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Get ready to hear confessions of a conference speaker – Part 1

Last time we met, I encouraged you to consider conferences as a great place to find new ideas.

Writing that post got me to reflect on the various conferences I have attended throughout my career. I thought I would share a story with you today. 

I have had the privilege to speak at several conferences, including Pharmacy U, over the years. The first conferences I would serve as part of a panel where we would discuss work we were doing. The purpose of those presentations was largely informative. It was essentially an information dump on the audience. I realize today that I exercised few, if any, leadership skills. In those early days, what scared me the most was if we had any time left over where the audience could ask questions. 

I have heard it said that people generally fear public speaking more than they fear dying. I don’t know that I fit into that category. I do know that being asked random questions from the audience scares me, however!

The first conference where I ever presented was an Association of Managed Care Pharmacy conference in St. Louis, MO. One part of me was super excited, while another was scared to death be on that stage with three of my colleagues. We finished our presentation, and the audience was invited to ask questions.  Of the four of us on stage, I was easily (and obviously) the least experienced. I was beginning to breathe a sigh of relief then the first question came in. And it was for me. We were in an ordinary conference room, but I would swear that someone instantly installed a spotlight and pointed it in my direction. I do not remember the question asked nor the answer given. 

I did not know then, but I do know now that this was excellent opportunity to learn about leadership.

You and I could take quite a bit of time and make a list of all the things that leaders should and shouldn’t do. When I was at that conference, I probably would have said that leaders have answers. That isn’t always true. What is true is that leaders should ask questions so they can have good answers. 

At that conference, I was terrified of a question coming from a colleague that could be used by this colleague to lead his team and company better. What about that should be terrifying? Nothing! In fact, I think that asking questions is a wonderful thing.

As we become more polished leaders, we ask more (and better) questions. These questions help us to better form and define the ideas and solutions that can lead us forward.

Before I sign off today, let me share an experience from everyday life that happened just this morning. My kids were getting ready for school and my youngest had an awful case of the “slows.” It’s really to the point where I believe she is part snail. She was nonchalantly packing her backpack while my wife was getting after her. I am reasonably sure that some readers will understand this scene perfectly. 

At this point my 11-year-old daughter calmly told her mother, “Mom, yelling at me won’t make me get ready any faster.”

From across the room, I could practically hear my wife’s blood begin to boil.

But I am a much better leader today than I was all those years ago in St. Louis. I quickly jumped in and instead of having an answer, I asked a question.

The first confession of this conference speaker is this: I was initially afraid to take questions because I might not know the answer. The fact of the matter is that it is questions that help leaders find answers that will help them lead well.

Do me a favour, if this topic of asking questions is of interest to you, please drop me a note on LinkedIn. Perhaps we can look at a larger series on the questions leaders ask.

Until next time –

Jesse McCullough, PharmD

Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn

P.S. – The question I asked my daughter was: “What will make you get ready faster?”






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