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Pharma Forum Tech Talk Focuses on Pain Points and Buy-In

Meeting planners volunteer suggestions to avoid costly mistakes.

At a recent Pharma Forum 2019 panel on technology, the audience crowdsourced various ideas for implementing new meeting technology and suggestions for addressing pain points for meeting planners. Among the topics covered: Getting stakeholder buy-in, testing and roll out, and maintenance. Panel members Jeffrey Cesari, external operations lead, and Felicia E. Vargas, manager of worldwide meetings, both at Bristol-Myers Squibb; Nicky Ratcliffe, associate director at Touch Associates; Mark Shrayber, co-founder and CEO of Muv; and Brian Stewart, vice president of sales at InnoVia, each sat down with a group of attendees to discuss technology-related challenges.

Here are some of them. 

Challenge: The meetings department has been tasked with saving money through efficiency. Suggestions include upgrading document storage and retrieval to go paperless and aligning with a smaller number of suppliers and partners for booking and price guarantees.


  1. Start with an audit of all the technologies the meetings team touches, including software primarily used by other departments, such as sales and marketing.
  2. Determine:

a. If the technology already in use can handle the new tasks, or

b. If a new application is needed to handle them, will it integrate seamlessly with the applications you already have in place and those of your suppliers and partners?  

Challenge: Your organization decides to introduce a meeting app.


1.     Survey your attendees and internal stakeholders about the kind of functionality they want.

2.     Look at the number and type of meetings you hold each year and determine if one app can be adapted for each one or separate apps are required.

3.     Build a case for investing in the app before meeting with procurement and IT to discuss moving forward. Vargas warns, “Those two departments need to be on board but do not let them decide based on their needs; meeting planners are the voice of clients and attendees.”

4.     Discussions with app developers should include:

a. ease of updating and upgrading,

b. the cost of adapting a single app for multiple meeting types versus completely separate apps to accommodate different types of meeting requirements. One app will be cheaper than several, but too many functions and confusing navigation will mean no one will use it.

5.     A caution from an audience member: Don’t pilot the app at your 2,000-person national sales meeting! Find a meeting that is less high stakes to beta test it.

6.     Another cautioned not to forget the care and feeding of your app. Collect data on which features are used and which are ignored and delete the superfluous ones. Stay in touch with the supplier about new features. Technology changes fast so hold at least quarterly meetings with the major stakeholders to maintain the app.

Challenge: Management wants to adopt the latest technology—wearables/AR/VR/facial recognition/chatbots.


1.     Look at the pain points in your processes, from outreach to registration, and decide what new technology will help.

2.     Stay on top of legislation. You may improve access times to events using facial recognition software, for example, but privacy regulations mean almost every new technology should be opt-in.

3.     Roll out your new technology gradually, you don’t want the learning curve for attendees to be too steep and no one wants to feel like a guinea pig.

4.     Don’t forget that there are still attendees and clients who don’t use smartphones, or who need to access the new technology in their home language. Maintain your website so none of your attendees will be left out.

A comment from Shrayber summed up how most of the planners in the room felt about new technology at events: “It’s all about the Wi-Fi.” It won’t matter if you have a great chatbot and free VR goggles for everyone if your attendees can’t check their email.


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