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The Connection We Make

We would like to thank all of our members, sponsors, and supporters for joining us at last month’s Columbus Annual Symposium. From kick-off at 7:15 a.m. to wrap-up at 3:35 p.m., the audience was engaged. I would like to recognize our member services committee for guiding the presentation selection process, our staff for executing at a high level, and our speakers who informed educated and kept us rapt with attention. By all accounts, the event was a success. 

One of the reasons for that success was that everyone was so attentive. What was obvious to anyone in the room and confirmed by member feedback was the powerful way in which our featured speakers connected. Had you looked about the audience during Craig Kramer’s or Mark Bertolini’s presentations, you would’ve witnessed one of the more rarefied events in our modern society: 300 people ignored their phones for a bit and actively listened to a human being telling a story. 

Why? What magical powers of oratory did Craig and Mark have? Were they attractive? Were their voices like the finest of silks and strongest of timbre? Did they command authority like royalty or mystify with some kind of superhuman stage presence? 

Of course not. They connected with all of us in a meaningful way because their stories rang true; they came from personal experiences we can all relate to.  

Everyone thinks they know exactly what they would do if they received a call and learned a loved one had attempted suicide. Everyone thinks they know exactly what they would do if a loved one was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Everyone thinks they know exactly what they would do if they themselves were severely injured as Mark was in his skiing accident. But the truth is, no one really knows how they will respond to these kinds of health experiences until they go through them. 

And that’s what makes these stories so powerful — they allow the listener the chance to live vicariously through the storyteller and maybe, even discover something about themselves as though it came from their own personal experience.  

When Mark asked the question, “What is health really about?” and qualified it as being the opposite of poverty, I thought back to my own health scare, when I broke my hip. I had never used such a word in that context before but yes, it was like I had thought of it myself: during my recovery, you bet I felt deprived of both strength and vitality. The yearning and desire to be healthy again was overwhelming. The only thing that mattered to me was walking again. You could feel the same thing in Craig’s and Mark’s stories. The only thing that mattered to Craig was his daughter’s mental and physical health. The only thing that mattered to Mark’s son was surviving a disease that no one had ever survived. And the only thing that mattered to Mark was wanting to live despite half his body being broken.  

And we could feel that through the power of their stories and the connection we made.  

When we’re really listening, a person’s story can inform us of so much more than just what they’re explicitly trying to communicate. They can make a point in a way that other forms of communication can’t and affect the listener in a meaningful and emotional way. The really good stories tend to inspire. And that was exactly what our Columbus audience was privy to at this year’s Symposium: inspiration and connection — not just a break from their phones.   

We hope you experience the same when you join us and our assemblage of national thought leaders, industry experts, and vendor partners at next week’s Cleveland Annual Conference & Expo. With plenty of networking opportunities and Health Action Council members from across the country, we'll have the opportunity to share our stories and collaborate with our peers as we continue to shape the future of health and benefits. 

I hope to see you there.

Members can view most of the Annual Columbus Symposium presentations in our online Member Center. If you need your login and password information, please send us an email

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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