Blog | September 11, 2017

The Essentials Of Your BIO 2018 Educational Session Proposal

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

The Essentials Of Your BIO 2018 Educational Session Proposal

Next week, BIO will invite biopharmaceutical industry experts to submit educational topic session proposals for the 2018 BIO International Convention in Boston, June 4 - 7. The 2018 call for sessions and speakers opens on Thursday, September 14, and closes on Thursday, October 12, 2017. As I have (once again) agreed to serve as a BIO educational program planning committee co-chair, I have a vested interest in its success. My goal in helping biopharma’s largest and most influential global event, is to assist in creating such a strong educational program, that when you see this year’s offerings you will deem BIO 2018 in Boston as a must attend. However, I need your help to pull this off. The only question is: Will your participation be active — or passive?

Applying The Bystander Effect To BIO

Research in social psychology has shown an interesting paradox — the more bystanders who witness a person needing help the less likely they are to get involved. Conversely, the fewer the bystanders the greater the likelihood a bystander will lend aid. While the bystander effect is often associated with witnesses to a crimes or accidents, it is also manifested in other ways. Ever sit in a conference where a neighbor has lots of opinions that contradict those of the presenter? I have, and often wonder why (instead of only voicing their opinion passively to me) they don’t actively engage the speaker in dialogue. In my opinion, this is the bystander effect rearing its head. The bigger the room, the larger the number of attendees, the greater the bystander effect will be. Perhaps it’s cognitive or behavioral uncertainty that prevent people from actively engaging, or maybe it’s the belief that because so many people attend and are involved in BIO that there is a wide diffusion of responsibility. Either way, the result is often the same — many people not participating in the conversation. Perhaps, like the bystander effect, there is the assumption that someone else will help. Someone else will ask a question.

Don't make that assumption!

Instead of being that parent who offers a little league coach advice on how to better do their job, I challenge you to get into the BIO education game, share your insights, and more importantly — submit a proposal.

What Makes For A Strong BIO Education Session Proposal?

When I last served as the BIO educational program planning committee co-chair in 2015, there were nearly 400 submitted session proposals in five different focus areas. This means, on average, that members of the educational program planning committee had to review, rank (on a five point scale, with “1” being poor, and “5” being outstanding), and submit comments on 80 session proposal submissions, not to mention, participate in a 90-minute conference call (one per focus area) to discuss and debate the merits of each. That is an awful lot of content to review in a fairly short period of time. Back then, I asked a couple of BIO educational committee members what they would be looking for when reviewing these proposals. Here is what they had to say.

Stephen Tang, University City Science Center president & CEO: “I look for the uncommon:  topics, speakers, points of view, and timeliness that can’t be found anywhere else. When the audience leaves a session buzzing with excitement and chatting with each other about what they just heard, that’s the mark of success. Be bold, be relevant, and above all, be provocative!”

Jordan Warshafsky, partner at Ashton Tweed: “I want our attendees to walk away from each session with at least one idea they can implement tomorrow. The key factors I look for are the quality of speakers, timeliness of topic, how well done is the proposal, as it tends to foreshadow how well the session will be, the lack of self-promotion and finally, its educational value.”

While their insights still apply for BIO 2018, I have a few additional recommendations to add.

Five Tips To Help Get Your 2018 BIO Session Proposal Accepted

In reviewing all of the 400 session submissions for BIO 2015, as well as the grading sheets, there are a number of consistent things that result in a session receiving a low score. So here are some best business practices to consider applying when submitting your 2018 BIO session proposals.

Know Your Audience. BIO has a lot of cross appeal. Thus, if you are going to submit a session that is highly specialized, it is not likely going to score well. While the speakers may be great and well researched, it might be a better fit for a highly specialized conference. Here is what one reviewer had to say about a 2015 submission that missed the mark, resulting in a rating of a “1”. “Utopian discussion but no take-homes for attendees.”

  1. Submit A Complete Form. Many of the sessions had fairly incomplete submissions, such as lacking an elevator pitch, or speakers weren’t contacted. If you are going to take the time to submit a session, make the time to do it well and complete. For example, this reviewer gave a 2015 session submission a “5” noting the following. “Excellent topic which should attract a large audience. Great panel, all speakers confirmed. Outstanding!”
  2. Title Your Session As If It Were Your Baby. One consistent problem I noticed with 2015 proposals is many had titles that were overly academic; blatant commercials for a city, country, company or industry; or provided little enticement toward getting people in the room. Take the time to review Google for a few titling tips, or try this headline analyzer, which is an excellent tool for coming up with more captivating headlines. Put your best foot forward, because the headline is often the first thing people read. Like it or not, people have biases. If you want to reduce the likelihood of creating a negative bias right out of the gate with a bad title, then have a better title. In fact, write the title before you write the proposal. Here is what a reviewer had this to say on one 2015 submission. “Very relevant topic – title may need work to explain content.”
  3. Submit Your Proposal To The Proper Focus Area. While it may be difficult sometimes to decide if your session is a general interest topic or not, it should not be difficult to determine if you have a session proposal on intellectual property (IP) and the conference has an IP track, where it should be submitted. Submitting a session for the “wrong home,” shows inattention to detail, results in people double grading, and is honestly not a good way to set yourself up for success. Here is a comment from a reviewer back in 2015 to make my point. “Is this about comparing various approaches and pipelines to see what the measure of differentiation can/should be? Or is it about establishing the differentiation with payers, in which case, this should be move[d] to the Value track instead of R&D. The title is really too long, needs an editor to tighten it up, and type together the description/methodology to the title. This could make a compelling program, but still not sure if it belongs in R&D or Value Track!”
  4. Confirm Your Speakers. One of the biggest ways to set yourself up for success is to have your speakers confirmed. Reviewers have a hard time considering and highly ranking a proposal that sounds very good on paper, but there being a chance that one or more speakers might not actually show. For example, from a 2015 reviewer who graded a session a “2.” “This session presents a risk of sounding like a sales pitch for the 3 companies mentioned; subject not likely to be of broad interest, 2 of 3 panelist not confirmed.”

Now you might be thinking, “I have submitted BIO session proposals in previous years, and not one has ever gotten accepted,” as a reason for why you don’t plan to submit this year. But perhaps your proposal got turned down for one of the above reasons. And now that you have a better understanding of what is needed, you should consider reapplying.

Hope we can count on you to be a BIO Change Agent in 2018 — and beyond!