I could not be more lost in a small room with a bunch of new people. I anticipate the prospect with approximately as much joy as if the offer were to come to a toenail clipping party. You can imagine my delight then to be charged with running a “Small Group Discussion” session at an upcoming anaesthetics conference.
The Small Group Discussion clearly has a very different set of challenges than the more common ‘deliver a talk in a big room of mostly empty chairs and iPads supported by biological life forms that occasionally seem interested’ that I’m more used to. So in the interests of transparency on how I’ve come to tackle this here, with the aid of an amphibian support crew, is my “Plan for Staggering Small Group Brilliance that Might Not Work”. (This also means please set me straight if this looks awful.)
When I was first approached to do this session, I was asked to “do a hands-on workshop on paediatric trauma care, maybe with a bit of prehospital stuff too”. To me, a workshop implies that it will be a little bit hands on. So I suggested maybe we dial that back. Not just because that’s a lot of work for 1 person. The logistics of reproducing a kid getting hit by a truck or something just seemed a bit challenging, particularly in Singapore. You can’t have an actor playing a truck driver if they can’t smoke and chew gum, right?
So 15 people, and they’re supposed to learn about paediatric trauma care, with both prehospital and in-hospital pearls to take away. 90 minutes. Got it? Here’s the plan and the preparation.
1. Set the Stage
The small group discussion will only work if those attending are keen to converse. That requires setting the environment up to facilitate chatter. That’s easier said than done. My natural instinct is to be the guy hanging in the corner giving the impression I’m really interested in conference room partition systems to hide my awkwardness. Probably not going to cut it. Setting up an environment where people feel free to speak up is actually a key part of crew resource management when you work with aviators. The same goes for working in theatres. Both of those situations are dependent on people of any level being able to speak up when they see a need to contribute. It’s just a different spot to make that happen. I’m going to start with dressing casual.
2. Share a Story
Nothing gets people on board like a cracking yarn. Is it really that likely that I could string together a bunch of random concepts into a discussion without a strong narrative? A good story should put a group of anaesthetists into a zone they feel comfortable with – thinking about a patient. It will hopefully trigger their recall of a hundred other cases. It adds natural timing and pace. A story is a natural thing to share, and I’d like everyone doing that. Of course, to tell someone else’s story, you also need to get explicit permission.
3. Shut Up
In a big room conference bit, you kind of have to talk. That’s your job. This is a discussion so I’m hoping to spend most of my time listening. I’m well and truly in the earlier part of my career. There will hopefully be some people with great experience and a different way of looking at things for me to learn from.
4. Be Transparent
Setting up an environment for open chat necessarily involves being open, particularly where you don’t have the answers. Historically there’s been the suggestion that doctors aren’t so great at acknowledging when we’re not sure, but that’s not my experience. Any story of a case will involve instances where things could have been done differently. My plan is to identify them up front.
5. Free Stuff
By now we all know that doctors are keen on free stuff. This is because they are actually fairly human and it turns out that most humans quite like free stuff. It’s long been known that this marketing can influence doctors in all the wrong ways (although happily things are moving in the right direction and scrutiny is helping). Of course, it is possible to harness the positive vibes from generosity for good. So the current plan is to provide all the relevant reading material I can find on a USB drive for everyone who joins in. That way people get relevant stuff to look at later and the feeling that they’ve got the equivalent of a two-for-one deal at the service station without their insides getting assaulted by more [insert generic stomach-rotting cola beverage here].
7. Get Some Experience
Just like delivering a presentation, practice is worthwhile. I’ve had two cracks at working through the case and each time I’ve picked up some worthwhile pointers and tips. It’s pretty annoying when you get to any small group session and half the planned stuff is missed or it doesn’t fill the time. How many things do you get better at without practice? Not many. Maybe practice then.
The last point to challenge me is that the session is on the last day. After the conference dinner. Now where’s the frog that can give me the right tip for that one?
All the amazing frog pictures came, with permission, from the excellent Dr Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at The Australian Museum. This is only the smallest selection of photos from her beautiful site, which you can find here.