This Evolution of Medicine Podcast, Community in Action: The Evolution of Meetups, features Dr. Cynthia Thaik—the record-holder for the largest Functional Forum Meetup in Glendale, California.
Tune in today to learn Dr. Thaik’s template for growing her Meetup from zero to over 180 people in no time, including:
- How she used the community-building principles she learned from EvoMed to get started strong—including opening events to the public
- The key strategic relationships they created with event venues, speakers, sponsors and patients that helped build their tribe
- The different formats they’ve used to galvanize their group and encourage collaboration
- Their most effective social media channel for promoting their Meetup
- Which surveys they used to get to know their audience and create targeted event topics to meet their needs
- And so much more
Learn how to create your own record-breaking Meetup Group by listening, and subscribe to the podcast today.
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Announcer: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine Podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help transform your practice and the health of your community. Now, here’s your host, James Maskell.
James Maskell: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This week, we feature Dr. Cynthia Thaik. She is a integrative cardiologist in Burbank, California, and one of the biggest Meetup hosts in our Functional Forum Meetup Community, having just hosted an event of 180 people. We talked to her just about the progress of her Meetup group, what she learnt along the way. We talked about ways that she, specifically, outreached to practitioners to get them in the door through sponsors, through LinkedIn and other strategies.
We talked about how she’s been able to identify what the needs of her community are by asking them and by quizzing them and by surveying them, and then also really looking at ways that we’re gonna use the tour to be able to catapult these Meetup groups and grow them even bigger. So, it was a really interesting half an hour and I think that if you’ve ever wanted to be in a Meetup group or you’ve started one, or you’re interested in starting one, there’s a ton to learn. Enjoy!
So, a warm welcome to the podcast. Doctor, welcome!
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Thank you James. My honor to be here.
James Maskell: Yeah, such a pleasure to have you on here and I think you now hold the record for the largest Functional Forum Meetup. And so really excited to get you here on the podcast and just talk a little bit about the journey for you. So, I know it’s been, not that long actually, since you’ve been running this Meetup. What was the initial thing that initiated it for you and what did you get out of it right at the beginning?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yeah, in fact, I think this is our one year anniversary. We had our first Meetup in May of last year. I’ve been following you and your journey and the Functional Forum for quite a bit of time now. One of the things you always teach or coach is to just jump right in and so we’d been talking about it for six months leading up to our first Meetup and finally just decided to grab the bull by the horn. Los Angeles is such a diverse community and there’s so many different pockets of, not just MD’s, physicians, but other providers, from osteopaths to naturopaths, to nutritionists, acupuncturists. So our vision was really to encompass all the ancillary service providers and bring them all together in a community.
James Maskell: Absolutely, yeah, that’s beautiful. One of the things I really appreciated about what you did at the beginning was just aim high and try and do something big and I think your first Meetup had almost a hundred people and you had sponsors. How did you go about thinking about how to pull off something so significant?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yeah, I think that one of the biggest things that … you teach, part of your mantra is really this notion of community. That there’s power in community. In reality, when most physicians, or anyone, is thinking about taking on this undertaking, it seems somewhat daunting and insurmountable, but if you just break it up into little pieces, right… We all, particularly as physicians, we know so many other ancillary providers, people that would mutually benefit from participating in an event like this. Nutraceuticals, to the laboratory companies and everything from essential oils to food companies. When we think about what we’re trying to … Our vision, what we’re trying to advance which is really promoting health intersecting with lifestyle. There were just so many different partners that we could tap into, so that was the first place that we started was trying to grab that community of supporters that could not only help us financially, but also help us promote and draw into their circle of providers, as well as clientele.
Our first event was a provider-only event. We’ve had other events now that have included lay people and patients as well. But then, after that it was really about building that list and each participant standing out and communicating and helping us promote. We also used social media, Facebook, and LinkedIn was actually really big for us too. We made a concerted effort to reach out to the different sectors. So we looked at naturopaths in the greater Los Angeles area. We looked at acupuncturists in the greater Los Angeles area, nutritionists, right. We didn’t send out a mass mailing. We connected with each of them on an individual basis with either messaging or within LinkedIn. That was very effective for us as well.
James Maskell: Yeah, I love that. One of the things we’ve always said is, think about how many people benefit from getting this kind of Meetup together. As you said, the sponsors and all those different groups benefit. A physical location benefits. All of the best Meetups that we’ve seen have really taken advantage of the fact that there are people who would want to sponsor, people who want to get in front of that audience. I came maybe was it the first or second Meetup that I came to and spoke. I’d been used to seeing Meetups sort of on a small scale, ten practitioners in a doctor’s office huddling around a TV. This had silverware and dinner and there were booths. It was really a very high end event but I guess that’s definitely possible when you have all kinds of supporters who are not only going to support the event financially, but also going to hustle people into the seats because they want to get those people there too.
