1. Don’t simply show up.
Ever hear that saying, “Showing up is 80 percent of life?” Not when it comes to attending a Medical Congress. The best way to waste 1000s of dollars is by going in without a plan. It’s critical to prepare in advance and know what your goals are. Are you expected to capture insights on new company data that is being presented? Meet with KOLs? Or perhaps record questions that come up during your poster session? Understand your organization’s reasons for sending the Medical Affairs team, review the agenda, who is speaking, competitors and MSLs attending, and other competing CME/CE meetings to plan your days most effectively. Consider using a dedicated tool to implement your strategy and save time gathering, collating, analyzing, and creating medical congress reports.
2. Watch videos of speakers ahead of time to help decide which sessions to attend.
Many large congresses (like ASH, ASCO, AHA, AAN, DIA, ESMO, etc) can have 5+ simultaneous sessions at a time. Even the best MSL cannot be in 2 places at once and it can be hard to tell which session is worth attending from the title and abstract. Search for videos of the speakers ahead of time and watch their talks. This can help you decide if the session will be worth attending or not.
3. Check out sessions outside of your expertise.
Attending sessions outside of your therapeutic area helps you to be more strategic and creative. Ideas from other areas can often be applied to your area. It’s a great way to grow and think outside of the box. Big Medical Congresses like ASH, ASCO, AHA, AAN, DIA, ESMO, etc are great opportunities for this.
4. Schedule meetings with KOLs ahead of time.
Let your KOLs know you will be attending and schedule meetings ahead of time. Use this opportunity to get face time with KOLs and for them to meet with other Medical Affairs colleagues. Congresses are great for meeting KOLs that are hard to get face time with. Download the congress app to review the list of attendees to see who is attending and reach out to them prior to the congress to set up a meeting. Don’t leave your meetings up to chance and hope you will randomly run into each other. Congresses are busy for everyone. Do the prep work to get your schedule packed full with meetings with important KOLs.
5. Have your materials ready.
Do some of your KOLs prefer hard copies of materials? Have those ready. Put business cards in multiple places (coat pockets, laptop bag, etc).
6. Let people know you are attending the Congress in your out-of-office email responder.
You might be able to set up a meeting with someone you weren’t planning on meeting.
7. Have your MSL elevator pitches ready.
You never know who you will run into and you don’t want to stumble when someone asks who you are. Be the well prepared MSL you are and have a 30-second elevator pitch prepared for yourself, your company, and the products you support. Don’t make it too detailed and focus on the outcomes. This is your chance to make a good impression.
8. Ask your KOLs to introduce you to their colleagues.
Use this opportunity to meet other HCPs in your area. When meeting with your KOLs, ask them to introduce you to their colleagues that are also attending. You might be able to get introductions to KOLs you have been having a hard time getting meetings with. Making a great first impression matters. A recent survey of approximately 1000 KOLs found that 87% of them valued meeting with MSLs and medical affairs professionals that were board certified in Medical Affairs. Consider becoming a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist (BCMAS) to distinguish yourself and expand your knowledge base to help have more effective KOL interactions.
9. Networking tips for MSLs
Don’t let your inner introvert cringe take over. Medical Congresses are great opportunities to make new connections and network. Avoid huddling with other MSLs and only talking with them. Here are tips to help you meet more people:
a. Stay at the conference hotel. Do this for both large congresses, like ASH, ASCO, AAN, AHA, DIA, ESMO, but also for the smaller ones. This way you are more likely to run into KOLs, MSLs from other companies, speakers, etc in the elevator, hallways, coffee shop, etc.
b. Attend the conference networking events. Go to all the happy hours, receptions, and banquets.
c. Have conversation starters ready. Come up with some open-ended questions to ask people you meet at the congress. Here are some ideas to get you started: “What did you think of that last session/data/poster?” “Why did you decide to attend that session?” “Is this your first time attending this congress?” “What other sessions are you planning on attending?” “Were there any major breakthroughs or takeaways that would change your practice from today’s sessions?”
d. Have a system for collecting contact info. If you’re active on LinkedIn, use the QR code feature to connect with new people right away.
e. Jot down something you learned from them or one interesting thing about this person. Reference this when you send them a thank you note or connect on LinkedIn.
10. Meet with vendors.
This is a good way to stay on top of the latest news and they can introduce you to KOLs, HCPs, and other Medical Affairs folks.
11. Take great notes.
After every session or meeting quickly jot down 3 takeaways, what was important, and any action items. Medical Congresses are busy and everything quickly becomes a blur. Taking great notes will help jog your memory and ensure you don’t forget anything essential.
12. Drink a lot of water and don’t eat too many cookies.
Who is guilty of only drinking coffee and eating 50 pounds of sugar at a congress? You can end up jittery and not feeling well. It’s hard to make a great impression and have meaningful conversations when you don’t feel great.
13. If you’re active on social media, post about the Medical Congress.
Pharmaceutical social media is a great way to connect with other congress attendees. Share great quotes, when your poster session is or other interesting things that happen at the conference. Don’t forget to use the conference hashtag to reach people outside of your network.
14. Daily debriefs with your Medical Affairs team are key.
Hold daily debriefs with other MSLs on your team to cover who you met with, the sessions attended, important takeaways, and who came to your medical information booth. Focus particular attention on why it matters to your company.
15. Send follow-ups to everyone you met.
Send a “great to meet you” note. You never know where they will be in the future, people they can introduce you to or other ways that you can help each other.
16. Prepare a Medical Congress report on the key takeaways.
Now that you’re back home, the work doesn’t end. All the insights gathered from the Medical Congress need to be collated, analyzed, and shared internally. Present this report to Medical Affairs colleagues that didn’t attend. Invite MSLs that did attend to co-present with you. Focus on the key takeaways, recommendations, and what it means to your organization. This will also serve as a great resource for your Medical Affairs team and organization later on.
Patrina Pellett, PhD is Director of Enterprise Accounts at Kernel Networks.