Top Trends for 2021 in Speaker Programming

It’s a new year and things are looking up for us in the pharmaceutical speaker programming business. This time last year, the outlook was grimto put it mildly. This year will be different. We’re all virtual meeting pros now, having executed not only stand-alone meetings virtually, but entire conferences and awards shows, and the return to face-to-face meetings is just on the horizon. As we prepare for a return to something resembling normalcy later this year, let’s look at the top trends in speaker programming.  

1. Virtual meetings aren’t going anywhereDespite all their drawbacks (difficulty maintaining engagement, Zoom fatigueetc), virtual meetings can be cost-effective and easy to execute. You just can’t beat the convenience of being able to connect any number of people from all over the world with the click of a few buttons. However, they do require some preparation to get right. From premeeting communications to live polling to camera etiquette, getting virtual meetings right is a science. Learn more by going viewing our article on How to Optimize Virtual Events and our podcast discussing virtual events here.  

2. Diversity and Inclusion: This is the way—Representation matters. We need to consider representation and inclusion in not only the speakers we select and the discussion groups we put together, but also the topics we discuss at our speaker programs. Does our diverse audience see themselves in the speakers we have present? Do they hear topics that resonate with them? These sorts of questions need to be at the crux of our speaker program development.  

3. Alert! Alert!Back in November of last year, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG), issued a special fraud alert that highlights “the fraud and abuse risks associated with the offer, payment, solicitation, or receipt of remuneration relating to speaker programs by pharmaceutical and medical device companies.” The 7-page document outlines the concerns the OIG has about speaker programming and their educational value, writing that “in the last three years, drug and device companies have reported paying nearly $2 billion to HCPs for speaker-related services.” This means that those of us who execute speaker programs need to continue to be on guard to avoid any appearance of impropriety and ensure we’re delivering real value in our educational content 

4. Compliance in the Virtual World—In 2021, we should look back on our experiences with virtual meetings in 2020 to formulate the best approach to ensure compliance in a virtual environment. We need to consider for example, how fair market value rates should be adjusted for a virtual program and be mindful of the fact that just because speakers can more easily speak at more programs doesn’t mean that speaker caps are no longer in place. You also need to consider monitoring for factors like educational outcomes, fair balance, and risk identification. Overall, we need to keep in mind that compliance guidelines are just as important for virtual as they are for live meetings.  

5. Back in the SaddleAt a recent major speaker programming conference, a consensus emerged: we’re coming back in Q3, baby! Whoo! (with some reservations, of course). In all seriousness, it appears that we’ll start returning to live speaker programs in Q3 of 2021, but preparation is key. We need to have processes and language in place to address safety requirements of venues and attendees—from invitation, to registration, and confirmation, etc. It’s also important to have a clear and documented process for field representativesoutlining what will and will not be allowed. Additionally, things won’t quite go back pre-2020 normal, as we will still need to determine and communicate safety requirements on things like mask mandates, travel requirements, and social distancing and gauge speakers’ level of comfort and adjust accordingly.  

Overall, it’s going to be a good year for speaker programming. With a year of virtual programming under our belts, agencies that conduct speaker programs will be able to get back to face-to-face meetings with a new approach and perhaps an even greater appreciation of the value of in-person events. With a renewed focus and lessons learned over the last year, we can execute the kind of speaker programming that will deliver true value for our customers.  

If you are interested in furthering the conversation, let’s connect! Contact us here.