Experience Planning, AI, and Discovering Your Why: Key Issues From Pharma Forum 2018

Key takeaways from the 14th installment of the world’s leading life sciences meeting management conference, CBI's Pharma Forum 2018.

Last week, March 25-28, we attended the 14th installment of Pharma Forum to learn from the top minds in life sciences meetings management, as well as present our keynote on emerging tech and trends in the meetings and events industry.

There were more than 800 meetings and events professionals in attendance for CBI’s annual event, with noteworthy speakers including Talk Stoop host Cat Greenleaf, former NFL kicker Rolf Benirschke, ACCESS Destination Service’s CEO Chris Lee, CEO of Swarmworks, Heiner Kopperman, and CEO of InHouse Physicians, Jonathan Spero.

Let's dig into the key takeaways from some of the top speakers.

Cat Greenleaf, host of NBC's Talk Stoop, kicked off the conference on Monday morning acknowledging how networking, or even interacting with people at conferences can be awkward.

As experience planners, we put so much effort into building event tracks and activations that are designed to connect people and build communities around industry topics, but it could be as simple and even more effective to simply create space for small talk. Getting people talking about, maybe their dogs or TV shows they like, can actually break down networking barriers much faster, build a vested interest in the conversation, and make it easier to find ways for people to help each other and create longer-lasting valuable connections.

Rolf Benirschke, a kicker for the San Diego Chargers & Miami Dolphins from 1977 to 1987, took the stage next to share stories about his battle with Crohns Disease. From his initial misdiagnoses, through his surgeries and hospital stints, and from losing the will to live through returning to the game and raising a family, the moral of his inspiring story was the dramatic progress being made in modern medicine and patient care.

Chris Lee and Rolf Benirschke

Chris Lee, CEO of ACCESS Destination Services, discussed how we’re living in an experience economy where “experiences are the new gold watch” —meaning millennials are less likely to spend money on materialistic things and more likely to spend money on experiences (such as travel, attending festivals and concerts, etc). Conference and event attendees are less and less interested in a backpack full of “things” these days, and instead, crave an impactful experience.

An example of this at Pharma Forum was the Repeat Roses activation sponsored by Hilton. Repeat Roses, founded by Jennifer Grover, an experienced event planner, is an organization that collects flower bouquets from weddings that would otherwise be thrown away, takes them to conferences, offices, or other events, and facilitates team-building exercises for participants to rearrange them into new, smaller bouquets.

The bouquets are then brought to patients in hospitals, rehab facilities, hospices, cancer treatment centers, and domestic abuse and homeless shelters. The bouquets we designed at Pharma Forum went to a rehab facility in Philadelphia and included our hand-written, uplifting notes on cards attached to the flowers. This activation checked the boxes for a memorable, meaningful, unique experience, and was a huge hit at the event.

Chris then discussed the importance of discovering your why (cue Simon Sinek) and how your company or organization must stand for something and strive to make a difference. Purpose-driven experiential marketing. And this was a great segue into our experiential trends presentation, the slides for which you can download here.

Heiner Kopperman, CEO of SwarmWorks led a discussion on how AI is being used to track people’s reactions through video. Heiner explained that Amazon has a service where you take a photo, send it to their platform, and it can tell peoples genders, emotions, and overall state of satisfaction. We tried this in our breakout session.

We took selfies in the beginning and then at the end. This served two purposes—engaging the audience in an activity, and engaging them with each other, as was evident when everyone was laughing about the selfies they were taking. The activity was the warm up to Heiner explaining how SwarmWorks is implementing video technology that records a general session or breakout and can give the speaker real-time feedback with how people are feeling about the talk, based on body language and facial expressions.

Pharma Forum 2018 Panel Discussion

One final topic worth talking about is that of attendee safety. Jonathan Spero, MD, CEO of InHouse Physicians, brought up a few considerations for having medical staff on-site at event. How many attendees will you have? Is your program domestic or international and what are EMS response time like in that city? Is your event in a remote venue or setting where the nearest fire station may be tens of miles away?

Spero noted that 99% of events do not have medical staff on-site and the increase in acts of terrorism are a major reason for reversing this oversight and taking attendee safety seriously. It comes down to basic risk assessment, taking a proactive approach, and understanding the landscape, both geographically and politically, of where the event will be ahead of time.

Pharma Forum 2018 was an insight-packed four days. We're always excited when a niche industry event, like the world's leading life sciences meeting management conference, brings together professionals from wider ranging perspectives to share their unique takes on where the conversation should be headed.

For more experiential industry insights, in pharma and beyond, be sure to subscribe to our newsletters.

Written by

Elana Snyder

Account Manager / Cramer

Additional contributions by: Jonathan Ronzio

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