Observations on a Virtual Conference in 2020

2020, the year of the COVID-19/Protests/Riots/Presidential Election and the year the clinical research industry’s annual convention went virtual.

The noteworthiness of this made me think to jot down my observations.

I have been attending DIA since 1997. That year it was held in Montreal. Last year was in San Diego, which is probably the best place to have it in terms of weather.  The conference is always in the 3rd or 4th week of June.  The heat and humidity in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston has often been close to unbearable.

The biggest differences for me were:

  • I didn’t get to co-host the FOCM Networking event with my friends from Zymewire
  • I missed seeing everyone! Not seeing friends in person (this event is very much an industry reunion) and not getting to socialize with them makes it more difficult to maintain relationships
  • Seeing so few friends in the virtual exhibit hall (Thanks Adriana Grado, Cory Winters and Amy Zastawney for taking time to meet with me). Every year I make a point to walk the entire exhibit hall to make sure I see and catch up with as many people as I can and to see what new and innovative products and services are available
  • I didn’t stay out too late (there was no virtual Transperfect party or vendor parties of any kind)
  • I didn’t drink too much.
  • I didn’t have a Fireball shot at the Barrington James exhibit.
  • I didn’t welcome any new FOCM members and hold any card ceremonies (I’ll have to re-write the card ceremony SOPs – the handshake may have to be eliminated)
  • Here it is the last day and I’m not exhausted.

As I have often told people younger and/or with less conference experience than me, at DIA – you will stay out too late and drink too much.  I point out that you HAVE to do this (it might even be in the SOP binder), because if you don’t, it wouldn’t be the tradition that it is.

A couple months ago I held a virtual FOCM Networking event with about 10 industry friends. I asked them if DIA were to be held in person, who would travel to DC for it.  The answer was no one.  Comments made were: it’s too risky, I don’t want to get on a plane, stay in a hotel, take a cab or Uber and go to a conference with 5000+ people. 

We in this industry are proud of the role we’re playing and demonstrating to the world the value, the need and the method for discovering treatments for COVID-19. The need to utilize recent innovations in big data, AI, high throughput screening, lighten cumbersome regulatory hurdles will serve the world well for developing new treatments for all diseases.

Virtual FOCM Networking Events Review

During this Covid-19 Quarantine/Social Distancing, we’ve all seen an increase in the use of virtual meetings, virtual networking via videoconferencing tools.  Zoom, Hopin, GoogleMeet, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, Free Conference Call are ones that I’ve been involved with to-date.

It is very interesting to hear how people are using these tools in a variety of clever ways. That’s the impressive nature of human-kind: creativity, innovation when circumstances impact us. 

I know of families having weekly Zoom calls to stay in touch. One includes playing a trivia game on each call, after catching up with everyone. Whoever wins the trivia game controls the questions for the next game. The Hopin (thanks GCPCafe and Nadia Bracken) tool has limits on the number of people who can be on camera at one time, while many more can participate via chat room to interact with the others.  This is good for interactive presentations by a few speakers. It also has a one-on-one video networking that I really enjoyed. You’re put into a “room” and are waiting for someone else to enter the “room” and then you see each other and start talking. It felt like meeting someone new at an industry conference reception without all the background noise and distractions.

I have held four FOCM virtual networking events using both Zoom and GoogleMeet. A friend said, ‘hey you’re the networking guy, you should be doing something during this time of isolation.’ I took it to heart and held events in the evenings on April 16, April 23, April 30 and May 13. Like I do when I would travel (remember that? – airplanes, hotels and rental cars?), I would email everyone I knew in the area to see who could meet up that night for drinks/dinner. So at first I held a FOCM event for the Philadelphia metro area, then for the Raleigh metro area, then the Boston metro area. It was about the April 30 Boston event, that I realized, I was no longer bound by geographic constraints. So the May 13 one was national (I did invite members from Europe, but it would have been 1 a.m. for them).

