Making the Pitch: The Art of Presenting
Here’s the scenario: you and your team have prepared the perfect document, and you know exactly what needs to be done. The only hurdle is the presentation to the decision-maker (e.g., your Board of Directors, the Contracting Officer, or the client you have been pursuing for months). The road to success is paved with potential pitfalls—timing constraints, limitations on what you can present, the personality of the decision-maker, the challenge of capturing your key messages succinctly, and competing interests that could derail the solution you recommend.
Piece of cake, right? Just throw together a few PowerPoint slides, and wing it. You’re the best, don’t they know that? And your document covers everything they need to know, so what’s the big deal?
Companies and organizations spend millions of dollars preparing presentation and proposal documents, only to falter when delivering the final pitch. They fail to invest in properly preparing the team to express messages clearly and succinctly, consistent with the supporting documents. Most decisions may not be made solely on the strength of a presentation, but strategic opportunities can be lost if your presentation fails to deliver the persuasive impact that leads the decision-maker to decide in your favor.
Keys to Success: The “Top Five” Do’s and Don’ts of Presentations
Getting the result you want is dependent on knowing your decision-maker, your audience, your team, and your subject matter. Every presentation is inherently different but there are common threads to exceptional presentations. Here we list our “Top Five” DOs and DO NOTs to guide you:
- Establish and adhere to clear THEMES. These are your most critical 3-5 messages.
- Get the right TEAM to present, and define each presenter’s role and responsibility.
- Use GRAPHICS wherever possible. Avoid detailed, dense, and excessive text on slides.
- Understand and adhere to the applicable presentation RULES.
- Engage a professional COACH – it’s worth the investment.
The DO NOTs
- Assume that the decision-makers have read and fully digested your written materials. Your presentation has to have the information they need to decide.
- Clutter the presentation materials. Keep them simple, easy to read, and not distracting from what is being said.
- Let executives or others not familiar with the process derail what needs to be done. An independent professional can help keep the team focused.
- “Wander” from the script, unless absolutely necessary. The preparation process determines what to convey, but be sure you are responsive if additional needs arise.
- Leave any questions unanswered or subject to interpretation. If there are questions, answer succinctly, and make sure the answer responds to what is asked.
Know, Respect, and Play to Your Audience
The success of any presentation is critically dependent on your knowledge and understanding of the person or people to whom you are presenting. Your audience may be a single executive, senior company officials, a government source selection board, or someone acting on behalf of an organization. You have to know who they are, their authority to make the decision, the criteria on which their decision will be based, and their “hot buttons” (what they want or need).
Following is a comparison of three typical audiences and the differences in presentation strategies between the groups. The audiences are management/executive, proposal presentations, and clients.
Presentations to management (including senior executives, Boards of Directors, and Executive Leadership Teams) are generally internal. Decisions are made based on the company’s or organization’s own criteria, rather than a prescribed set of rules. These are usually small, but formal, meetings.
Understand the context for the decision. What is the expected investment and return on investment, the impact on the company’s resources and people, the market impacts beyond the company, and the timing and schedule? Does the decision have positive or negative impacts for the decision-makers?
Know the Decision-Makers. These leaders are in the positions they hold because they have been entrusted to do what is in the company’s best interests. Knowing their drivers and personalities is crucial to developing the right messages. The presentation is to THEM, not the company or organization.
- Specifically and directly address the criteria on which the decision will be made. Is this a budget or timing issue? Does this require investment in time, money, or people? What long- and short-term benefits will the company reap? Have the risks been identified and mitigated sufficiently?
- Define and eliminate barriers to the decision. Don’t raise “red flags” that are not real issues; rather, make sure you address any areas that could potentially deter them from making an informed decision.
- Find the balance between too much and too little information. If there is already a written presentation, highlight what is necessary, but don’t bog down in details – do not re-hash what has already been covered in another detailed document.
Bring the right team and practice. As you get to know your decision-makers, determine who they want to listen and talk to in a presentation setting. Management and executives may want to listen to one of your executives to get the feel for your company’s drive, or they might want to hear from the subject matter expert who will be solving their problem. Assemble two or three select presenters who are well informed on both your company and the opportunity, and who are authorized to commit your organization to new work. Gather several times before the presentation to practice your presentation and brainstorm and practice responses to potential questions.
