Meetings: Pump Up the Meeting

New tactics and technologies jazz up the old-fashioned pharmaceutical meeting or convention
Jul 30, 2007

George Koroneos
These days, it's not enough to find an appropriately sized and conveniently located venue for a pharma meeting. The old formula of PowerPoint, a microphone, and a few tables just won't cut it anymore. Instead, planners are faced with the task of ensuring that attendees get the most bang for their buck—and walk away having experienced a "wow" factor that will keep them talking for months to come.

Today's meeting and convention halls have the potential to be as big and bold as a rock concert venue, drawing all eyes to the presenter and creating a real sense of spectacle. So why are so few pharma companies breaking out the big guns for meetings?

For some planners, it's a fear of the unknown; for others, it's budgetary constraints. These reasons are understandable—but it's worth adding a few bells and whistles to the equation to take a meeting to the next level. That doesn't mean springing for the multimillion-dollar sound system right off the bat, but you can slowly incorporate new technology into the mix or ask the facility what some options are. Pharm Exec talked to James Sullivan, director of event technology at Mohegan Sun, to find out what new technologies and services should be on a planner's wish list:

Flat-panel plasma or LCD screens can be used as traditional televisions, for PowerPoint presentations, as monitors (where sight lines are bad), or for digital signage. Some meeting planners place LCD monitors next to the event entrance to list the day's presenters; others use larger plasma displays as a general reader board. Even fancier flat monitors are being built into podium fronts to display ads during the speaker's presentation. One company recently requested small LCD screens that several employees wore sandwich board–style while they strolled the exhibit hall. It's a little out there, but certainly doable.

Wireless Internet access is prevalent in most hotels and meeting centers, but it's often available only in the lobby or guest rooms. If you need wireless access in the event hall, check in advance that it's available. Many facilities charge upwards of $10 a day for WiFi, and that might be a concern for attendees. But wireless Internet has become more reliable, and it gives attendees the option to take care of business while on the road. For the meeting itself, however, a hard-wired Internet connection is still the only way to go.

Business centers are a necessity for attendees who don't want to lug a laptop or who just need to check their e-mail. Business centers also cover a wide variety of last-minute needs: printing reports, adjusting PowerPoint presentations, photocopying, and much more. Some can even facilitate printing large poster boards, a big request in the pharma meeting space. In the past, this would have been done through the front desk (if the staff had time) or by renting equipment (much more costly). Keep in mind that the level of service at a business center can vary greatly. Many are automated, and guests can gain access to machines by using their room cards or paying a nominal fee. A more attractive solution is to choose a location where the business center is staffed with attendants who can provide assistance and technical support.

Wireless remote-polling systems are quickly replacing pen and paper as a means to gather attendee information and gauge topic interest. Attendees answer questions using PDA-size alphanumeric key pads, and the results are beamed to a small receiver tethered to a computer. Event coordinators can poll people about their opinions, asking the same questions at the beginning and end of a session to see if the speaker has swayed the crowd.

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