Attending a big pharma conference can be exciting and overwhelming all at once. To get the most out the experience, make sure you prepare a game plan.
As you browse the presentations and decide what sessions to attend, don’t lose sight of your priorities. The activities and conference offerings you select should ultimately align with your networking and educational goals.
Focus on Networking Opportunities
Whether you love or loathe attending conferences, in the pharma industry they mark an important opportunity to network with people who have the same interests or who are involved in work relevant to your own. Meeting the right people at a live event can potentially position you for collaboration opportunities down the road or a chance to access valuable data.
As Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino put it, “Today, probably even more than ever before, networks are a key form of social capital for achieving goals in both your professional and personal lives.” Technology is amazing, as it connects people all over the globe and even serves as a substitute for live meetings. But real-life, face-to-face interactions are exceedingly rare and have become a more valuable form of social currency with tangible opportunities to advance your professional goals.
Even if networking isn’t your thing, don’t lose sight of the primary benefits behind the activity. Rather than thinking of it as a professional obligation, think of networking as a strategy to help you get the most out of a big pharma conference and ultimately help drive career success. With that in mind, plan your conference experience so that potential networking opportunities intersect with each session, presentation, and coffee or cocktail hour you attend.
Introduce Yourself Before the Conference
The best way to approach a conference is to consider each activity as a professional opportunity to network; research beforehand the people who can contribute knowledge or offer opportunities that are relevant to your work. Once you have your “wish list” together, pre-introduce yourself by sending an email or reaching out through social media. Better yet, get a colleague or a mutual friend to make an intro on your behalf.
When making an introduction, maintain a professional tone, but don’t be afraid to be personal. Your goal is to secure some face time, after all. For example, if someone is presenting, tell them you’re looking forward to their session or hearing them speak. A common fear among speakers is having an empty audience, so this small gesture will be appreciated. If you’re looking to connect with other conference attendees, set a coffee date or save them a seat at the next lecture.
Be Thoughtful With Your Time
Whatever activities fill your conference itinerary, make sure they satisfy either a networking or content goal. A content goal fulfills educational needs by connecting you with knowledge relevant to your interests. Networking goals can also unite you with human resources to further your work, and can be something as simple as supporting the person presenting. Of course, when it comes to the keynote speech, pretty rarely does it fulfill either goal; it’s just fun to hear someone who’s famous in the field talk to an engaged audience.
Most importantly, network on your terms. Perhaps the keynote is not relevant to your work; so invite someone you’ve truly been wanting to connect with to sit next to you in the audience. If your content and networking goals don’t exactly align, create your own networking situations. For example, orchestrate a small social gathering with a mix of interesting people. Draw people from your existing network as well as from your wish list; provide them reasons why this gathering might align with their own networking goals.
Don’t Forget Your Existing Connections
Finally, don’t forget to manage your existing connections. Big pharma conferences don’t just facilitate new networking situations; they’re also the perfect environment for solidifying existing professional relationships. According to Professor Gino, “Good networking not only means creating new connections. It also means maintaining and strengthening existing ones.” However, don’t feel lured into spending too much time around the people you’ve already established good relationships with—this can defeat your goals in the end.
The best way to manage existing connections is to stick to a well-organized conference plan. Prioritize your own networking and content goals, but find ways to include the people you know, in order to maintain and strengthen professional relationships. That gathering you were planning? That extra seat at the keynote speech?
A conference is a great way to position yourself as a potential resource for your current network. By offering these colleagues the opportunity to expand their own networks, they may discover new educational content relevant to their own work. And, who knows, maybe someone will extend the same opportunity to you.