Words of Action

With an average of 90 seconds to detail docs, reps need to make an impact. And it's up to trainers to make sure they know how.
May 01, 2006
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

A senior executive recently told me about a method he uses to distinguish people who have made an impression on him from those who have not. On Friday afternoons, he fans out the pile of business cards he has received since Monday morning and carefully looks at each card. If he can't remember the person and one idea about their meeting, he throws the card away. He scoops up the remaining cards and hands them to his assistant with instructions that those are the people whose phone messages he will return the following week.

Although his method may seem brutal to those sales professionals who spend considerable time preparing for meetings with physicians, imagine how quickly doctors forget the information relayed to them from a barrage of uninformed and unexcited reps. In order for reps to make a good impression on doctors, they must be taught the skill sets in ways that stick in their minds. Here are some training techniques to remember the next time you present to your reps.

Understanding how audiences listen Most speakers forget the natural loss of retention when someone listens. An audience usually can remember only 50 percent of a half-hour message immediately after the speaker is finished and only 20 percent by the next day. Knowing that statistic, speakers must determine which parts of the message they want the listener to remember. That knowledge will determine which parts should be repeated and emphasized. Trainers should not leave that selection process to the listener.

Streamlining the message Pharma products and services are often presented in a way that overloads reps with information and detail, instead of leaving them with a few critical differentiating points. Keep messages short, and allow plenty of time for interaction. Deliver presentations with concise information that gives reps plenty of time to interact.

Keeping focus When making presentations, trainers must develop the ideas clearly and concisely, in a way that the listener can follow and remember easily. To begin with, the speaker must establish focus. In other words, ask yourself, "What do you want the listener to do, think, or feel with the information?" Most presentations lack audience focus and become, instead, a grocery list of features that are quickly confused or forgotten.

Thinking in pictures Listeners cannot remember a large quantity of data. The most important technique a speaker can use in this era of information overload is using pictures to help listeners remember certain messages. Reps are more likely to retain a complicated concept if there is a clear picture associated with the ideas. An anecdotal approach also can be helpful. It allows the speaker to personalize the material, since no two people have the same stories or examples.

Avoiding the visuals trap Beware though: Only use visuals and anecdotes when the listener needs reinforcement to better understand a concept. Visuals should not take the place of or convolute a presenter's verbal message.

The speaker needs to do the following: Introduce the visual; remain silent while it "speaks;" then, either remove it from view if it is self-explanatory, or incorporate the visual and engage the audience around its purpose. By watching the audience, the speaker should be able to determine whether a particular visual is enhancing the verbal message or simply distracting the listeners from the key points.

Staying on agenda The best presentations can be sidetracked if the speaker does not develop an agenda statement to use when answering questions. The agenda statement is the one big idea that the speaker wants the listener to retain after the meeting is over. Clear agenda statements can help to focus the discussion and prevent the speaker from digressing on superfluous topics.

After the presentation has been delivered, the speaker needs to seize opportunities to weave the agenda statement into certain answers for which it is appropriate. An agenda statement also offers the speaker an opportunity to end the question-and-answer session by restating the main idea as a final speaking point.

Ellen Cahill is vice president of Cahill Associates, Inc. She can be reached at

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