Presenting information is an essential part of clinical research and is interwoven into every element of study conduct, from the key opinion leader revealing pivotal trial results at a large investigator meeting to the CRA presenting protocol information to investigational site staff during an initiation visit.
Engaging your audience is key to ensure they not only listen, but retain the information. A glossy PowerPoint presentation, filled with bells and whistles, may capture interest, but remains a hollow vessel if the speaker delivering the content does not leave a lasting impression with their words and actions.
Presenting with impact requires thorough preparation. The presenter must be familiar enough with the study material to create dialogue with the audience, an easy open forum versus a closed lecture, a welcoming atmosphere where the audience feels they are part of the discussion. Rote recitation of bullet points creates an insurmountable rift, whereas asking questions, quoting sources, even benign humor creates a bond that will strengthen with each spoken word.
Speaking with impact involves eye contact, articulation, appropriate pronunciation, inflection and smiling. Interacting with impact involves accepting each question asked, appreciation for all feedback and comments and pausing to let the information sink in. A gracious presenter is aware of time constraints, able to moderate when attendees try to dominate the conversation or time and maintains professionalism even in the most stressful of situations. A successful presentation does not require a salesman’s pitch or actor’s depth, but rather knowledge, warmth and enthusiasm.
I present study information to investigators on a weekly basis, and I consistently feel inspired by the material I present due to the larger mission of drug development. That inherent belief is reflected in my words and demeanor, and translates well to investigational sites. The investigators with whom I work are often experts in the field, and my knowledge is naturally less in comparison.
During a memorable meeting at a large academic institution, I never imagined my love of an iconic science fiction franchise would potentially impact an important presentation.
Several months ago, I was tasked to present early phase study information to a key opinion leader and his staff, at the renowned institution where he practiced. The sponsor was determined to have the investigator participate in the study, and several high level directors accompanied me to the meeting. The success of the meeting hinged partially on my performance and I felt the pressure as I furiously prepared with protocol review, slide deck updates and several rehearsals in front of the bathroom mirror.
The morning of the presentation, the sponsor representatives and I gathered at the large conference table while the institute’s audio/visual tech connected my laptop to the imposing video screen. The investigator and his staff entered the room—and entered, and kept entering. Though it seemed like a thousand to my already overwhelmed brain, they finally stopped at nine. Nine people representing one site for a pre-study visit? Really?
There were 14 people assembled to hear me speak: the sponsor medical monitor, three clinical directors, the investigator and his study start-up team of nurses, directors and regulatory staff.
It was the largest group to whom I had ever presented study training.
There are two things I always do without fail prior to presentations; close my email and instant message applications on my computer, and turn off my cell phone. Well, almost always.
I took a deep breath and began my presentation. Though I felt very nervous, my demeanor was poised. I thanked the participants for their attendance and reminded them that all questions and feedback were welcome. The slides were open to the study overview and as soon as I formed the first word, my cell phone began to ring. Not a chirpy, welcoming ring, but a song beloved by nerds and normal folks alike: Darth Vader’s ominous “Imperial March” resounded through the room. Due to the buildings acoustics, it was a forceful sound. With each crescendo my face grew hotter and my heart sank. I was mortified at such a rookie and thoughtless mistake considering the circumstances and those in attendance.
A rumble turned into the roar of laughter from the attendees. This included the investigator and all sponsor representatives. I smiled, took a deep breath and apologized to everyone present for my oversight. Then I let my secret out: “Well, you may be aware that I am a Star Wars Nerd.” This elicited yet another round of laughter from the group.
I continued the presentation without incident, which was a roaring success. No pun intended. I was grateful for that reaction and my subsequent recovery. My snafu was not the end of the world. A few choice words salvaged the meeting and endeared me to the participants.
Elizabeth Blair Weeks-Rowe, LVN, CCRA, has spent nearly 14 years in a variety of clinical research roles including CRA, CRA trainer, CRA manager and clinical research writer. She also is author of the novella Clinical Research Trials and Triumphs. Currently she works in relationship development/study startup in the CRO industry. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @ebwcra.
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