Attendance was taken, as per FOCM SOP:
April 16: Bryan Clayton, Dave Gibboni, Ryan Gibson, Chris McArthur, Chris McCracken, Pete Nieto, Mike Strand

April 23: Mike Burrows, Renee Brown, Brian Horan, Lauren Sherwood, Kate Mulllis (tried)- meeting minutes already published on www.focmnetworking.com/networking

April 30: Paul Bilden, Israel Bocanegra, Mike Burrows, Clint Craun, Scott Freedman, Brian Langin, Dan Weddle, Amy Zastawney
Observations: Two people had to exit early to attend other web calls, one for a birthday celebration – perhaps a glimpse of our future; night-time schedules of “virtual” meetings to stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues. I attended a friend’s birthday party on May 2 via Zoom.

May 13: 159 people were sent google calendar invitations, 111 never opened it (do that many people not receive google calendar invitations into their email inboxes?  24 said yes, 10 no and 14 maybe. There were some issues with people being able to talk and/or to see their faces.  We were on for an hour.  To manage it, we opened with a cheers! Then I called on people to share whatever they wanted on how they were coping or what they were learning. Using the chat feature I let the person who was up next know I’d be calling on them.  I know we didn’t get to everyone and I wish we had. It was great to see and hear from so many FOCM members.
Kevin Boos, Mike Burrows, Nadia Bracken, Renee Brown, Greg Cohee, Kevin Collier, Scott Freedman, Dave Gibboni, Heather Hollick, Askold Kozbur, Brian Langin, Jon Matheus, Chris McCracken, Lynne McKerlie, Karen McPoyle, Sarah Meister, Lorraine Mercer, Adrian Pencak, Roxann Pinguelo, Lauren Sherwood, Dan Weddle, Wayne Whittingham, Michael Williams.

Screen Grabs of the event were sent to me and they are shown below. The first one was sent to me with the subject line “ScreenGrab Tonight”. Proof that enjoyment of sarcasm and wit are fundamental to the FOCM code of behavior.

Screen Grab submitted by Dave Gibboni

I would like to hear of other interesting, unique, clever ways people are using these tools in this current time of reduced in-person gatherings. Use the comments box to share things you’re seeing or doing.

Screen Grab provided by Nadia Bracken
Screen Grab provided by Nadia Bracken
Dave Gibboni showing the Pixel by LabCorp self collection kit for Covid-19 testing

Networking while social distancing

The world certainly has changed in the last few months. A big part of life is our relationships and interactions with others. With quarantining and social distancing, that has blocked this part of our lives. Some might say that introverts are loving this time and some might be. More than likely their lives (work and personal) require some personal interaction and as such they’re also feeling some angst.

What it is doing is teaching us how to do things in new ways. Both at work and in my personal life, I’ve noticed a few things:

  • the use of Zoom, Google Hangouts, Free Conference Call, FaceTime and other virtual meetings wherein we can see each other; families I know of are having these weekly
  • Large conferences are holding their already planned meetings such that they’re all online, using the above tools as well as pre-recording content to air while allowing live interaction during the pre-recorded presentation
  • Interesting to note that this format actually appears to provide more intimate participation in the event – wherein some people wouldn’t ask a question in a room of 200 people, quite easy to type in your question into the message board tool
  • Connectability is still available – if you are watching a talk you like, while on the meeting, you can look at the speaker on LinkedIn, learn more about them and if valuable, send them a LinkedIn request.

I have held two virtual FOCM meetings so far;

  • one with the political wing of FOCM. There are 6-8 of us who have been emailing on political topics for probably 10 years. Two weeks ago we had a GoogleHangout, where some of us got to “see” each other for the first time.
  • the other with the Philadelphia metro FOCM chapter last week. We had about 8 attend.
  • I’m having one this Thursday with the Raleigh-Durham metro chapter.

The minutes of the Philadelphia FOCM meeting are:

Last night, the 16th day of April, 2020, a virtual FOCM Philadlephia area meeting was held via Google Hangout.In attendance: Pete Nieto, Dave Gibboni, Mike Strand, Bryan Clayton, Mark Eberhart, Christian McCracken, Chris McArthur, Ryan Gibson
Topics discussed: too much couple together time could result in strained marriages and possible divorce; alcohol consumption was visible (bts, the meeting was not recorded), predictions of return to the new normal (end of June was voiced), Arena International meetings status – virtual; DIA annual – virtual; BIO annual – virtual; ASCO annual – virtual.

