November 15th, 2010

An Exceptional Late-Breaking Session

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending this week’s AHA meeting are blogging together on CardioExchange. The Fellows include Susan Cheng, Madhavi Reddy, John Ryan, and Amit Shah. Check back often to learn about the biggest buzz in Chicago this week — whether it’s a poster, a presentation, or the word in the hallways. You can read the preceding post here.

To start, I should confess that I normally avoid late-breaking sessions like the plague. I’m not a huge fan of massive impersonal venues, the good presentations are often on data that were already published the same day, and I usually don’t find the discussions to be so enlightening. But this Sunday afternoon’s late-breaking session (which featured the RAFT, ADVANCE, EMPHASIS-HF, and ASCEND-HF trials) was actually a fantastic learning opportunity — and not just because of the science.

I decided to go to this session for two main reasons. First, it was focused on heart failure, a rapidly expanding problem in cardiology that everybody knows is in dire need of new, innovative therapies. Second, I knew the research was going to be compelling (given what I’d seen of the same-day publications), and I wanted to see if my own lingering questions about the data might be addressed in the panel discussion.

As expected, several hot topics in heart failure were covered. And, as it turns out, the moderated discussions were really informative. But what made the session extra-special were the little things that happened outside the main content being presented…

To start, two discussants suffered from IT problems that caused their slides to be either missing or incorrect. This caused quite a bit of on-stage awkwardness, although both discussants were eventually able to do their part without the need for slides. So I learned that the mishap of malfunctioning slides isn’t something that only happens to fellows — and that even plenary speakers can be caught off guard when this happens.

Then, in addition, I also began to take notice of whether or not the speaker was presenting from memory or reading off notes. I guess the reason I was paying such close attention to this was because I recently helped a friend prepare last-minute for her AHA oral presentation. She was absolutely convinced that she needed to have everything memorized and, although I used to make a habit of doing the same, I wasn’t sure it was really necessary. Now, having observed what the plenary speakers do, I would definitely say it’s not necessary — and perhaps not even preferred. If somebody is really pressed for time before their big talk, I think I’d prefer that they spend their prep time honing the content of their talk rather than memorizing less-polished material. And then, if their slides were to malfunction, they’d still be able to read off their notes.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that, at this particular session, most attendees stayed until the very end. In late-breakers that I’ve been to before, there is usually something of a mini-exodus after every other speaker, depending on what’s popular. For instance, the moment after the ARBITER presentation ended at last year’s AHA, it felt like more than 200 people just got up and started walking out of the auditorium (a common side effect of the large impersonal venue) — which made me feel a bit sorry for the subsequent speakers lined up for that session. But at this session, even though the last presentation was not the most interesting of the whole line-up, relatively few people left before it was over. Then I realized it was probably because Eugene Braunwald was the discussant. Pretty darn smart of the moderators to order the presentations that way.

So, I guess I learned 3 things from this session, beyond the science presented: Always be prepared to do a talk in case the slides malfunction. It’s okay to read from notes. And, if you want people to stay to the end, get Braunwald to be the last speaker.

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