Tips for Conducting Successful Advisory Board Meetings in China

Multinational pharmaceutical companies periodically conduct regional advisory board meetings to gain insights from local thought leaders such as practicing physicians. Organizing regional advisory board meetings in emerging markets, however, may pose challenges to pharmaceutical and medical communications agencies that are well versed in organizing similar meetings in their home countries in the west.

Based on my experience of attending advisory board meetings in the US and China as a bilingual scientific and medical writer, here are a few tips for conducting a successful advisory board meeting in China.

1. Pay extra attention to logistics
Conducting a successful advisory board meeting requires strategic planning and flawless execution, and logistics can make or break an advisory board meeting. When organizing an advisory board meeting in China, consider the following.

  • Use thought leaders’ Chinese names when booking airline tickets and hotel rooms. People in China use their local identification card to board airplanes and check in at hotels, and their local identification cards contain only Chinese characters. If you have booked an airline ticket for a thought leader using his or her English name or Chinese name in Pinyin, the thought leader will not be able to board the flight. It’s the same for hotel checking in. In addition, make sure you put the family name and the given name in the right order: family name first and then given name.
  • Maintain clear communication with venue staff. Chinese culture values knowledge, and Chinese people respect experts. It’s common for Chinese people to go out of their way to take the best care of their guests, and they expect you to do the same. Here are a few little things that can make a difference.
    • Make the check-in process at the meeting venue as easy as possible and have a designated person waiting at the door.
    • Validate the parking ticket if a local advisor decides to drive to the meeting himself or herself.
    • Arrange a quick or easy-to-carry meal should an advisor need to leave the meeting early.

Experienced venue staff can help take care of these little things, but you want to make sure they clearly understand your requests. Save their phone numbers so that you can get hold of them when you need them.

  • Activate the international service on your phone. Before flying to China, make sure you can make and receive phone calls while in China. Give your phone number to those who may need to get hold of you, and keep people’s phone numbers handy: your Chinese colleagues, individual thought leaders, and key venue staff members. And remember to add country code 0086 if you need to dial a Chinese phone number.

2. Create an effective meeting agenda  
Discussions should be the most important parts of a meeting because this is the time for the advisors to share their experiences and offer insights. Free discussions however can go off track, especially if a meeting is long and the scope is wide. To help the advisors stay focused, try to keep to keep the scope of the meeting narrow and provide specific topics for discussion.

3. Shorten the presentation, if possible
Advisory board meetings often take place on Saturdays. Many advisors, however, have other engagements during the weekend. Don’t be surprised if an advisor decides to leave early during a meeting. Base on my experience, a half-day meeting works the best in China. To derive as much insights from the advisors as possible, make the presentation short and focused, and save more time for the advisors to share their opinions.

4. Be aware of cultural differences
Again, little things can make a big difference. When speaking to a Chinese advisor, remember the following:

  • Always mention the advisor’s highest academic title or degree. Use “professor” instead of “doctor” if a physician is affiliated with a teaching university. “Doctor” is generally used by patients when referring to their attending physicians, and it does not convey the same level of prestige and authority in China as in the US.
  • Listen and then speak. While speakers in the west often encourage their audience members to ask questions during a presentation, interrupting a presentation or talking over another person is considered rude and offensive in China. When someone speaks, listen carefully and start to speak only after the speaker has finished talking.

5. Prepare for the unexpected
No matter how well you think you may have prepared, something will almost always go wrong on the meeting day. When this happens, remain calm and deal with the issue the best you can. If necessary, seek help from the venue staff and accept assistance from local colleagues.

Please leave a comment and share your experiences.

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