While, in my opinion, we’re very close to moving to a policy of unquarantining everyone and quarantining only the at-risk, the symptomatic and those who test positive (as seen in my video blog below), some of these changes we’re being forced to make will continue and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Ocean-side Networking

The July networking event for the Wilmington Pharma/Bio/CRO Networking Group was held at Dockside in Wilmington. Dockside is located on the west side of the IntraCoastal Waterway. This is the site for this group’s events in the summertime. Wilmington Pharma/Bio/CRO Networking Group can be found on LinkedIn where updates to monthly events are posted.

Fortunately someone snapped a photo at some point so that we have some record of attendance. Not that attendance is ever taken and far too often we forget to take a picture.

L-R: John Cline, Lee King, Andrea Young, Jennifer Hutchison, Jackie Bilobran, Gayle Grandinetti, Chris Smith, Chris Matheus
A view from Dockside
View from Dockside

FOCM at DIA 2019

The annual Drug Information Association (DIA) conference in 2019 was held in San Diego June 23 – 27. It was a busy, busy conference making it memorable and historic. On Sunday night FOCM, Zymewire along with Almac, MC10 and Medable hosted “Clinical Reconnections”, the pre-DIA networking event at Social Tap Eatery. This was the 4th year of this event. Over 320 people attended.

Along with Michele Sacher, we presented on Self-Branding for Social Media. We added Christina Cantrell for the next workshop on the importance of knowing yourself for effective networking.

Several months ago I posted about Jodi Andrews receiving her FOCM card. There were two other card ceremonies, one each for Meghan Alonso and Rhonda Rusinski. I’ve known Rhonda from the early 2000’s having met while we were both working at ICON Clinical Research. Meghan had recently joined Clinipace and she asked her colleagues who would be a good person to connect with, someone known as an industry connector. They directed her to me. It was a pleasure to welcome them both into the organization.

Sunday Professional Development Workshops
Clinical Reconnections
Meghan Alonso FOCM Card Ceremony
Rhonda Rusinski FOCM Card Ceremony

Help – it’s what makes networking successful

Here are some interesting perspectives on networking from a recent interview published in Inc. magazine. It is an interview by Jeff Haden of Inc. with Dan Sillman, CEO of Relevent Sports.

https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/the-art-of-networking-without-networking-and-why-you-should-never-ever-network-again.html?cid=hmside3

According to Sillman, “Networking” is a strange term. If you are a person the world perceives as good at networking… all that means is that you have great relationships.

The only way to do that — to build relationships — is to have a genuine desire to learn about someone: What they do, what drives them… some aspect of their life that interests you.  Getting relatively close to someone means you know a lot about them, they know a lot about you… and you’re much more inclined to help each other. I actually think I’m a terrible “networker.” But I do have good relationships.

A few take aways from the interview

When you go into a meeting or a conference, or approach people with the thought that you’re going to network… it’s transactional. You’re just trying to meet people that can immediately help you. And they want the same thing.

Building relationships is totally different. First you learn about the other person; only then can you start to build a relationship. Which never happens when you’re networking: People can tell in seconds that you only want to meet them for some kind of surface-level transaction.

Building relationships requires patience, just like any other relationship. Think about your friends: You didn’t go into those relationships looking for something. That’s why they’re your friends.

What he says is so true, in both Heather Hollick’s book, “Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking” and Porter Gale’s book “Your Network is your Net Worth”, both authors are adamant that successful networking is not short-term transactional – ‘who can I meet today that can help me get x.’  Successful networking is first being helpful.  Porter Gale describes networking as a give, give, get.  Do two helpful things to a new contact before asking for one in return.  Heather Hollick shares that it is innate that we want to help others.  By asking people what they’re working on, rather than what do you do – you gain information on what is important to them and thereby, how you could best help.

A good exchange occurred re: making introductions – Sillman said he used to immediately introduce people to each other when asked.   He points out that he failed to take into account the value of other people’s time and realized he had to do some filtering.  He also pointed out that when you make introductions, your credibility is on the line. You shouldn’t vouch for people you don’t really know, don’t have a relationship with, don’t know their interests and goals.

Sillman concludes with: People don’t want to be a transaction. If you aren’t interested in the actual person, if you’re only thinking in terms of a transactional relationship… that relationship will never be fruitful. But when you build a relationship, everything else follows: You won’t have to ask the other person how you can help them. You’ll know.  And you won’t have to ask for something you might need. The other person will know your interests, your goals… and will offer to help. You’ll both offer to help. And you’ll both mean it.

