How to Influence Council

influence councilLaugh tracks win debates.

Political talk shows, like Bill Maher’s, rely on cheers from the audience to boost the host’s views.

Applause directs viewers what to think. No one wants scorn for being out of line with what Bill Maher thinks.

Groups of doctors are no different. We think that we are thoughtful and deliberate, but applause changes doctors’ opinions, just like everyone else.

Influence Council

Almost 300 doctors will take a biannual pilgrimage to a giant basement in Toronto for the Ontario Medical Association Council meeting this weekend. Council delegates will consume tables of carbs and coffee listening to the OMA Board Report and other issues.

Delegates must sift hours of noise for buried scandals. Big issues can slip by in seconds. When delegates find something, they need to speak up. They need to convince the basement mob to think differently. They need to move council.

A delegate must be ready. S/he should care less about whether the person on the stage changes her mind. Effective delegates win the crowd. They change opinion.

After 15 years at council, here are a few suggestions for delegates.


Make friends

This sounds trite, but politics pivots on relationships.

Make as many connections as possible. Form alliances. Those friends will support you at the microphone.

People will not support your ideas if they do not know whether you are normal. They must know you are trustworthy.

Have fun

Having fun is dead-serious, excruciating hard work.

You must have fun.

Curmudgeons do not influence anyone. They get ignored.

Crowds pay more attention to personable people, who seem to be enjoying themselves and everyone around them, than a grumbler who frowns about his fee codes.

Be brutal

Make your point in a few seconds.

Most talk is wasted filler. When you get past the necessary social filler in your comments, you must make your point brutal, clear, honest and unavoidable.

This applies equally to chitchat over salad and comments at the microphone. Go in for the kill with grace and a smile.

Plan your counter-attack

When you make a point, especially at the microphone, anticipate how people will wiggle to avoid your argument. Do not leave an escape. Again, be brutal.

Force people to answer your question or address your point, when a crowd is listening. This is a war of ideas; you must prepare for it.

Be gracious and polite

Speakers at the podium will treat you with frustration and sometimes disdain. They may try to win the crowd with dismissive humour.

You will get cut off and have your time cut short.

Never have a temper tantrum. Crowds hate speakers who make them feel uncomfortable for the wrong reasons.

Return favours

You need solid applause after asking for change. Return the favour when one of your new friends stands at the microphone.

Applause wins arguments more than logic. But don’t overdo it.

Do Not

Speak too long

Choose your words carefully. Almost everyone should write out what they plan to say.

Never – never, ever, ever – speak to the end of your time.

If the Chair asks you to sum up, you might as well sit down: You lost the crowd.

Once every few years, council members will rally and attack the Chair for cutting someone off. Do not expect that your idea will rouse the crowd to fight for you.

Attack the Chair

The Chair and Vice-Chair never forget being attacked and publicly shamed. If you try, you will become That Doctor.

Little coincidences will limit the next time you speak: Your timer will start before you open your mouth, you will get interrupted, and panel participants will dismiss you.

Do not become That Doctor.

Talk about yourself

You may have the most heart moving story about personal suffering, but do not tell it.

If your story must be told, convince someone else to tell it for you. Most people do not want to make policy based on one moving story.

Hold a narrow self interest

People do not like little issues that apply to a few doctors.

Some groups try to raise esoteric fee code squabbles from the floor of council. They never win.

I hope other veterans to council will share more advice in the comment section.

In a perfect world, logic, facts and reasoned debate should guide large groups, such as OMA council. But just like any crowd, council moves for other, more human reasons.

Council ignores issues at the end of the day that would have sparked hours of debate at 0900.

Council cuts off discussion and calls the question, when lunch is getting cold.

Legal minutiae delivered by fastidious experts can anesthetize delegates and guarantee little or no debate.

Medicine is in crisis in Ontario. Doctors do not trust the government or the OMA. Problems pile up, when government and doctors fight.

We need a smart, sophisticated association. We need a modern OMA. Council can shape the Ontario Medical Association. Council delegates need to use every political tool, including applause, to make the OMA choose the best course.



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6 Replies to “How to Influence Council”

  1. Having attended 13 council meeting and seeing the mistakes that others have made, I have to say that this is another posting on your blog that is SPOT ON!

    I have always made sure when I got up to the mic to speak that it was very brief…I don’t ever think that I got past 30 seconds. Besides, I don’t really like to hear the sound of my own voice…

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