In this episode of Connecting the Dots, our Marketing Copywriter, Sean Armie, sits down with Dan Winters, Marketing Director of a major biopharmaceutical company, for the second of a two-part series on how to craft engaging advisory boards.
Sean Armie: Hello, and welcome to Connecting the Dots with Avant Healthcare. I’m your host Sean Armie, and today, again, we have a wonderful guest. His name is Dan Winters, and he is a marketing director at a major biopharmaceutical company. And he is back to talk about virtual advisory boards. Dan, how are you today?
Dan Winters: Good Sean, thanks for having me, this is great.
Sean Armie: Awesome. Awesome. Well let’s dig right in. Tell us about virtual ad boards. What’s different about them in your experience and do you think they could be done as well as live advisory boards?
Dan Winters: Yeah. Virtual advisory boards are definitely different. And I definitely think they can be done as well as live advisory boards. There’s the obviously differences, right? That we’re not in the same room talking to each other, right? I don’t see necessarily, those non-verbal communications. You have that slight split second audio delay that actually causes, sometimes can cause, a lot of complications. People talking over each other. Stuff like that that typically doesn’t happen as often in my experience with live ad boards.
The other big difference I think is just our attention span in a virtual ad board, staring into a camera and looking at a computer screen, right? If you have a live ad board you can give them a break, they can get up, walk around the hotel, get a snack. Usually our live ad boards, I can go seven, eight hours, and usually keep a pretty engaged panel. With the virtual advisory board it is possible, it’s just not recommended. I think three to four hours is about the attention span that adults have staring into a camera sitting in one spot giving feedback. So I think you need to be a little bit more in tune with the technology in order for a virtual ad board to go well.
Sean Armie: So what kind of planning goes into a virtual ad board? I know we had mentioned technology. What do you need to do behind the scenes to make it happen?
Dan Winters: Yeah I think, we don’t want to forget the basics, right? I think for a virtual advisory board the same things are important to a good virtual advisory board that are important to a live advisory board. You need to have clear, defined objectives. You need to have the right panel. And you need to have a good moderator. Those are three fundamental things that you need to nail it in order for a virtual advisory board to go well as well.
I’ll tell you one thing I do different in a virtual advisory board that I do in a live one, is the amount of panelists. I typically try to have in that seven, no more than 10 advisors. I think that starts to help you limit some of the people talking over each other, it’s just hard to manage 15 people virtually. Behind the scenes, I always like to have a person that helps me manage the technology, right next to me or in text shot away that’s constantly working with my agency, maybe working with my senior leaders if they have questions inevitably, a VP is listening in and has a question. That person is my kind of conduit to filter all that stuff in and then send that information over to me.
I always like to have two screens in front of me at a virtual advisory board. I have one screen dedicated to my slide deck, so that I’m following along with what the advisors are seeing. And then I have one screen where all it is, as big as I can get it, it’s pictures of all of my advisors. I like to constantly be checking in and monitoring them. Are they paying attention? Are they engaged? Is there cameras on? Cameras being on is super important in a virtual advisory board. I actually demand it when I start off. This is part of the ground rules. Turn your cameras on. And if five out of six doctors have their camera on, I’ll call the sixth one out and say, “Dr. so-and-so, click on the button in the top left, turn your camera on, we’re all excited to see you. And we just wait until he puts it on. Sometimes they have technical problems, then I’ll have the agency kind of help me work with that behind the scenes, but it’s really important that I can see them and they can see me.
So those are some of the differences that I’ve found in a virtual advisory board.
Sean Armie: I know that one of the biggest problems with, and this isn’t just for virtual ad boards, it’s virtual meetings in general is, this multitasking that a lot of us find us doing. And I’m sure that advisors find themselves doing this and people getting distracted, and how do you avoid that when you’re moderating an ad board, a virtual ad board?
Dan Winters: Yeah. Well for a moderator, it’s imperative, right? You need to have a quiet place, no distractions, you know that for four hours your job is 100% managing this panel and making sure you achieve your objectives. So I clear distractions, I get in a quiet place, I make sure the background is clean without distractions. I don’t want my advisors when they’re looking at me being distracted. Like, “Oh Dan, what’s that picture on the wall with you fishing?” I don’t want that. We’re here for a professional reason, we’re going to get through these objectives in the time that we have. I’m paying them for their time, so I better be respectful and efficient in what I’m doing. So no noise, all of that’s really important.
And I also tell my panelists. Please make sure you’re in a quiet place. Please make sure there’s no distractions. Use your mute button. When you’re not talking, mute your phone. If I see your lips moving and we’re not hearing noise, I’ll let you know, “Hey Dr. so-and-so, you’re on mute, go ahead and unmute yourself.” But that also, you’d be surprised, we’ve all been on conference calls, right, where somebody is not muted and hear a baby’s crying in the background, and you can’t hear what’s going on. So I think signaling stuff like that, I mute when I’m not talking, so that if my air conditioner kicks on, they don’t hear it. But then when I’m ready to talk, I unmute myself, I ask my question, and then I put myself back on mute.