Epic FOCM New Member Inductions

Twas (still thinking of Christmas stories) a fantastic week in May in Valley Forge, PA. Attending the Arena International Outsourcing in Clinical Trials East Coast meeting turned out to be truly historic and the pictures prove it.

A FOCM networking event was held on Monday 20 at J Alexander’s restaurant in the King of Prussia Mall area. As usual, I didn’t take attendance, but I do recall that in attendance were: Dave Gibboni, Christian McCracken, Pete Nieto, Kate Mullis, Vicky Martin, Scott Robertson and probably, possibly, Ted and/or Richard Gastineau. Some of us managed to get a picture taken.

Pete Nieto, Christian McCracken, Chris Matheus, Dave Gibboni

There were three FOCM membership card ceremonies. Two of the recipients are clinical research industry veterans, heavyweights, emerituses (emeritae?), big deals to be sure. And one recipient has a bright future now that he has his card. The joy on these people’s faces is undeniable. And a current member displays the FOCM nametag sticker. Scroll down to see.

Bill Taaffe
Mike Ruane
Kevin Keenan with Sue Ruane photo bombing this somber event
Mike DeBerry

The Importance of Networking in Managing your Career

“Networking” to some people sounds more complicated than it is and may even generate feelings of discomfort.  “Networking” isn’t meeting strangers with a common interest in a noisy bar and shouting at each other, “what do you do?”  Although I’m sure many of you have experienced such an event.

To understand the role that networking plays in career management, let’s start with the evolving definition of NETWORKING. 

Investopedia describes NETWORKING as: the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting.

Dictionary.com describes NETWORKING as: a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.

Cambridge Dictionary describes NETWORKING as:  the process of meeting and talking to a lot of peopleesp. in order to get information that can help you

Historically, definitions of networking stressed the point was to meet people and determine how they could help you.  That self-centered approach has given way to the understanding that the purpose of networking is go create a mutually beneficial relationship.   In her book Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers and the Art of Networking, Heather Hollick presents the purpose of networking is to be helpful – leveraging who you know and what you know to help other people be successful, and surround yourself with other people who do the same. 

My Networking Philosophy to networking is: connecting people and companies to companies and people for their mutual benefit.  It is nice to see that Business Dictionary has added: Networking is based on the question – “how can I help?” and not “what can I get?”

Why Network

In the past, even as recent as 15 to 20 years ago, networking outside one’s company (think of a large pharmaceutical company) didn’t seem necessary.  There were still plenty of people who had been at the same company for 15 – 30 years and were doing well with no thought to changing jobs.  Then mergers, acquisitions and restructuring shook the industry.  People who had been at a company for many years and who were well networked within that company suddenly were out of work and realized they had no business network outside of that company.  That is exactly what happened to me and I made sure to learn from that experience.

Lesson Learned #1: Look at your situation with a wider perspective

While in shock, worrying if I’d have to move my family and going on interviews, I learned a lesson from a chance encounter with a former colleague who was in the same boat that as I was in.  We were both flying to New Jersey for interviews and I told him I didn’t have a good feeling about the company I was interviewing with, it had no culture, and the employees didn’t seem friendly.  He suggested I look at it differently – “could you do the job for a year?” is what he asked me.  My reply was, “of course.”  He helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with taking the job, making the most of my severance, and continuing to look for a role that reflected the highest and best use of my skills. And who knows? Maybe the job would be better than I first thought. This bit of advice completely changed my attitude and I interviewed as if this was the perfect job for me.  I got the job.  It turned out to be an okay fit but I kept one job opportunity open and when they offered me the position 5 months later, I took it.

Lesson Learned #2: Use this job to get to your next one.

Your new may not be THE job that carries you through the rest of your career.  Some have called such an experience, a “mulligan” or a “do-over” job.  Through the experience you learn that you are employable and you’re more in the driver’s seat than you think.  Your goal is to find the company and culture that fits you, and where you want to invest your energy and talent.

