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SPBT 2013: Looking Up

Last week, I enjoyed several days of learning and networking at the annual SPBT (Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) conference.

It was held at the impressive Peabody Hotel (Orlando), where ducks rule. Which is cute; though I’m sure no-one is going to launch a boutique hotel chain any time soon with, say, angler fish or centipedes as the designated mascot.

I’m liking the visual of a lobby fountain full of angler fish. But anyway…

One of the things I liked most about the hotel setup: the general session room, the exhibit hall, and the breakout rooms were all in a compact and easily-navigable area. Which sounds like it should be a no-brainer, right? Trust me, I’ve seen some less than brainy conference layouts over the years (“oh, yes, that session is in Bldg C, 4th floor, East Wing, Lower Level, in the Obscurantist section. Would you like a GPS?”)

The pool was nice, too. Oops, we’re back into extracurriculars. OK – to business.

SPBT’s leadership has been in a steady changeover mode for the past few years, and I say this with appreciation – the new leaders are forward-looking, invested in seeing the organization grow and adapt, and willing to try new approaches. And that leads to my main observation summing up the entire conference this year.

The SPBT was upbeat and energetic.

Yes, we’re still facing challenges with membership numbers and exhibitor commitments. Yes, the industry keeps changing rapidly under our feet. But something else was missing at the conference this year, and I didn’t miss it at all.

Negativity.

There was energy in the exhibit hall (and I heard very little of the complaining I’ve heard in past years). There was energy around the new formats for learning and networking opportunities provided. There was energy around the idea that the organization is pro-actively looking to the future, including a name change to more accurately reflect its evolving membership.

On the other hand, there was rampant disease-spreading, thanks to the fine folks at A.D.A.M. I ended up with MRSA, E. coli, chickenpox, and mad cow disease. —-> You?

As for the keynotes, Peter Diamandis was top-shelf (do understand that I have a real fondness for futurists). His stories and perspectives were mind-stretching. Sally Hogshead was entertaining and thought-provoking with her ideas on what makes people fascinating. Linda Cohn (ESPN anchor) did a fine job trying to interview Misty May-Treanor, but this talented Olympic champion, awesome at beach volleyball, was not made for the stage. I’m trying to be diplomatic here. Hey, if I tried to do competitive beach volleyball….let’s not go there.

Since any one person can only attend a handful of workshops, it’s impossible to give a broad overview of the many sessions that took place. My favorite this year was on Getting Your Message Heard, by Patricia Scott (Uhmms) and Susan Velani (Genentech). This very practical session on effective communications led me to immediately go back to my room and make some changes to my upcoming presentation the next day. Since Uhmms is an Impactiviti partner company, if you need great communication skills workshops for your company, just let me know and I’ll connect you up.

I also enjoyed  hearing how Eisai handled the seemingly impossible task of a six-month iPad-centric training implementation. Mary Myers (Eisai) and Susan Caldwell/Jennifer Hughes (Metrix Group) led the workshop. Technology + insurmountable odds? Of course I’m into it.

We are now beginning to leave the first-generation of iPad deployment and companies are starting to think about bigger systems. The most interesting tablet days are ahead of us, as we begin to work on the enterprise “plumbing” of mobile communications. I have an entire workshop on The Digital Future in Healthcare. Favorite topic!

For SPBT 2013, I got to lead a workshop Thursday on Vendor Management, and it was a fun group of folks with diverse perspectives. Everyone has a horror story (or three – or more) about projects that have gone off the rails. It’s amazing how common the causes are across the board…and how preventable a lot of this truly can be.

Appropriately, SPBT did feature some jugglers. They were throwing around a lot of unusual items, keeping up an entertaining banter throughout. Stuff got dropped occasionally, as more and more items go thrown into the mix. Seems like an apt metaphor for the biopharma training role these days.

Personally, my favorite aspect of the entire conference was that which I enjoy most – long, brainstorming talks with clients and partners. I put on my (learned) outgoing disposition for these events but I will always be a one-on-one, dig-deep kinda guy. In that respect, I wish the conference went much longer – there’s never enough time for relationship-building. But I left happy and upbeat. SPBT is in good hands. I look forward to next year in Dallas!

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