Companies familiar with the business development process followed by the federal government know that oral presentations may be required as part of the decision-making process under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). A similar process – written proposals, followed by presentations – may also be used when pursuing work for federal contractors, educational grants, or commercial clients seeking to differentiate themselves. For these kinds of presentations, success is dependent on research and preparation. These presentations can give you the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of your team and the importance of teamwork between you and the client. This also demonstrates confidence in your solution and willingness to share the benefits of that solution to the client.
Understand the context for the decision. In government procurements, non-compliance can get you eliminated from the competition in the first five minutes. Careful, detailed, and complete reading and interpretation of all requirements is essential. In general, these requirements are NOT discretionary. When the client says “no more than 30 slides” these criteria are hard and fast with no variation. Strict interpretation is the only rule.
Understanding the entire written document that supports your presentation is key. Know what your proposal team has offered, how much it will cost, how the work will be done, and who will do the work.
Know the Decision-Makers. Do your research into the background, experience, and authority of the review board (or similar decision-maker). When there are multiple people on the panel, you should know who administers the process versus who makes the decision—most of the time, these are different people.
Bring the right team and practice. Presentation teams for proposals are typically composed of key personnel who have been named to do the work in the proposal. These teams will require time to digest the proposal, get to know one another, bond as project team members, and determine their vision for winning the procurement as the Key Personnel Team. Proposal teams benefit greatly from bringing in a team building coach, one who can craft the best roles and spotlights for each team member during the presentation, resolving subtle internal team disputes and emphasizing individual strengths. These professional team-builders establish an enduring connection between the team members, resulting in a cohesive team and life-long friendships. When you’re successful, this relationship carries over into executing the work.
During preparation and practice there must be strict delineation of roles and responsibilities. This applies to the team members making the presentation and to those who will be doing the work. The decision-maker must have confidence that they will get WHAT and WHO is promised to deliver the work.
Many presentations have a question-and-answer period or a problem-solving element. To prepare for either of these elements, detailed sample questions and problems must be crafted and presented to the team for practice resolution. Attention must be turned to team dynamics, ensuring all team members actively represent their potential role. Preparation of flip chart construction and presentation should be practiced, with the help of experts skilled in visually capturing the attention of a selection committee.
The hard job of a proposal presentation team includes:
- Meticulous and repeated preparation. The presenting team will likely push back about too much preparation, but constant repetition of working the slides, practicing timing and hand-offs, and conveying key messages is essential.
- Careful use of, but not reading of, the slide deck. Each team member must know the material on their slides, without notes.
- Detailed orchestration, from preparation through delivery. There is no room for misinterpretation, and little latitude for discretion. Follow the rules.
Your clients are King and Queen. To be successful, each and every client must be treated with care, from winning the first job through getting repeat business. Treat every interaction with a prospective or current client as a form of presentation.
Understand the context for the decision. Know your subject matter and how it ties to what the client is seeking. There is never a good time to speculate or to have to say, “I don’t know. Let me get back to you on that.” Determine the process and timing for the client’s decision. Don’t leave the meeting without knowing the next steps in the client’s mind.
Know the Decision-Makers. Be fully prepared, even if you think this is a “slam dunk” decision. Make sure the client feels your sense of commitment, and that you are not taking approval for granted. Make the conversation a dialogue, and listen carefully. Particularly with a new or prospective client, you cannot assume that you know what the client needs – they need to tell you that.
Bring the right team and practice. Take the right players to the table, and leave the others out of the meeting. This may mean bringing a subject matter expert, the one who knows the client personally, or someone who can present effective
Years of experience have convinced XPRT that presentations are an art, not a science. There are those who write, and those who can present – and they are often not the same people. Expert Presentation Coaches and Team Builders are skilled at the alchemy of forging bonds, optimizing strengths and challenges, and determining the customer’s desires. We have the experience and resources to help you prepare for and succeed in presenting—to anyone, with any team.
Len has 40 years’ experience in helping lead domestic and international companies of all sizes to solutions that achieve their vision for the future. He has supported clients in all aspects of helping their businesses grow—from strategy development; to business development and capture; through project/program startup, optimization, and execution.
David has 35 years of professional experience leading corporate organizations, strategic initiatives, and projects, built on his work as a lawyer, business executive, and entrepreneur. His expertise includes strategic and business planning, program and project management, M&A strategy and implementation, government contracts and proposals, negotiations and dispute resolution, and corporate policies, procedures, and governance.
For a free XPRT consultation to assess what your business needs to bid and win US government contracts, for help with your US government bid, or for more information, contact XPRT at (844) 332-9778.