Lesson Learned #3: Be prepared

I do not consciously recall saying to myself “I’ll never be in that situation again.”  However, a look at my behavior since then indicates that I took that to heart.  At every conference I attended, I introduced myself to the people in the booth on either side and across from me at the conference.  When I wasn’t in the booth, I walked the exhibit hall asking questions, meeting people and learning about their companies and services.  In the past 15 years, when corporate restructuring or a personal decision to be in the market for a new job, I had job offers and was working within a short period of time.

Lesson Learned #4

Networking must be an integral part of managing your career. 

Making and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships will help you get promoted, take on challenging assignments, solve and help others solve work problems and successfully address issues.

Having polled many audiences at DIA networking workshops over the past 10 years, the percentage of people who are in their current job due to networking is around 85%.  Very few people are in their current job in our industry by replying to online job postings.

Networking also helps your career by:

  • Being seen as proactive, active, resourceful, smart, and engaged
  • Bringing new experiences to your life
  • Building loyalty, trust, and dependability
  • Increasing your communication skills, influence, and patience

Now, how do you do this? 

In almost every state there is an organization to foster and support biotech and pharma companies.  NJ Bio, PA Bio, NC Biotech are examples.  Join them and find out when they have events.  LaunchBio (https://launchbio.org/) is an organization that hosts monthly events with speakers on relevant topics to the industry and are located in: Cambridge, MA; Durham, NC; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; San Diego, CA and San Francisco, CA. 

Now, how do you really do this?

  • When attending events, if there’s an opportunity to pre-register, do so.  This usually means you get a printed name tag.  Wear it. 
  • Put the name tag on the right side of your chest.  This makes it visible to who you meet as you shake hands.
  • Dress sharp and professional.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Smile, be positive and maintain a pleasant demeanor.
  • Be Personable – remember and use people’s names.
  • Be helpful – look for ways to offer information, to a favor, or make an introduction.
  • Be someone others WANT to connect to.
  • Ask “what are you working on?” instead of “what do you do?”
  • Be interested – ask others for their business cards (and have yours ready for them).
  • Follow up – thoughtfully and invite to connect on LinkedIn.
  • Put down your phone.

A section from Heather Hollick’s book carries this noteworthy message: Your network…stays with you from job to job and career to career.  It is entirely your creation and no one can take it away from you… build a network that becomes your tribe – the people to whom you are loyal and who, you trust, are loyal to you.

FOCM Networking Event Meeting Minutes

May 9 found me in Durham, NC for a date with Durham Traffic Court the morning of the 10th. As you know, any excuse for meeting up with friends is kinda my life’s mission.

Notification was sent out to 63 people via Google calendar. 24 people opened the calendar invitation and responded with yes, no or maybe. I believe we had 13 attend. By the time we thought to take a picture, a few had already left. The location was Boxcar Bar & Arcade on Foster Street in Durham.

In attendance were: Don Alexander, Cynthia Edwards, David and Jaclyn Holland, Eric Nier, Gail Fowler, Kris Gustafson, Hillary Whittaker, Lauren Sherwood, Tim Sauls, Jeff Blum, Duncan Shaw and representing the PA Chapter, Vicky Martin.

L to R: Jeff Blum, Duncan Shaw
Me, Tim Sauls, Vicky Martin

FOCM Network Brainstorming Project

A friend and FOCM member in good standing is starting her consultancy company and is looking to find a good and proper name. As an annual dues paying member, she is entitled to this calling forth the idea generation of the FOCM Network.

The option to name it something like: lastname (use Smith as the example) consulting, of course is an option. I proposed we ask this network to do some thinking and see if we could come up with a name that will communicate what it is she can best contribute.

So here’s the background info:
This individual has over 25 years experience as a Clinical Research Scientist, Director of Clinical Operations, Executive Director and VP of Strategic Programs, Alliances and Governance. The past 12 years have been in the area of managing strategic accounts and partnership governance. This is a particularly strong area of expertise and focus.

Let’s use the normal brainstorming rules – no idea is a bad idea, don’t shoot down any other ideas – just want to generate name ideas. I’ll get it started:

CRO/Bio/Pharm Alliance Management, LLC
Alliance Governance, LLC
Clinical Research Partnership Governance, LLC
Smith Consulting, LLC
Clinical Research Alliance Governance, LLC
Clinical Research and Governance, LLC
Strategic Governance, LLC

Reply in comments with your quick, off the top of your head ideas. Many thanks.