Lights, camera, action!

July 1, 2000
Michael Guardado

Pharmaceutical Representative

Tips for successful speaker programs.

One of the most feared events a rep has to plan is the speaker program, but having a successful program is not as difficult as you might think, especially when you have all the elements in place before "showtime." So stop sitting paralyzed in your Taurus, and hit the pavement!

First, consider the market in which you want to have your program. If you live in a metropolitan area, this is a snap. But if your territory includes rural areas, choose your market to make the best out of your budget and speaker. Favor larger towns over the smaller ones, and consider the possibility of inviting attendees from other towns if it isn't too long a drive for them. Your company will want you to use your budget wisely, so make sure you use your resources to impact the heaviest concentration of physicians.

The hardest choice you face could very well be picking the restaurant in which to have your program. If you have your program in the rural area, your choices may be limited. The right choice of location can really add to the success of your program. Talk to the restaurant manager and quiz him or her about experience, flexibility and general ability to handle a group the size you visualize. Be sure the speaking area, for example, is not close to a noisy kitchen. Even if you are having a small group attending, consider using a microphone-speaker combination. You would be amazed at how easily a small kick cuts through all the extraneous noise that occurs in restaurants, including other diners' voices and the clinking of dishes. Remember also that your speaker may not be trained in voice projection and presentation techniques and may not realize that his or her message can't reach the people in the back of the room. Since there are so many variables that can go wrong with acoustics, stack the deck in your favor with the addition of a PA system.

Do a walk-through and mentally visualize any snafus you may encounter, such as acoustic problems or a sub-par wait staff. Make sure the restaurant manager provides you with enough servers for your group. Don't rule out having the program at your local hospital; they usually have speaking facilities and a cafeteria that may be willing to do a dinner buffet.

The date and time of your program is also important. Some doctors prefer dinner programs, and others prefer lunch programs. Do whichever works for them and you. Well before the date, check with the medical staff supervisors at your local hospitals. Ask them if there are any meetings or events that would clash with your intended date. Have them write down your program in their calendar so they can steer clear of you as well.

Many physicians you invite will be interested in continuing education credits. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do in most states. Again, contact your hospital's medical staff supervisor and find out if they have an automated process that would allow you to issue credits. If you reach a dead end there, ask him or her about the process and details for submitting it to the state board that handles medical education credits. Getting credit for your pharmacists that attend is a much easier proposition. Sometimes, all they need is the program invitation and the presenter's CV (curriculum vitae, a resume for medical professionals) to submit to their state's pharmacists' board. Otherwise, ask your pharmacists if there is a local pharmacists' association, and who the president is. He or she will certainly be happy to help you with arranging medical education credits.

The question of supplying sales literature at your program is a tricky one. While it's common practice in the pharmaceutical industry, some disagree with it. First of all, an effective presenter will highlight your product's strengths in a clinical aspect. Second, you run the risk of upsetting your doctors who came to see a "medical education program." The respect you gain from not bombarding your guests at your presentation will open the door for them to come to future programs. You can follow up with the attendees on later sales calls to re-emphasize your speaker's message.

To get the maximum number of people to come to your program, you have to do some legwork. Send out invitations several weeks in advance, and, if possible, speak to the doctor about it and ask him or her to put it on their calendar if interested. You can also ask their nurse or receptionist to print it in their schedule for the day, so they're reminded all day that they have an after-work program to attend. Hand out another, identical invitation a few days before to remind them again. Finally, fax out confirmations to confirmed guests on the day of your program. Sometimes faxing out invitations to non-confirmed doctors too may bring a few out to your event. Handing out three invitations may seem like overkill, but your clients lead busy lives and need some reminding.

If you're using a speaker you've never used before, you'll want to prep them for the event. Advise the speaker of the size of the group and the mix of the audience. For example, a group that consists primarily of gastroenterologists will expect different information than family practice doctors. Also clue him or her in on any predominant culture that affects your community, such as religious practices. It's not unreasonable at all to discuss a code of conduct before your speaker comes to town. Remember that he or she may come from a different state or a different culture. Anticipate any problems, and speak frankly about your expectations.

Action!

On the day of your program, make sure you have all the elements you need. Prepare a checklist of things such as a laser pointer, slide projector, screen, etc. Have a backup bulb for the projector, batteries for laser pointer, and an extra-long extension cord since the restaurant is unlikely to have one. If your speaker is using a device that displays PowerPoint presentations from a computer, be sure to learn how to use it when you pick up the device. That said, it's a good idea to be familiar with all of the presentation equipment to avoid any embarrassing delays while you set up, or in the event of a breakdown. Call your restaurant early in the day to make sure everything is in place. Having all your items ready well before your program will calm your nerves and help you to think clearly about ironing out any last-minute details. This is especially important if you're picking up your presenter at a busy, congested airport.

Greet your guests at the door and introduce them to the speaker. Show them to the hors d'oeuvres and drinks. Allow them to look at the menu and, if possible, order at that time. Some presenters don't want any people eating during their presentation, while others like to take a short break and pick up after the food has been served. Ask the presenter what he or she prefers and work it out with the restaurant.

When the speaker is ready to present, introduce him or her with a very short scripted biography and any notable highlights in his or her career, including published works.

When the program is over, thank your guests for coming. Some of your guests will no doubt want to mingle with the speaker afterwards, so use the opportunity to get to know your clients in an informal atmosphere. Consider getting your presenter a small gift, perhaps one specific to your region.

Be sure to follow up with your physicians and get a read on their perceptions of the program. Use their suggestions to modify future presentations. Give out clinical studies authored by the presenter to your doctors. They will have a lot of interest in this person now that they've met him or her. You can clip your speaker's business card onto the reprints in case your doctor wants to personally ask them questions.

Reps are often paralyzed with fear because they don't know how to plan an event. Take it little by little and give yourself plenty of time to make mistakes. No program will be completely flawless, so don't be so hard on yourself when something goes awry. By keeping these suggestions in mind, you will be ready when it's time for you to "walk on stage!" PR

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