Those little things, those little attention to detail, I think is really important in a virtual advisory board. Because again, you want to establish yourself as, I’m confident, I’m a leader, I know what it’s going to take to get this done, you’re in good hands, and we’re going to achieve our objectives. I think the little things, dressing professionally, looking into the camera when you’re talking to them, the camera’s their eyes. So I think a lot of people like looking at themselves or looking around. When I’m talking, I want to look straight into that camera so that if they’re looking up it looks like I’m looking right at them. I think that kind of subtly holds us all accountable. So I think those things are important.
Sean Armie: So if you wouldn’t mind expanding on moderating in a virtual setting, how does it change from, I know in our last podcast we talked about what makes for a successful moderator in the live setting. But I know you mentioned having multiple screens and seeing all the different advisors. What makes for a good moderator at a virtual ad board?
Dan Winters: Yeah. So I think I’ve said a couple times that showing your panel that you’re confident and that you know what you’re going to accomplish, and you’re going to get them to accomplish that, I think is important. So I’ll give you a small example, I said I always have two screens up. So when I’m looking at those advisors, one of the things I set up in the ground rules really fast, and it took me a couple times not doing it right to kind of come across this is, it’s hard to manage, especially in the morning when people are energetic, people talking over each other, right? So again, you ask a question, you get three panelists all trying to answer at once. So what I started doing is I just said, “Hey, if you want to contribute, just wave, raise your hand, I’ll see you, I’ll call on you.” And then I have to do that, right?
So I’ll ask a question to the panel. And I’ll see three hands go up. I will literally say, “Hey, I saw three hands go up, I’m going to call on Dr. X first, after them I’m going to call on Dr. Y, Dr. Z you’re going to follow up right after Dr. Y, okay? Dr. X, go ahead, I know you had something to say.” And then I let him talk, or her talk. And then I’ll just say, “Great. Dr. Y, you’re next.” And maybe during that, another couple hands start going up, I’ll let them know, “Hey Dr. Y, you’re up now, Z you’re next. Hey, I saw A, I saw you raise your hand, you’re coming up right after that.”
I’m constantly checking in. Because they don’t know that you see them. So you need to verbally let them know, I’m seeing you, and I’m going to call on you. It seems like, I don’t know, at first it was a little awkward for me to do it, but I’ve found that it really works and you just get people waving all the time. And that way you’re able to call on a bunch of people. If the same person keeps waving, sometimes I’ll call on a couple other peers, “Hey, Dr. C I haven’t heard from you in a while, what do you think about this one?” So I think constantly engaging and verbally letting them know that you’re paying attention to them and that you’re going through and meeting your objectives I think is really important for virtually moderating an ad board.
Sean Armie: So tell me about content. How does content change in a virtual setting? If you have slides do you change those? Do you reformat them in some way? What changes about the content in a virtual ad board
Dan Winters: Yeah. I don’t think a lot changes. I think there’s a couple things that you need to be cognizant of. But I mentioned before the length. So I push back on brand teams sometimes if they come to me with just four really meaty objectives. I’ll let them know, I don’t think I can accomplish that in one ad board. Because again, I only have three to four hours. So maybe we’ll do two. If those are the things we need to find out, maybe I’ll do two ad boards to get to those objectives. And that’s really important, keeping to that timeframe.
In a live ad board, sometimes we break out and do workshops that are a little bit more tactile, right? They might be actually building something on a whiteboard or we’ve even had them playing with tools and stuff to build stuff. Those are obviously going to be a little bit tougher on a virtual ad board. I find more Q&A type of stuff is going to be a lot easier. More general discussion with the panel. You can do breakouts, I’ve actually seen breakouts run really effective if you have the right platform. But typically, even in those breakouts, it’s just trying to get smaller groups to do a little bit more of a panel discussion.
So those are the obvious differences. Other than that on the slides, I don’t know that they are that different. One thing I do in a virtual ad board, and occasionally I’ll do in a live ad board too, is I will not flash up the slides with my questions on them. And the reason I don’t like doing that, is it takes their distraction off of me as the moderator, and puts it on the slide. And sometimes you get advisors jumping ahead. “Hey Dan, your fourth or fifth question, I want to answer that now.” And I’m not ready for them to answer that because I want to focus on one.
So a lot of times, but again, I’ll do that in a live one as well, I won’t flash up the slides with the questions on them. I have them in front of me, and then their focused on me and that gives me a little bit more control of the setting and how I want to pace that Q&A session out.
Sean Armie: So if you wouldn’t mind touching on, when you talked about having the right platform for breakouts. What are some technological advancements you’ve seen that help the quality of virtual ad boards? And what are some innovative things that you’ve seen done at a virtual ad board?
Dan Winters: Yeah. I’ll start with the basic, and that’s cameras and cameras on our computers. And I can’t emphasize enough, use them. Tell each advisor to turn it on and make sure they do. Because then you just have a little bit more connection with your panel. So that’s really, really important in a virtual advisory board. And then I’ve seen some platforms that actually, we’ve done some great with Avant actually, some great breakouts where I have a panel of eight people and then we wanted to break them out into three groups. Two groups of two or, I don’t know how the math’s going to work out right here in my head. But I had two other panelists, one in San Francisco, and one in Philadelphia that, with a click of a button I said, “All right, you don’t have to do anything panelists. In two minutes we are going to click a button on our end and you’re going to be in a small breakout room.” And that’s literally as seamlessly as it worked.
