Presentation Pointers

Oct 09, 1995

It has been said that the only thing an A/E/P or environmental firm can do in a presentation is “not lose the job”— meaning that the selection decisions are made before presentation time, and can only be reversed by a bad presentation. I don’t agree with this theory. In fact, I know that a firm can win a job based on the quality of their presentation, even if those on the selection committee were unfavorably predisposed toward them prior to the presentation. What kind of presentation can actually change the mind of someone who has already reached a decision? One that applies the following techniques: Get out to the site or facility before you make your presentation. This is one of the most important steps in developing an effective presentation. Take pictures. Write notes. Get your first impressions down on paper. All of this information can be used in the presentation— not only to show that you are interested, but to show how perceptive you are and how sensitive you are to the client’s unique situation related to this project. Talk to users of the facility— not just those who will decide whether or not to hire you. Everyone talks to the contracting officer, or the purchasing people, the owner, or the client’s PM. But what about the people who will actually use the facility— like the patients in a hospital, travelers at a rail station, maintenance technicians in an airplane hanger, or shoppers at a store? Do you think that most design firms really understand what the users want? They may have nothing to do with the selection process, yet can provide you with insights that no other competing team will have. And don’t forget the maintenance people. They like to be brought into the process and consulted about their wants and needs, too. Do a “quick and dirty” research project. Come up with three or four questions that you can ask users. Do it in person or via a very quick questionnaire. An example would be polling commuters about their gripes with toll plazas; polling college students about how they use the student union; asking drivers whose cars are being repaired what they would like to see in a car dealer’s waiting room; and so on. This data can be collected in hours, and can be the one differentiating factor between you and your competitors when you spit it back at the client at presentation time. Design the whole presentation around the benefits of selecting your firm/team. This is fundamental, yet rarely ever done. Instead, we talk about the team, how long we’ve been in business, how many jobs we have done just like the current one, and what the QA/QC procedure in our firm is supposed to be (although following it is more the exception than the rule). Benefits are the reasons why the client should select your firm— things like the fact that you will be cheaper, faster, and better. Tell the client the benefits, then tell them why they are benefits in the context of your features (i.e., features are things like multi-discipline capabilities, how you have done 321 projects just like this before, etc.) Then, at the end of the presentation, repeat your benefits one more time. Don’t just rehash your proposal. This is a common mistake. The client has already seen your proposal and it was enough to get you to the next step. Now you need to go beyond the proposal, to make sure the client is comfortable with you. You need to make the client feel that they would be taking very little risk by hiring you, and that not hiring you would be the riskier choice. Develop a detailed outline and script for the whole presentation. We fall down here, too. As a result of poor planning, one guy takes over the presentation and drones on about something that really isn’t that important— wasting time that should have been used to communicate information that is more critical to your being selected for the job. I’ll bet 95% of our readers have experienced this before! The way to avoid this problem is to script out the whole thing, and time how long each section takes to present. Bring along assistance to make sure you stay on schedule. I like to have a marketing coordinator at the presentation to help out, if for no other reason than to hang out in the back of the presentation room and point to his or her watch when the particular speaker’s time is up. This really helps stay on schedule. It makes the team look better organized, too— something that can’t hurt when you are trying to convince a client to hire you for an expensive, complex professional services contract. Talk about your firm’s philosophy, practices, mission and strategies, and show how those things make you different. I started doing this in the early 1980s and I always found that it was well-received. What do I mean? I mean talking about things like why it’s important to the client that every one of your employees knows everything about a job through your decentralized PC network and electronic project filing scheme. Or how having shared data improves quality. Or that you are an ESOP company is good for your client, because your employees all have a stake in the long-term success of your firm. Or that you are exclusively dedicated to serving warehouse distribution center clients, which is a benefit to your client. Get some of this stuff out on the table and you will come across as a better company. Use “we” when you talk. This needs to be done carefully, but if used effectively and in a sincere way, it always helps the client believe that you are identifying with them. They like that. They want you to take ownership of their problem and make it go away. When you say “we” instead of “you,” it helps communicate the fact that you can already imagine yourself dealing with the situation together with your client. Have large name tags with your company name and logo, and your first name in large letters. Those little gold name tags that I see a lot of firms using today look real nice when you are two feet away from the person wearing one of them. But what if you are ten, or 15, or 25 feet away from the person you are addressing? There’s no way they can read those little tags! A better solution is a big tag, with your first name is big letters. Then when you get to Q&A time, the client will be addressing you as “Mark”, “Bob”, or “Jane,” exactly what you want to happen. Getting your clients calling you by your first name helps start an immediate personal relationship between you and the folks who can hire you. Rehearse the whole thing at least twice. Critique all participants brutally. If you have a team member who always wears an ugly shirt, confront him before the session so he can do something about it. Or, if you have a team member who says “Uh” repeatedly, nail him on it. Or, if you have someone who keeps jangling his car keys in his pockets, tell him how annoying it is. You get the idea? And another thing— don’t wait until a half-hour before the show to rehearse it in the parking lot (or worse, while driving to the client’s!). Do it in advance. Get everyone used to what he or she will say, whom they will follow, and so on, before you actually have to do it. Have appropriate visual aids and “leave behinds.” I like doing things like floating in a picture of a new bridge that my team wants to design right into an aerial photo of the site; or making a model of one aspect of the project with my team’s name on it that we can give the client; or putting the client’s title block on every exhibit we use. Get yourself and the rest of the team psyched up to the point where you know you can win. This point could be the most important. Because if you don’t believe that you deserve to win, that you can win, that you will win— you probably won’t. You will not have as much conviction when you speak as the team that does believe in itself. You won’t differentiate yourself over your competitors. And you won’t be fully communicating to the client that to hire any firm besides yours would be a very risky proposition, indeed. To close, I can say with complete certainty that I have yet to run into a company that always did everything possible to optimize its chances of getting a job. But my point is, if you aren’t going to go after the job with all of your heart and soul, and really do everything within your power to win the presentation, why bother at all? Originally published 10/09/1995

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