From The Editor | March 14, 2018

3 Questions To Guide You At Biopharma Conferences


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

3 Questions To Guide You At Biopharma Conferences

It’s Outsourced Pharma conference season: Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco … here we come. Time for you to lead and learn among others in the industry, with the goal of making outsourcing more productive for your organization.

Unfortunately, you might come up short.

That is you might if you haven’t considered three questions of existential significance about you, your company, and your presence at industry events.

Father-Daughter Talk On Conferences

Recently my daughter was explaining her concern with being asked to attend a new conference on behalf of her strategic business unit. The heart of the matter for her was that when attending events, she feels she’s neglecting her “office work,” slowing down others, letting her email buildup, and generally falling behind on the seemingly more “real” tasks of her position within the company.

Trying (unsuccessfully) not to sound like “Dad,” I replied: “It’s like I used to tell my global sales directors: If we send you to a conference, we’ve decided that is your job – the most important work to perform at that time. If you’ve convinced us you need to attend an industry event, again we’ve all agreed that is your job. Concentrate on making the best efforts there.”

“However,” I added, “if your boss asks you to prepare, and then perform some duty or represent the company at an event, and expects you to handle ten other things at the same time, it is a failure of leadership.”

In fact, whether you are a C-suite executive or the newest member of an organization fresh out of university, there are three questions to wrestle with before showing up at any conference:

  • What kind of company do I work for – or am I creating? Is it one that emits a focused or scattered light at events?
  • What kind of leader am I? Do I energize or enervate events?
  • What am I projecting about me as an individual? Do others receive positive or negative energy?

Epistemic Employment (What Kind of Company?)

You are at a conference (of any kind). An attendee – audience member, business development person, panelist, speaker, or even a host – is preoccupied with what is going on outside the event rather than focusing on what’s happening within. It’s all email, cell phone, and perhaps “private” office chatter with a colleague.

Pay attention to your reflexive (otherwise subconscious) response. It’s probably not to think:  “Gee, they must be important.” It’s more to shoot a quick glance at their nametag to see what company this person works for. Why? Because you instinctively think that here is the person who works for the organization that will perform least well at the gathering.

They’ll gather fewer leads, do less listening and learning, and lose opportunities at thought-leadership and networking.  

You know – because it’s the same for yours and the other companies there – the price in time and money it takes to get you within the physical proximity to others in your industry, and the benefits that venue offers.

But there’s an important background question regarding that distracted person. Is she unable to allow a few hours of attendance supersede outside considerations because the company in effect won’t allow it? In other words, does the organization require the conference attendee multitask, and divide her attention?

You – and perhaps that employee herself – understand that the propensity to “multitask” at events has an inverse proportion to the benefits derived from the task at hand.

You sense this person doesn’t work for a focused organization. Or worse: The event you and all the others have decided to attend isn’t that much of a priority for that organization.

Therefore, before attending a conference, make sure your organization is set on your making a good impression, and agrees you are there to focus on the task at hand. Your conducting of your attendance will in fact demonstrate for all what kind of a company you are, and you are creating.

Cognitive Contretemps (What kind of Leader?)

Let’s now turn our attention specifically to the behavior of executives who are tasked with guiding that creation of the organization.

At conferences you’ve opted to join, it’s not your pronouncements on a panel, your spectacular speechifying, or perfect presentations – or any private meetings – but your overall presence that reflects the strongest on your leadership.

Do you lead from the podium alone (your bully pulpit)? Or are you engaged at the networking reception, the coffee breaks; do you attend sessions other than your own at the conference? Do you “walk the floor” and engage?

Executives should accept invitations to share their experience and provide knowledge on Topic A or B, to potentially influence industry and organizational outcomes, and of course to promote their organization. But if you run into the conference at the assigned time, and out as soon as your oration is over, be sure of this: You in fact are a negative force at the conference; an enervator, not an energizer.

From leaders like these: What can we actually learn about their organization? They are too busy to engage? Their very interpretation of their (limited) role at the conference diminishes their message and overall effectiveness.

The assembled expect – actually require – more.

And consider specifically a conference like Outsourced Pharma, where essentially we meet to discuss the practice of business partnering, service-provider relationships, the industry’s working together more effectively. The behaviors mention above are anathema to the entire gathering.

Everyone has time constraints and responsibilities. And no leader in our industry needs a lecture (particularly not from me). But reconsidering the energy patterns you emit at conferences can’t hurt your chances of increased success, and those of your company.

Personal Philosophy (Who As An Individual?)

By now, it should be clear we are not simply talking about avoiding multitasking or better time management.

But neither are we talking about, for example, the current social theme of spiritual “mindfulness.”

We are talking about doing your job well. Period.

To do that, you must clearly understand what that job is, and how you as an individual can best perform it.

If your organization has sent you to an outside gathering for training, meeting with customers, education, representing the organization, participating with peers to discuss the industry, isn’t that enough for a few day’s work? Are you the type of person who can focus on how you are going to accomplish all that? You should be: Your company has selected you.

Be at your best by being fully present and engaged. Be there for yourself first, to show the industry who you are. Then for you colleagues, your company, customers, other attendees, and indeed for your industry.

Your role: Ace the event.

Return to your other duties and assignments better trained, more educated, with more contacts and leads, with new ideas. A better employee.

My daughter was concerned she’d somehow fall behind. I said she’d actually get further ahead.

And how does Dad know so much about doing events the wrong way? From years of experience.

Just don’t tell her that.


Chief Editor Louis Garguilo also serves as Conference Chair for Outsourced Pharma events. He periodically writes about the philosophy and impact of industry conferences. Here are some of his past articles on the subject:

Pharma’s Potemkin Village On The River Of Outsourcing
The Three Pillars Of Industry Conferences
Silicon Valley, Meet BioPharma And Its CMOs (Please)
A Global Forum For Outsourcing (With Simple Objectives)