The system broke them out into three groups. My panelist in San Francisco led her group. My… I said panelist, I’m sorry. My moderator in San Francisco led her group. My moderator in Philly led his. And I led mine here in Chicago. And then with a click of a button we all came back together and did a share back. Those little things really give you a lot more tools to execute your advisory boards in different fashions. Because sometimes it’s better to have small group discussions and then bring it back to the panel and see where those small groups maybe differ or aligned on some of their feedback they used. So that kind of stuff I think has really helped us out a lot in executing some great, virtual advisory boards.
Sean Armie: So I know we haven’t touched on the elephant in the room which is the pandemic. And I don’t want to go too far into it, but do you think that virtual ad boards are going to become normative or are they still going to hold a substantially smaller portion than live ad boards, I guess, in the near future?
Dan Winters: It’s a great question. And I’ll give you my prediction, or at least what I’ve communicated to my team. I’m not sure ultimately if we’ll go back to the way things were or not. But I’ll tell you what, we have had some really effective advisory boards, and I’m actually glad this has forced us to do more virtual advisory boards. Because in the beginning, I didn’t think they’d be as effective. But now after doing four to six of them over the last few months, I’d say we’ve gotten the same richness of insights. We’ve actually had panelists, physicians, reach out and just say, “Wow, those were great virtual advisory boards. I didn’t have to fly to Chicago. I could do it in the comfort of my own home. That’s fantastic.” So they like it.
It saves us a lot of money. And at the end of the day, if I’m getting the same richness of insights and richness of feedback at a fraction of the cost, I have to explore doing these more. Absolutely. There might be certain advisory boards where they’d be a little bit more effective live, I got to tell you, I can’t right now off the top of my head tell you what that would be. But there might be one as we come down the road that says, maybe we need an eight hour advisory board with one set of panelists, then maybe I would go back to live when the setting is such that I can.
But I’ve told my team, I am on board with doing more and more virtual advisory boards. I think it’s easier on the advisors, it’s easier on us. If I could do a three hour advisory board on a Thursday night after work as opposed to spending an entire Saturday at a hotel ballroom, heck yeah. I think my team would really prefer that, the advisors prefer it, and I can get the feedback I need. So I’m willing to embrace this moving forward.
Sean Armie: Awesome. Awesome. Well I just have one last question just to kind of summarize everything we’ve talked about here. What are, I guess, the three most important things that, a brand lead is looking to execute a great virtual ad board? What are the three things that they need to keep in mind?
Dan Winters: Yeah. I might give you a little bit more complicated answer than three simple things. I think there’s three categories of things that you need to make sure that you put some attention to detail to execute these right. Your personal surroundings, right? Dress professionally. Just because you’re at your home, nobody wants to see a moderator show up in a t-shirt and shorts. Or I should say, I don’t. I think you should look professional. I think it shows respect for the panelists and the work that you’re about to do. Throw a jacket on or a dress on, or whatever the professional attire is for you.
Make sure you are very aware of your surroundings. Your background, your noise, be in a quiet place. Pay attention to those kind of details. Look into the camera. The camera’s their eyes. So if you’re looking into the camera they feel like they’re looking at you. That’s going to keep them engaged. And then, use your technology. Have all of your advisors turn their cameras on, and let them know, “Your cameras need to be on. I’m going to give you breaks where you can go do the things you need to do. But while you’re in session, have your camera on, make sure you’re in a quiet place so that I can hear you.” Make sure you’re spending attention to detail on those little things. I think those subtle things really help you execute a good advisory board.
Set the ground rules in the very beginning. We are here to accomplish three objectives today. We are going to do this in three hours. At the hour and a half mark I’m going to give you a 15 minute break. You are paid to give me feedback, or you are paid for giving advice, and we know that you’re going to do that and you’re really going to help us accomplish our business objectives. Be really clear about those things. Adults want to know what they’re in for for the next three hours. So just be really specific and pay attention to stuff like that.
Have two computers. One with your slides so that you can follow along the deck, one with, as big as you can get it, pictures of all your panelists, all of their cameras. And manage that team appropriately. Have them wave when they’re ready to talk so that you can call on them. It really prevents them talking over each other which I think you’re going to find makes the ad board run a lot smoother. I think you pay attention to those details, when we’re talking about a virtual ad board, and again, you have to have your objectives down, you have to have the right panelists, and you have to have the right content. But if you pay attention to those things, you’re going to have a great virtual advisory board.
Sean Armie: All right. Well thank you so much Dan, thank you so much for your time. It’s been such a pleasure to do these podcasts. And I’m sure that our listeners are going to just love what you have to say. So thank you.
Dan Winters: Thanks Sean for the opportunity. I appreciate it.
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