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Behind the Scenes of Conference Planning:
Chicago Edition

We just hosted the first ever Health 2.0 Local conference in sweet home Chicago. It was ragged and a little rough around the edges, but we had attendee after attendee come up to us with genuinely effusive praise: the content was sick! I felt energized after the conference! “Sick” in a good way, of course. Comments of that ilk made every head banging conference planning moment over the past eight months worth it.

Yes, the thought of doing this started eight months ago. A frenzy took hold four months later, and the month leading up to the event was pure manic madness. The final week was disorienting:

  • Half of our attendees hadn’t registered yet
  • Half of our sponsor dollars were still “uncommitted”*
  • The agenda was still fluid — a keynote speaker dropped out

*We thought we were in the red even with the committed sponsorship — though it looks like we might actually have covered all costs, assuming some of the checks are really in the mail!

Why did the content resonate with our guests?

We continued to tailor it as we learned more about who was registering: clinicians thinking about solving problems and early stage entrepreneurs. We made a point to feature inspirational Chicago-based entrepreneurs and have them articulate their successes.

We invited folks from the national stage to help describe the larger landscape. We asked our speakers to balance long-term prospects with short-term actionable opportunities. We knew that we had to have an outlet to discuss all of the ideas, problems and challenges from the main conference day — hence a second day that featured how-to workshops and opportunities for the attendees to contribute and learn through interactive activities.

How did we develop the program?

We scoured through all the feedback that our community had been sharing with us over the last two years; topics that they’d asked us to feature at our meetup sessions. We also polled our members earlier in the year to determine if there was interest in a conference and to learn about the content they wanted to see presented. We focused our speaker selections on Chicago-based companies and individuals who are innovation catalysts in our local health tech community, and included a small cadre of non-Chicago thought leaders who are trying new things and breaking old models.

How did we organize this without any experience?

National Health 2.0 was in our corner; our “parents” helped us out bigger than big. Matthew Holt, Indu Subaiya and Jean-Luc Neptune developed the concept of Health 2.0 Local conferences in response to our request to have a Health 2.0 conference in Chicago, and they gave us their expertise, contacts and resources.

Semi-monthly calls to offer advice and help became weekly calls as the conference approached. The final two calls were largely therapy sessions. (Thanks Jean-Luc! We couldn’t have done this without you!)

Why did we decide to do this? Look for the next installment in this series.