Pharma: Seven Tips To Improve Your Next FDA Advisory Presentation

Yesterday, I posted my key takeaways from last week’s FDA advisory meeting for Social Media and Internet Marketing #fdasm (“Ask Not What Social Media Can Do For You“). Today, I’m providing food for thought for how presenters can improve their impact with an FDA advisory board. This is based on watching the 77 presentations last week, and having recently participated in the FDA Risk Communications Advisory Meeting this past February.

Building on a previous post: “Pharma: No More Bullets Please“, here are seven points that can help improve your next presentation to an FDA advisory committee. (These tips will also apply to other important upcoming presentations)

1. Build your story around data. FDA is a data driven entity-it’s in their bones. A story without data reference simply lacks punch for any FDA advisory board. It’s the “reasons to believe” so essential to any communication.

2. Don’t just repeat what FDA already knows; provide clear recommendation(s) including potential solutions, guidelines or unique construct(s) that can help with advancing policy. If FDA is holding the advisory meeting, it means that they largely recognize, and hopefully understand, much of the background and problem, and are looking for ways to move learning and policy forward. Data that leads to a concrete construct is the perfect combination. See if your solution can’t work to sell a dream-that can help FDA take a step closer to its mission of better patient education and health.

3. An FDA advisory board is made up of people and people respond best to a good story. We can take some lessons from Steve Jobs, one of the great presenters. Introduce an antagonist. Every presentation is a theatrical experience: “Every great drama has a hero and a villain.” Steve Jobs explains the problem and leads the way for the hero…Create a common enemy… lead with a strong beginning, middle and end. (If you haven’t watched ABC’s video: The Secrets of Steve Jobs, you may want to take a few minutes to do so here).

Spend the time upfront to think about how your data and expertise can lend themselves to a unique and compelling story that the FDA will thank you for. And of course, it goes without saying, that your story must answer their needs and not yours. If you honestly can’t answer why the FDA should want to listen to you, don’t present!

4. If you’ve read point #3, and you are telling a good story from the FDA’s perspective, and not your own, then you know that this presentation is NOT a sales call or another Biz Development opportunity! Keep your presentation focused on fueling the FDA’s learning and research for developing healthcare policy. In other words, add value or die! (not literally of course)

5. Think about “Twitter-friendly headlines”. Give your key solution a simple name and a short and concise descriptive headline or sound bite e.g. macbookair-“The Worlds’s Thinnest Notebook”. Two examples from #fdasm might be Rohit Bhargava of Oglivy 360 with his 3 C’s for defining when a pharmaco is responsible for content, or Wendy Blackburn with her Rx Risk red button.

6. Use slides to help reinforce your points, but only if slides are simple and readable! The experts recommend practicing Zen like simplicity – ‘the elimination of clutter’. (From my own experience, I know it’s easier said than done.) Unfortunately, more presenters than I can count, including many agency ‘communication experts’, used slides that were difficult to read, packed with too much data to take in or read, and too many competing points. If you have to apologize about a slide, fix it BEFORE the presentation! Your written submission is the place for all the data specifics and detail– not your ten minute presentation and slide support.

7. Relentless practice. It’s the only way to connect with your audience and speak most confidently. The best presenters in the world NEVER skip this step, and spend just as much time rehearsing as creating (maybe more). Just watch any Ted presentation

If you haven’t watched Pixels and Pills interview with Tom Abrams, presiding officer of the FDA advisory meeting, watch his video. It will reinforce many of the points above.

Our EXCLUSIVE Interview with Thomas Abrams at the FDA Hearings from Zemoga on Vimeo.

Importantly, if you presented at last week’s FDA social media hearing, thank you.  There were many excellent presentations that were spot on. Please consider these suggestions as potential input for your next presentation…

Looking to stay current with the latest happenings on FDASM? Visit, created by Ignite Health.

4 thoughts on “Pharma: Seven Tips To Improve Your Next FDA Advisory Presentation

  1. Great list and probably applies to more situations than just FDA hearings.

    I’m afraid to hear how you grade me against this. One thing…I was one of the people who apologized for one slide that had a mistake on it. Everyone had to turn in their slides ahead of time and sometimes you simply don’t notice the tiny things until you’re really practicing with the flow. FDA wouldn’t let people (and I don’t blame them) change their slides once they were turned in. So, I always fix things ahead of time (as you suggest), but can’t when I’m almost physically restrained from doing so.

    Otherwise, totally with you on these. Thanks!

    • Jonathan,

      You’re a pro and a great presenter :-) Looking forward to hearing you speak today at BDN!

      My comment about ‘appologizing for a slide’ wasn’t in reference to a simple case like yours,as there is sometimes no way to catch all those things when you have to presubmit, but to the many presenters who submitted slides with LOTS of words, numbers and stuff on them that they know no one in the audience can read and doesn’t make for good presentations for a big room format…My point was more, if you know upfront that a particular slide is very busy and not great in a big room presentation, then don’t use it or take the time upfront to simplify it. Presenters will do themselves a big favor!

      When it comes to slides and my own presentations, I love the way the good presenters do it with simple clean slides, and I’m trying to learn every day!


  2. Hey Ellen – such great advice, and I wholeheartedly agree with every one. If only your post had been available BEFORE the hearings perhaps enduring those 77 presentations would have been a bit more pleasant for all of us! I enjoyed the variety and pace, but I, too, found those slides packed with hundreds of words horrendous.

    I would also add a #8 … Don’t read your testimony. I was very surprised at how many people literally read from a script, even if accompanied with slides. It made the presentations flat and void of inflection, doing a disservice to a lot of great content and information. That said, I do understand why pharma co’s would probably have to take their exact words through internal reviews so ad libbing was probably impossible for them. Nobody’s perfect, but any supposed expert communicator should know their 10 minutes-worth of content well enough to not read from a script.

    • Wendy,

      Thanks for #8–great addition!

      You did a great job at FDA, and I hope that your Rx Risk idea moves forward. I bet you’re glad it’s over…Enjoy the thanksgiving break.


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