Bridge building 101

April 1, 2008
Dorothy Leeds
Pharmaceutical Representative
Volume 0, Issue 0

As I am always thinking of ways to make things easier for my workshop participants and the reps I work with, I realized that a central theme is a wonderful way to stand out from the growing competition as you make your daily presentations.


You know your stuff, but your presentation skills seem to be lacking


Develop a central theme to help connect all of your ideas

As I am always thinking of ways to make things easier for my workshop participants and the reps I work with, I realized that a central theme is a wonderful way to stand out from the growing competition as you make your daily presentations.

Changing lanes

You're probably wondering what I mean by a "central theme." Well, read on!

Reps and their managers tell me all the time that a tough part of a presentation in a doctor's office is getting from drug to drug. But even tougher is getting smoothly and comfortably from the small talk at the beginning into the business at hand: delivering a marketing message that sounds fresh (not canned), different and better than the competition. All of you who are out there making two or three drug presentations to your doctors know what I'm talking about. But even if you are not discussing two or three drugs, everything we cover here is applicable to any type of presentation.

The solution to these transitional difficulties is the establishment of a central theme.

What is a central theme, anyway?

A theme is a recurring and unifying subject, idea or concept – a motif. A theme makes it easier for both you and your doctor to remember your most important points, especially if you can relate the theme to the doctor (e.g., a golf theme for a doctor who enjoys time out on the links). It unites not only ideas, but the speaker and his audience (you and the doctor) as well.

A central theme keeps your audience's attention throughout your presentation by linking your ideas together and making those difficult transitions seem smooth and effortless. Many presentations start off with a reasonable attention level that drops off sharply as the presentation continues. Usually, that's because presenters seem to be reading a list: "Good morning, everyone. Here I am today to talk about the best ways to save on auto insurance. Here's suggestion number one. Now here's suggestion number two. And now here's suggestion number three." The audience knows from the outset that there's nothing to look forward to but a boring list.

Let's imagine you are going to give a lecture on transitions. The central theme could be based on traveling. There would be several references to moving and driving, and to maps, signs, paths and especially bridges. Every time you use one of these references to transition from one thought to another, you are helping the listener follow along. This is a left-brain–right-brain trick you can use, too. The left side of the brain controls logic and reasoning. The right brain is more creative. Giving your doctor a simple list of drugs is a left-brain activity. You can spice up that list, and make it easier to remember, by adding in bits of right-brain imagery (e.g., maps, cars and bridges) to help the audience focus on and remember your points.

Making the transition

Let's take a look at transitions and examine what they are and how they relate to a central theme. Along the way, we will cover other advantages of using a central theme.

Just know you are not alone. Transitions always have been a problem for speakers at any level and in any profession. Most people plan what they are going to say but rarely think of how they are going to get from point to point.

Presentations are like the Florida Keys in that they're made up of a series of separate ideas that are related but not linked together. The only way to get from one to another is by building linguistic bridges; those bridges are what we call transitions.

Transitions are logical extensions of the thoughts that came before; they help you and your listeners get from one idea to the next. They also act as signposts to tell your audience that a new idea is coming. Imagine driving to an unknown destination without signposts or street numbers. Even with your GPS, you still need these signposts to confirm that you're traveling in the right direction. Remember that audiences don't have a GPS device — so you need to supply the signposts so that your listeners can easily ride along with you. So often in presentations, speakers assume their listeners will naturally follow along. But audience attention is fleeting, and once lost, it is very difficult to regain.

That's why making the transition from small talk — chatting about family, health and the weather — is always tough. It's like trying to get off the highway from the left-hand lane. It's possible, but not always without consequences. One solution is not to engage in the small talk in the first place and get right to your central theme or message statement. However, some doctors really like those short personal encounters. Therefore, it is important to carefully plan how you are going to make that first, most important transition.

Let's say you have planned to start out asking your doctor if he watched Tiger Woods over the weekend. After that brief conversation, you could easily transition into your first drug by saying something like, "Tiger Woods is the quintessential winner. And we have a winner with Brand X." That's the beginning of your central theme: winners. I am sure you can begin to see how the central theme is your greatest ally when you have to talk about several drugs. However, it is a fine presentational tool even when you have only one drug to present.

The central theme can carry you through

In your precall planning, it is as important to think out your transitions as it is to think out the direction and content of the other essential parts of your call. To make transitioning easier and more effective, think about that wonderfully simple technique, the central theme.

In your daily calls on your doctors, which are usually short, you have the following major transitions:

  • Transition 1 from the small talk into first drug

  • Transition 2 from the first drug into the second

  • Transition 3 from the second drug into the third

  • Transition 4 from the third drug into your summary

  • Transition 5 from the summary into your close

Each of these transitions needs to be carefully planned. A central theme will keep you – and your audience – on the right track and make for a well-organized and interesting presentation.

And not only that ...

If you aren't convinced already about the great value of the central theme, here are additional benefits to you in your quest for more prescriptions. A central theme will:

  • Build your credibility — organized speakers are always perceived as more credible. According to my research, speakers who link well are more highly regarded. The easier it is to follow you the more organized you will appear. From my observation (traveling with reps) and work with doctors over the years, I see that physicians are much more apt to spend more time and give more attention to the reps who make their presentations interesting. Your central theme and the quality of your transitions will surely add to the compelling nature of your presentation.

  • Overall it will take you less time to plan – the central theme will do the work for you.

  • You will never feel anxious about those troublesome transitions again.

  • You will have a chance to be more creative. I know for a fact that physicians do appreciate creativity and good speakers. People are creative but seldom use it. Here's your chance, and for a most worthy cause.

  • Good transitions are an opportunity to regain your audience's attention. If you ever sense you are losing your audience, increase your vocal emphasis at your transitions. This will definitely draw your listeners back with renewed attention. Don't be like most speakers and lose your audience at transitions.

  • Get rid of the uhms. There is an additional benefit of well-planned transition. Do you say "uhm" all the time? There are many out there. In watching presenters, count how many start off with an uhm. This is a very bad habit for speakers. It makes you appear nervous, not confident and certainly unprepared. It is most desirable to eliminate this distracting habit. It is usually at transitional junctures that people rely on uhms. That is a direct result of not being aware of the importance of transitions and not planning for them. People often ask me how to get rid of this distracting habit — the best way is to plan your transitions carefully.

Have I made a good case for the value of a central theme? If so, go out and use this wonderful technique and wow your doctors. Remember it works for all the presentations you will be making during your long and successful career.