Guest Column | December 17, 2021

How To Get The Most Out Of Virtual JPM22

By Ji-Young Yoon

Coronavirus Conference Cancellations

I’ll never forget my first business development meeting as part of a team at a global top 10 biopharma company.

When I met my colleagues at Zurich Airport to take a cab to our hotel, I asked them to wait while I retrieved my checked bags. They gaped at me in feigned shock. Could this newbie actually have checked luggage? Didn’t she know to put everything in a single carry-on bag? They all shared horror stories of when their luggage got sent to a different city and they had to go “emergency shopping” for a business suit. 

I laughed along with them even as they cut me down to size. I was the rookie being put through the ringer by my more experienced coworkers, the ones who drove the global deals at our company, which had more than $1 billion. They were the grizzled road warriors of the biopartnering conference circuit that I would get to know so well over the next few years There’s nothing like the camaraderie of working with smart colleagues through a grueling business conference – the frantic pace, the long hours, the food (and drink) and the overwhelming feeling of relief when it’s done.

Still, I am so glad that JPMorgan has just announced it will be virtual-only next month. Let me count the ways:

At my age (older than I look, but still younger than I feel), the sheer grueling physicality of a partnering conference in a different time zone isn’t easy to endure. Add in the overseas travel, heels (I’m 5’1”), added precautions for COVID and its latest variants and post-travel binge-eating, and I couldn’t be happier that the event will be virtual. 

I’m not the first to realize that virtual partnering meetings are like speed dating. And just as with in-person speed dating, you can develop a surprising level of trust and intimacy in a short amount of time. (Although I have seen numerous peoples’ messy home offices, and other rooms. That will change as people become more adept at using virtual backgrounds.)

There are some basic business etiquette rules that can be adapted from speed dating to partnering meetings. Start with being on time, projecting positive energy, making eye contact, and, of course, having a clear agenda.

But beyond that, there are some specifics that will enable you to get the most out of your 30-minute virtual partnering meetings. Taken together, they establish trust, build rapport, and enable you to communicate the essentials of your pitch so that it will be heard and understood by your prospective partner.

Ask the right questions at the beginning of the meeting: A 30-minute goes by in a flash -- especially if one or both parties hit a technical difficulty. To maximize the productivity of the meeting, know the interests of the partner. So, even if you have confirmed the meeting after exchanging interests, ask again about their therapeutic and business focus. Be sure to leave few minutes at the end of the partnering meeting to confirm the other party’s interest before ending the meeting.

Prepare for your slide presentation, but be ready to abandon the deck and wing it: Have a company presentation in hand but also prepare to talk through it using only a couple of slides selected from the deck. Questions and feedback from the other side will determine whether the full slide deck is a help or hindrance.

Rehearse as a team: Exchanging cues with your team members isn’t easy on a virtual platform. Decide who will present what. Spend time practicing. Pay special attention to handoffs, where it’s easy for the presentation to stumble and lose its flow. Make sure everyone understands non-verbal cues that may be necessary to steer the conversation in a certain direction. If a team member is speaking for too long, you want to be able to be able to cut them off without drawing a finger across your throat. Code words can be helpful to have a team member quickly wrap up and move on.

Own the conversation: Grab the attention of the other team with a confident two- to three-minute introduction to your company. Then build the company narrative in discrete, digestible parts. Close the conversation by summarizing the action items.

Read the “room”:  If you attend as a team, have one person designated to take notes, watch for questions and digital or visual hand raises. Build in transition slides to give momentary breaks and a pause for questions before barreling along to your final slide. Keep an eye out for body language that might indicate confusion, impatience, or discomfort with anything you are saying.

Follow up promptly: Keep the momentum. Follow up the same day or the next day with an email that summarizes the outstanding issues and action items.

Finally, don’t forget the cultural etiquette that can play an important part in business meetings, even those conducted virtually. In Korean business meetings, the seating arrangements are of the utmost importance, as they convey rank and seniority. In Japanese business meetings, nodding is important. And for U.S. meetings, don’t forget to bring some jokes to break the ice.

It’s too early to say whether we’ll soon go back to the old way of meeting potential partners or if Zoom meetings are the new normal. But with all that said, I know that for this year at least, I won’t miss craning my neck and screaming to make myself heard by colleagues and new contacts who tower over me. I won’t need to soak my feet in Epsom salts to bring back the feeling. And I certainly won’t miss the meals eaten on the run.

And I know I’m going to come out of virtual JPM22 with new contacts, new friends, and possible partners once again.

Ji-Young Yoon is chief operating officer of Genuv, a clinical-stage biopharma based in Seoul, Korea, developing small-molecule therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases and antibody-based treatments for solid tumors.