Cynthia Thaik, MD: That’s right. We definitely came out big and the challenge subsequently was maintaining that momentum. It was great that you came to our second event and there was just a lot of excitement around that and your presentation was great and so we were able to keep that momentum going. Our third event, we scaled back a bit and made it just sort of a meet and greet and that was really good as well because we now had two big events where people came and they were able to experience it but they didn’t get to participate as much. So our third event, we scaled back and made it an open mic and we had practitioners introduce themselves and get a little bit of a spotlight. That was really good too because ultimately, we want collaboration. We want to be able to do cross referral and cross promotion and have everyone feel like they’re engaged in the event.
James Maskell: Beautiful. So, let me just follow this up. One of the things that I really appreciated was that you did some surveying of your community to see what they wanted. Ultimately, it sounds like that third event was a result of that. What did you learn from the surveying that you didn’t expect and how did it help you create something that was really sustainable?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: We took two surveys. One we wanted to see just the breadth of the different providers that was part of our community and it was really rewarding to see that every sort of sub-specialty and spanning from MDs, functional medicine doctors to doctors of osteopathy, naturopaths, acupuncturists, several scientists, PhDs that were there, researchers, nutritionists. So it was really great to see the breadth of the community. That was one survey.
Then the other survey that we took was really what the objective of the community. What were they hoping to get out of it. Everything from networking, promoting their own business and being able to advance their own causes to educational piece of it, community service, and so we had a pie chart that really sort of let us know what the interests of our community was. From that we have been designing our subsequent Meetups to really address those needs.
James Maskell: Beautiful. I think one of the things that I saw, which was really exciting, when I saw the results for the first time was just that people were really there for the networking and the content is something that can bring people together. It can be a talking point. I think it’s just the way that everything has evolved that it’s good to use content in the beginning when you’ve got a small group, to be able to have something that you know is going to be consistent. Ultimately, what we’ve seen with all of the biggest groups and all of the most successful groups is that they focus more on the needs of the people in the group rather than having to show a 90 minute forum or whatever at the time. I think that’s just the evolution of community and ultimately, I’m really grateful that it’s gone in that direction.
I know the last little while you’ve moved into sort of innovating in the groups and trying some new things. What are some of the things that you’ve done since the third event and now, up until last week?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yes, we’ve had some speaker sponsored events … The two big events that we’ve had in 2018 was in February we held both a provider as well as patient event for heart month. We had five speakers participating and for that one, we drew over 100 registrants, both patients as well as providers. We had, in addition to our sponsors, different health booths and so we were doing blood pressure surveys, BMI, talking about weight management. Patients got to interact and engage on a very physical level with the speakers and the sponsors before the event and then we had the five speakers just really … I think they each had ten minutes to speak and then we sort of did Q&A.
For our event that we just had last week, timed with mental health month. So February was heart month so for May for mental health month, we did a brain health and wellness event. We changed the format up a bit in that we again invited five speakers but they had fifteen minutes and it was a formal slide presentation. We really had a great round of speakers. The topics were quite diverse including Dr. Steven Barry from Biome talking about the gut microbiome and the brain and who’s in charge. Then we had Dr. Dina talking about QEEG and brain mapping and how do you integrate that into clinical practice. Dr. Saunders talked about using meditation and other tools to deal with anxiety and depression. We had Dr. Chang talking about brain MRI and imaging. We really covered a great breadth. Then we had Donna Sitters talking Dale Bredesen and the Bredesen Method of helping to identify and reduce Alzheimer’s. It was a great educational piece that both providers as well as patients could benefit from.
James Maskell: Great, no, that’s exceptional. I guess part of this is looking to see who benefits and getting the right kind of community together. Obviously some sponsors want to get up in front of the community. Some people want to meet each other. This is obviously a great gift that you’ve given to your community by stepping up and moving forward and you’ve had a little bit of help with your team there. I’d love to know what the impact has been on your specific practice because I’ve always thought that the majority of these Meetups can fall on the person who takes initiative to do it. Have you found referrals or anything? Has there been any subsidiary benefits to your practice as a result of stepping in and facilitating this community?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yeah, I think the biggest benefit is branding, right? I just went to another Meetup. It was a women’s health conference in Pasadena. I put on my name tag in the Holistic Healing Heart Center and several people who I hadn’t even met formally and said, “I know you. I get your emails or e-blasts or whatever.”
