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TEDMED: Five Extraordinary Ideas for Healthcare Marketers

TEDMED: Five Extraordinary Ideas for Healthcare Marketers

Accelerating innovation in healthcare… and in healthcare events

A couple of weeks ago I took my seat at the opening general session of a large, national healthcare show. The lights dimmed as usual, the opening video rolled as usual, and the opening speaker hit the stage as usual and began his remarks:

“I think a lot about sex…” (As usual?)

Not your typical opening line. But also not really a surprise. Because this was not your usual healthcare show—this was TEDMED. TEDMED is designed to convene and curate “extraordinary people and ideas… in pursuit of unexpected connections that accelerate innovation in health and medicine.” True to this vision, what unfolded over the next 2.5 days was a wonderful and completely unique healthcare event. And while everything that makes TEDMED a true TED event may not apply to the typical healthcare event, there are several important elements that could easily translate to other healthcare event formats.


First and foremost, TED is a community. Everybody who attends TEDMED is open, engaging, eager to meet, and wanting to talk. It’s a spirit that is encouraged from the very first registration email. This is a core trait of TED events and it is supported by everything from couches in the General Session room (hard not to talk to your neighbor when you are sharing a couch), to more structured interaction at lunch and within “The Hive” technology zone. TED events are also “single track” conferences, so every attendee follows the same path, having shared experiences, just like a community.


From the folks on the stage to the participants in the audience, there is an incredible mix of extraordinary people at TEDMED—ranging from the surgeon general to organic farmers to spiritual healers. These diverse backgrounds come together with one common theme: an interest in health. They just may be coming at the issue from different perspectives. This is very different from the highly segmented and specialized nature of most healthcare events. And it’s powerful.


Like all TED events, TEDMED is about stories. Each presentation is limited to 15 minutes and designed to relate back to a story. These stories combine over the course of the event to tell an even bigger, cumulative story. It’s a linear event design that builds and unfolds. As a result, you quickly realize that you don’t want to miss any of it.


Let’s face it: Science and medicine can be pretty cold and dry. It’s about the statistics, the clinicals, the data. TEDMED isn’t afraid to connect all of that back to a higher calling: the patient. With sessions like: “Human Explorations,” “Who Cares for Healthcare?,” and “Mind Matters,” the sessions felt more human, more emotional. Of course, the typical medical congress or symposium will always favor data and science. But I suspect most could also benefit from a touch of humanity.


You might think that a conference inspired by interest in technology, entertainment, and design (TED) would be a very “techie” show. But TED is full of surprises and one of the first is that all TED sessions are “technology-free zones.” No phones, no devices, no emails, no tweets. Blasphemy? Not at all. TED understands the incredible value of face-to-face engagements. The value of being in the moment. The value of a communal experience. Sure, the presentations were all viewable from “The Hive” space next door. And you could watch from there while tweeting to your heart's content. But most people did just the opposite.


There’s much more, of course, but these are a few TEDMED elements that made the show so uniquely engaging and, dare I say it, inspiring. And that’s something all of us can aim for in every healthcare event.

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Steve coldiron

Steve Coldiron

Healthcare Strategy Director