I love participating in conferences for continuing medical education providers. Whether it's the annual Alliance for CME meeting, the Annual Conference of the National Task Force on CME Provider/Industry Collaboration, the National Institute for Quality Improvement and Education meeting, or smaller workshops and seminars, the energy in the room is always high and the ideas flow freely.

My only real complaint — other than that there tends to be more tell than show when it comes to adult-learning principles — is that some of the main points can fly over the heads of those who most need to learn the content. It's a little like when I was in college and had a PhD astrophysicist teach my Astronomy 101 class: He assumed we had a base of knowledge we didn't have, and the result was that we never did entirely understand what he was talking about. In the case of CME provider conferences, acronyms dance across the screen without explanation, and slide upon slide is skipped through as if it were unnecessary background to get out of the way before getting to the good stuff.

And that's what was so different about the Annual Global Alliance for Medical Education meeting, which I attended for the first time in June. With participants coming to the Montréal meeting from around the globe — everywhere from the U.S. to Argentina to Asia — there was no common set of acronyms or terminology, no baseline regulatory system to refer to — even the healthcare systems and patient populations were wildly divergent.

The faculty shaped their presentations with this lack of commonality in mind. The result was some of the clearest, most understandable, and arguably most valuable education around CME I've yet had the pleasure to take part in. And it set a model for continuing medical education aimed at an increasingly global audience.

In a session led by Suzanne Murray, president of Montréal-based AXDEV Group, we broke into small groups to talk about international collaboration initiatives we have been a part of, including the challenges and barriers, as well as the things that worked well. While our projects varied, our keys to success were remarkably similar: Clearly define your terms (even if you speak the same language) and have a local liaison help translate your format and content to make sense in the culture of your host country.

But the most important thing, we concluded, was to gear the program to meet the needs of the learners, not what you think is important or what you want to teach. Define your terms up front, learn what will fly with the local learner culture, and gear the activity to meet their needs, not yours — I'd say that's good advice for all presenters and activity organizers, whether they work internationally or not.

Other editorials from Sue Pelletier:

The CME Provider/Parent Parallel

Keeping CME Clean in a Biased World

Just the Facts?