I think that becoming known as an expert, a leader in the community has definitely been a benefit. Yes, absolutely getting new referral sources has been great. I think that this is a really important teaching point for a lot of providers out there, particularly the MDs, right. We get stuck in our box and our vacuum and we think that particularly as a specialist, I’m a cardiologist, that all of my referrals need to come from other MDs. That is just not the truth of it. I get referrals from my acupuncturist. I get referrals from the hairstylist that is talking to people about their lives and their health. So, we have to understand that as physicians and as providers, really our referral network is just the people, whoever is out there in our space. So, as long as they know that you come at your job caring for patients with authenticity and that your purpose and your heart is in the right place. I think that particularly the MDs have to get away from this paradigm of thinking that only other MDs can refer to them.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. That’s such a great point. I think we’ve seen that in communities all across the country where if a doctor or a doctor and a team starts the Meetup, then they get a lot of referrals. We’ve seen health coaches who have started Meetups getting hired by doctors or partnering with doctors because now they are super visibile and now they are in the center of their community. It’s really started some thinking on our end, on our team, about who is best positioned to build these communities and so we’re excited to be rolling some of that out as we move forward here in the future.
What’s next for the community based on what people have been looking for and the feedback that you’ve been getting? Where do you see taking this in the future? Obviously, getting 150 or 180 people to the last event is pretty exciting because now you have a big community and you have something you can really do something with. I know we’ve spoken about before are there ways that we can energize the community to actually do stuff together to make an impact outside of their own individual practices. What are your thoughts going in that direction?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yeah, I think that the next step is to really have inter-community get togethers or Meetups so getting together with a group from Riverside or you and I have spoken about collaborating on your event in November. To bring pockets of communities together and having, even if it’s just once a year or semi-annually to have a larger event that will draw from different pockets so that we can share ideas, successes and failures or learning points. I think that that’s one of the next steps it’s going to go. You’ve been great in really sort of spearheading this and I want to hear more about your bus tour and how you’re going around the country and connecting these communities together with a common purpose.
James Maskell: Absolutely. That’s one of the big things that I was really excited to see that your Meetup had evolved to include patients because ideally, that’s what we’re trying to bring together at these Meetups around the country. Let’s bring together all of the practitioner community and the way that I’ve said it, the people who care about health transformation to the people who are delivering the care. If we can bring those kind of groups together now in every city around the country, in 22 cities at least, we have sort of a beginning ecosystem for a beginning of a new healthcare system ultimately, which is what I see is possible in this moment.
I think that just the differential of cost of care and value of care between yourself as an integrated cardiologist that’s focused on lifestyle and a regular interventional cardiologist is significant. As we move towards value-based pricing, it’s going to be clear that practitioners that engage patients, practitioners that facilitate predict and preventive medicine, are going to be valued really highly in the new ecosystem. I want to make sure that our community is a part of that conversation, if not driving it, if not actually building it ourselves. That’s a big thing.
I agree as well and I’m glad as you mentioned with the event in November, the final event on our tour is November 1 in LA and I would love, if you’re listening to this, we’re going to be partnering with Dr. Thaik and her group to bring them down to LA to it so we can really get a really strong group together.
Ultimately, the potential for that is in all these groups around the country. If you have a Meetup group and you’re listening to this and you are thinking, okay, we’re not coming to your city, is there an opportunity to come to the nearest even that’s happening near you or just keep growing the group big enough and maybe we’re going to make a detour to come to your area. Ultimately, we want to see these groups, give them some momentum, help to share best practices and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate you coming on the podcast because by doing the things we recommended, like one, getting the sponsors involved, having a consistent space, asking the people what they want, delivering what they want, keeping the process going, I feel like you’ve really set a good template for other people to continue. Ultimately, we hope that these Meetups that we’re going to do around the country are going to spearhead a new era of community, new ecosystems of which we will be able to lead the charge towards a much more efficient and valuable chronic disease management system. Or chronic disease reversal and prevention system, not just management. I know that word doesn’t sit well with many in our community.
That’s kind of it.
Cynthia Thaik, MD: That’s great. I mean, I think it’s really exciting what you’re doing. I think that the healthcare industry is ready for it. There’s a lot of doom and gloom that’s out there among physicians that practice within traditional allopathic insurance-based model and so to be able to give an alternative to not just patients but to providers as well, and to have providers understand that if you offer cutting edge, innovative, patient-centric approach to medicine, that not only will your practice survive but it will thrive. I think that physicians need to understand that rather than getting to a very contracted from that fear-based approach into an expansive, optimistic approach. That’s really what’s necessary to sort of galvanize our movement.
