we send them another survey asking them if they implemented their proposed behavior changes. We are going to do that in another three months.

We’ll be getting post-conference surveys from people. In addition, I am sending a periodic email of tips and resources out to all of the attendees.

What we discovered is that people were so excited when they go to a conference, but then does it stop there? Then people go back to their real life and their real jobs.

They may be the only person in their department. They do not have time to become health literacy experts regarding all of the research and the latest information. I feel my responsibility is to continue to keep them engaged and to provide them resources.

I was pleasantly surprised to have responses from people saying, “Thank you. This really means a lot. I look forward to seeing future emails.”

Helen: That’s wonderful. It’s not just that one-day conference. We’ll have a link on the Health Literacy Out Loud website about your conference that’s upcoming so people can learn more.

There’s one last question I just want to know about. Out of all the work you’ve been doing now, and you’re deep into planning Year 2, what surprises you the most?

Kari: I am just amazed and humbled by the engagement, excitement and enthusiasm from attendees at the conference and how it has permeated both our organization and outside in the community.

My goal is that health literacy practices will be part of the culture within Legacy, and we’re doing it. With our second conference reaching out to both people who have attended before, returnees, and first-timers, the idea is that we will have topics that will be of interest to both.

As we move forward, we will have a health literacy culture within Legacy and an awareness that we need to address the issue in the broader-based community.

Helen: That is just inspiring to listen to. I’m hearing that interaction between the culture, conference and community. Thank you, Kari, so much for leading the way with your group in your region of the country and even more for sharing all these lessons learned with listeners of Health Literacy Out Loud. Go forth, everybody, and run conferences. Thank you, Kari.

Kari: Thank you very much.

Helen: Wow. I learned so much from Kari Stanley about running health literacy conferences. I hope that you did too. But health literacy isn’t always easy. For help clearly communicating your health message, please visit my health literacy consulting website at www.HealthLiteracy.com. While you’re there, sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter, What’s New in Health Literacy Consulting.

New Health Literacy podcasts come out every few weeks. Subscribe for free to hear them all. You can find us on iTunes, Stitcher radio and the Health Literacy Out Loud website, www.HealthLiteracyOutLoud.com.

Did you like this podcast? Did you learn something new? If so, tell your colleagues and friends. Together let’s let the whole world know why health literacy matters. Until next time, I’m Helen Osborne.


"As an instructional designer in the Biotech industry, I find Health Literacy Out Loud podcasts extremely valuable! With such a conversational flow, I feel involved in the conversation of each episode. My favorites are about education, education technology, and instruction design as they connect to health literacy. The other episodes, however, do not disappoint. Each presents engaging and new material, diverse perspectives, and relatable stories to the life and work of health professionals.“

James Aird, M.Ed.
Instructional Designer