Pre-pandemic meetings full of in-person scientific exchange logistics and challenges now seem so antiquated. The Medical Science Liaison (MSL) had to be engaging in front of a live audience with expressive hand gestures and body language, knowing which side of the PowerPoint presentation to stand, and most importantly, how to have that impactful discussion. These details were paramount to a deemed successful interaction.
Then suddenly, the MSL world of travel, food, entertainment, and in-person events came to a screeching halt. After a few weeks of figuring out what the “new world” may look like, the frontier of virtual communication began. It was a difficult transition for many. While working professionals were all learning different and innovative ways to connect, there was the solace that all of us have not operated in this completely virtual environment, and in many instances, isolation. This was the opportunity to position yourself as that valuable resource of essential scientific information during these unprecedented times.
The question arose of the how—how to position oneself in such uncertainty? How am I going to make sure I am doing everything I can to provide scientific information to key healthcare decision-makers, and ultimately, help patients?
First, getting the appropriate time to request a virtual exchange with the competing priorities of healthcare professionals (HCPs) became more than daunting. It was the ask of businesses to reach out to HCPs; yet as patients are a priority, when is that the right time? The MSL was put in a very difficult situation. The companies asked the MSL to reach out, and the MSL did not want to jeopardize a prized and valued relationship. The bottom line: the MSL is getting paid to do a job that has suddenly changed.
For group meetings, attendance was the first hurdle. Without the travel and food, rustling up attendees would only happen if the deliverable was something they need — new, useful, beneficial information and insights. Relevant is the key message. Sessions need to be extremely pertinent, meaty, and brief (or more concise than they used to be).
Situations create opportunities. This “situation” is the opportunity for the MSL to position yourself as the most relevant, most knowledgeable, and most valued source of scientific and healthcare information. Take on the extra deep level of learning. Expand your horizons and learn new methods of interaction. Create a list of Digital Opinion Leaders and follow their insights. Look for ways that you can gather HCPs around a common topic, and then facilitate a “panel” interaction.
Understand the challenges of virtual presenting. Recall that many have had to pivot to learn about these varied platforms, from Zoom to Teams to Google Meets and more. Many healthcare professionals learned to use a different platform for communication too. The learning curve with the capabilities and utility of these platforms varied.
Nonetheless, regardless of platform, there are effective ways to communicate. Here are a few suggestions to increase the chance of success:
- Position Yourself in the center of the screen. Look at eye level.
- Start and stop on time. Have an agenda and follow it.
- Avoid distractions. Be in a space where there are no pets, people, children running around. Give your HCP the respect of undivided attention and preparation.
- Light it up. Get a ring light to make the visual appearance as clear as possible.
- Say no to the virtual background. Those can be so distracting when the person goes in and out, and with any movement, sometimes even disappears from the screen. Figure out a solid, plain background and use it.
- Choose attire as if you were attending an in-person conference. Plain-colored shirts display better than patterns or stripes. Avoid wearing white, red, or a color similar to your background.
- Do an audio check. Speak slowly and clearly. Consider investing in a USB microphone for added audio quality.
- Be engaging and confident – Ask questions, incorporate polls, and feedback opportunities. Give your audience a reason to be tuned in and not looking on their iPhone.
- Smile! A smile will help people feel welcome in the virtual meeting. Building trust is essential, and a smile is a sign of welcome. It is also okay to use your hands with gestures when you speak as you normally would in a face-to-face meeting.
For upcoming “live” meetings in the “new world”, be sure to follow safety protocols in the local area and position yourself with appropriate distance requirements for communication. Be respectful and show empathy for all situations.
Whether virtual or in-person, the MSL needs to position yourself in a way that is memorable, personable, and relevant:
- Position yourself with your focus. Be a partner with your HCP. Understand the most important questions and needs. Keep the focus on the HCP, not on yourself or the product.
- Position yourself with your words. Be careful of the choice of vocabulary, as every word you say can potentially have you viewed as a valued and relevant person, or alternatively, as someone who is fluff.
- Position yourself with your presentation. The energy and effort that goes into the setup and delivery say a lot about how important it is to listen to you.
- Position yourself with your appearance. Although it does not seem fair, first impressions matter. Being neat, well-groomed, and engaging shapes that impression. Think about the people that you meet and your reactions. Do you pay more attention to people who look sloppy?
- Position yourself by the way you handle objections. Be open to all ideas and questions. If a person has an objection, there is a legitimate concern and this needs to be addressed before it gets in the way of credibility.
- Position yourself by the way you close the conversation. Make sure all is understood, and the informational needs are met. If additional data is requested, address the next steps.
- Position yourself with the way you follow-up. One of the most vital factors in positioning yourself as a professional is what you do once the interaction is over. Developing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with HCPs requires diligent, respectful, and intentional outreach. The continued connection will lead to you being viewed as that valuable resource in your area of expertise.
The role of the MSL is vital for healthcare communications, and ultimately, getting the right data to key healthcare decision-makers. Using these steps, you’ll be able to position yourself to HCPs in a way that adds value and knowledge to the evolving healthcare world.
Susan Malecha, PharmD, MBA
Susan Malecha is a results-driven versatile medical professional with a proven track record for achievement in the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry. An accomplished author, she has lectured extensively and is called upon to present the latest developments in the areas of medical affairs for the pharmaceutical industry. Dr. Malecha is an active member of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), as the current President of the San Diego Chapter. She is also Vice-President, Board of Directors, Health Care Communicators of Southern California, and Board Director for California Special Projects Fund for the American Association University of Women. Earning her BS in Pharmacy from Butler University, she completed her Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago and earned her Masters of Business Administration from Keller Graduate School of Management. Dr. Malecha is a certified Etiquette Consultant and currently the Senior Director, Medical Affairs at Puma Biotechnology.