James Maskell: Yeah, how much confidence does that give you to do that in your own practice, given that, I find for myself that once you do something within initiative and it goes well, or you’re like it doesn’t go well and you learn from it, then your ability to see what else you can do and go that next level just goes greater because you’ve learnt stuff and you’ve seen the opportunities. Really, the only reason why we can even contemplate launching an alternative to health insurance or working with insurance companies to deliver functional medicine at a big scale is because all along the way, we’ve learnt all these little lessons and we start to see where are the pockets where we’re going to be most effective, where are the best opportunities.
Ultimately, we’re just starting to open up a dialogue about what is it going to take for us to make the kind of impact on medicine that is necessary, I think is an urgency for our practitioners to move to the front of line in medicine. It’s not like let’s hope that this happens someday. I’ve got kids and I want to make sure that we can get the life expectancy and quality of life and all that moving back in the right direction. It’s not looking good right now.
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Absolutely.
James Maskell: So, if you were to speak to someone who’s maybe been on the fence about starting a Meetup, or maybe started one and it didn’t go very well or it didn’t grow in the way that yours has, if you were giving them a pep talk, what would you say?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Number one, I would say to persist and to believe in the formula. You laid out the formula. It works. So they need to formula. That’s really important.
Number two is get a team around you. Honestly, I have a great support team, who you spoke with the other day and others who have really helped to hold up our vision. That’s really important. And understanding that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You and many others Meetups across the country have really laid out the formula and the formula works if you follow it.
I would just say to persist and believe in that process.
James Maskell: Absolutely, I appreciate that. Thank you for leading the charge. I mean, we can’t do it all ourselves. We’ve seen Ann, who is the head of community at EvoMed, who, having run these Meetup groups for two years is like, “I can’t believe this is that hard.” And just got on with it and nailed it too, and has Chicago’s biggest Meetup, has had over 100 people at her events. Very similar energy from you guys. Just get on with it. Do it. Follow the plan. Execute.
I loved what you said about LinkedIn. I think that’s a great strategy and I’m really glad that we were able to add that to our list of strategies.
I’m really excited too. One of the things that we’re going to be announcing soon is that we’re going to be creating a program for non-doctors to be able to do marketing of integrative medicine and to connect them with doctors and to start to get more and more people involved in being on the front lines.
Ultimately what we need is … There are certain things that only doctors can do, but I think that by relying on doctors to do the outreach and community are limiting. I know that there’s a lot of people that are passionate about this healthcare shifting, want to be part of it and super involved and I think that’s how better to put yourself in a position where you can really affect change by going out, doing it yourself. Once you have a community of people, then looking to reach out to a doctor at that point to partner with where you say hey, I’ve got this whole community. They’re interested in your care. What can we do together? Ultimately, I think by facilitating just everyday people and other types of practitioners to get on the front lines and build support groups and funnel those people into practices across the country, we can continue to move the momentum forward further and further.
Yeah, it’s been great. Thank you for taking the initiative to do it and setting such a great example. I’m really looking forward … Dr. Thaik will be one of our keynote speakers on the 1st of November 2018, which is the final stop on our tour. It’s also the first day of open enrollment. It’s a very exciting moment for us and it’s going to be a big event. We’re lining up some big acts and hopefully some big headlines as well. But from all of us at the Evolution of Medicine doctor, thank you so much for taking the initiative and setting such a great example. Look forward to following the progress of the group with great pride and excitement.
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Thank you, James, and thank you for your leadership.
James Maskell: This has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. We’ve been here with integrative cardiologist, preventative cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Thaik. She practices in Glendale or Pasadena?
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Burbank.
James Maskell: You practice in Burbank, okay.
Cynthia Thaik, MD: Yeah, Burbank and Valencia.
James Maskell: Burbank and Valencia and has done an incredible job coordinating that Meetup. If you run a Meetup or would like to share your story, please get in touch with us. If you have learnt something from this or if you’d like to start a Meetup, go to Meetup.functionalforum.com. Establish the Meetup. It’s never been easier. There’s never been more resources to make it easy for you to do it. The Functional Forums that we have coming up from June IFM all the way to the November Functional Forum that will be shot at the LA event. We will have incredible dynamic, exciting content and we also have such a massive back catalog of content that we’re never going to run out of interesting things to talk about.
Thanks so much for being part of it. I’m your host James Maskell and we’ll see you next time.
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