Bridging the gaps

June 1, 2002
Sharyn Kolberg

Dorothy Leeds
Dorothy Leeds

Dorothy Leeds is the Guru of Questions, an internationally known speaker and the author of “Powerspeak,” “Smart Questions” and “The 7 Powers of Questions.” The concepts in her books are the foundation for the hundreds of workshops and keynote presentations she makes every year. She can be reached at or at (212) 864-2424.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Using transitions to detail several drugs.

Suppose you are driving through the state of Florida, and you want to visit Key West, America's southernmost city. There's one problem: Key West is located at the end of a series of islands. Once you reach the tip of the Florida mainland, you're sunk - or you would be if it weren't for the bridges. Each Key is linked to the next by a succession of overseas bridges or causeways that make it possible to travel easily from one island to the next (and the next and the next) until you reach your destination.

Detailing presentations are like the Florida Keys in that they're made up of a series of separate entities that have to be linked together. Every time you're asked to present two, three or more drugs at a time, the only way to get from one to another is by building linguistic bridges. Those bridges are what we call transitions.

The reps we speak to tell us transitions present some of the biggest problems they have in detailing. Many reps concentrate all their ammunition on the opening, thinking that with a strong start, the rest can just follow. Not true. While an attention-getting opening is crucial to the beginning of a detail, the challenge is to keep the ideas that follow just as vivid.

Transitions drive you toward sales

Bridges are what make an average presentation seem polished and professional. Yet they are one of public speaking's most common problems. Everyone can remember those moments when they paused and stammered because they didn't know how to get from point A to point B. Most uhs, ums and ers come when transitions are missing or are not well thought-out. Transitions turn the jarring impacts of ums and ahs into a smooth ride from the beginning of your detail through to the end.

Mastering transitions means using your creative abilities to help your doctors stay excited about everything you have to say. But what's more important, and more frequently overlooked, is that when used correctly, transitions can be a powerful, persuasive selling tool.

Transitions help you sell because they give you a chance to "slip in" a benefit. Suppose you start off by talking about the efficacy of Drug A. At the end of the first section, you can say "It not only has greater efficacy, but because patients only have to take it once a day, this translates into greater compliance."

Crossing bridges with three transitions

Crossing a bridge can be exciting because you are getting into new territory. An interesting transition can make the doctor feel the same way by alerting him or her that something new and interesting is about to follow. Transitions are not only opportunities to sell, they're also opportunities to regain sagging attention. The transitions you use can be straightforward or creative, depending on how you've constructed your detail.

There are three basic types of transitions to choose from:

•Â Visual transitions. This is a physical transition that the doctor can actually see. It could be moving from one side of the room to another (or simply taking one or two steps in a small office), standing from a sitting position (or vice versa), picking something up, or using a prop or visual aid (such as showing the doctor a chart or handing him or her a detail piece to study).

•Â Vocal transitions. Your voice can be a transition all by itself. Making your voice louder or softer, speeding up your speech or slowing it down, all bring attention to a new idea. And don't forget about the pause. A short pause allows the doctor to focus on what you've just said, and gives him or her time to shift to a new subject with you. Use your voice to command attention. Speaking too quickly or breathlessly translates into reduced credibility. Give vocal weight to your key points and transitions.

•Â Verbal transitions. These are the actual words you use, and are the most common forms of transitions. Some effective verbal transitions include:

Bridge words. These are the simplest types of transitions - words that alert the listener that you are changing direction or moving on to a new thought. Examples of bridge words include furthermore, meanwhile, in addition, consequently, and finally.

Trigger transitions. These rely on repetition of words. In a detail, you might end one section of your presentation by saying, "And that's why patient compliance is excellent with Drug A," and then go on with "Another drug with excellent patient compliance is Drug B, as evidenced by the DUCO study…."

Questions. Questions help you get control in any situation, and they also stimulate thought. So if you want your doctor to start thinking about the next drug, you might transition by asking, "And do you know what the DUCO study has to say about our next drug, Drug B, compared with our competitors?"

Make your point with a central theme

Another way to gain control and keep your doctor's attention throughout your presentation is to develop a central theme that links your ideas, and your various drugs, together. Many of the details we've witnessed start off with a reasonable attention level, which drops off sharply as the presentation continues. That's because they tend to be like reading a list: "Good morning, Dr. Smith. Here I am today to talk about Drug A. Now here's Drug B. And now here's Drug C." The doctor knows from the outset that he or she has nothing to look forward to but one drug after the other.

On the other hand, look carefully at this article, for instance. The central theme is based on traveling. There are several references to moving and driving, and to maps, roads, cars and especially bridges. Every time we use one of these references to transition from one thought to another, we are helping you - the reader - follow along.

Your theme doesn't have to be complicated. And if you can tie it in to a doctor's particular interest, that's even better. If, for instance, you know that your doctor plays golf, you might open your presentation by asking, "How is prescribing our drugs like using the right club to hit a hole-in-one?" When the doctor asks "How?" you can say, "Well, you wouldn't use a putter to try for a hole-in-one. Choosing the right club can make all the difference in your game. That's why we want to help you make the best prescribing decision, to make sure you're choosing the best drug for your patients." You can then sprinkle your detail with golf-related images to keep the doctor's attention throughout. Just don't overdo it; you don't want to come off too cutesy.

Let transitions lead the way

When you are writing, transitions can be fairly subtle. But when you're speaking, especially when you have a limited amount of time in which to get your ideas across, transitions that bridge the gap from one topic to another can be much more obvious. You have to be sure that your listeners cross the bridge with you. If your transition is too subtle, they may miss it and remain on topic A while you are well on your way into topic B.

Remember that a transition is a signpost that tells your listener that a new idea is coming. You can't just speak your thoughts as they pop into your head; one thought must be a logical extension of the thought that came before it. Transitions are the maps you use when you are persuading your doctor and you need to tell him or her which direction to go next. The better prepared and organized you are, the easier it will be for you to develop smooth transitions, and control the doctor's attention. PR

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