How To Keep Advisory Boards Productive And Useful During COVID-19

Advisory board meetings are hugely important to the pharmaceutical industry. While firms benefit from the customer insights that emerge from these meetings, the physicians involved receive important opportunities for networking and professional development with their colleagues. Unfortunately, these adboard meetings fall into the long list of important business activities that are currently being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But simply transferring existing adboard models to a platform such as Zoom is unlikely to be a positive experience for participants, or to deliver the best insights for drug makers. To create successful online adboards, pharma companies need to understand the challenges of going digital, and redesign these events accordingly.


The Challenges of taking adboards online
Videoconferencing has undeniable benefits. At the same time, it’s clear that there are unique, sometimes subtle, benefits of meeting in person.

Focus. It’s easy to get distracted during video chats, whether by an email sliding into the corner of your screen or by someone in the background at home.

Flatness. Many people find the natural back-and-forth of in-person conversation just doesn’t happen online. A sense of awkwardness can increase the risk of distraction.

Flow. The rhythm of the meeting can be disrupted by connection problems and other glitches. Sometimes the technology itself becomes the loudest person in the room.

Face time (not the app). Casual interactions – moving from group to group, chatting, catching up – are some of the main incentives that draw physicians to adboards. With these taken out of the picture, the “core” event might hold less appeal.

Given these challenges, is it still worth organizing adboards while physical distancing rules are in place? We think it is. No one knows how long the pandemic will last; to simply give up on hearing from physicians for the duration – and for physicians to lose out on these informative professional gatherings – doesn’t make sense. Digital adboards won’t be the same as familiar, friendly in-person gatherings, but with thoughtful planning they can still deliver useful insights for firms, and positive experiences for participants.

The first step toward success with online adboards is recognizing that this “gathering” is truly different.

Keys to success for digital adboards

The first step toward success with online adboards is recognizing that this “gathering” is truly different. However successful your usual in-person approach, it will probably take more than just a few tweaks to bring your model online. The length and structure of the meeting itself, and especially the preparatory steps you take beforehand, will all likely need to change.

Shorter sessions, expertly managed. No one wants to sit in on a single online meeting all day, whatever the content. Online adboards need to be shorter than the standard full-day sessions. A shorter meeting makes it even more important for every minute to be productive and engaging. It’s worth hiring a trained facilitator who can develop a smart structure in advance, then keep the conversation on track and on schedule. (Savings from rental fees and catering should free up plenty of resources for a great facilitator.)

Give homework (seriously). One way to make the day shorter is to have participants review background material on their own in advance. As long as you’re clear about the requirements and make them manageable, most participants won’t mind doing a little preparation on their own – especially if they’re curious lifelong learners (see Careful recruitment below).

Participation and exchange. It’s vital to give participants a chance to respond as well as listen. Most online meeting tools have a “quick poll” feature; asking participants for their opinion partway through a presentation can offer an energy boost, and the results of the survey can provide fodder for conversation. Running an online whiteboard function or chat session can help participants keep track of the group’s ideas and stimulate further group discussion. Try to use a platform that has “breakout rooms” or another feature that lets participants speak in pairs or small groups.

Careful recruitment. Getting the right people “in the room” always matters – and this may be even truer when the room is a virtual one. Adboard organizers usually need participants to have certain characteristics in common (e.g., specialties, roles, qualifications). When it comes to online adboards, personal qualities can be equally important; gathering participants who are attracted to digital tools, curious about online learning – or simply adaptable and open to new experiences – can make a big difference to the success of your session. Environics’ MDConnectTM tool can help firms identify and connect with physicians whose values make them well-suited to contribute to this unfamiliar forum.

For ideas and guidance on taking your upcoming adboards online, contact

Find out how Environics can help your organization

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