Improve Your Presentation

Originally published
Originally published: 3/1/2009

Suggestions for preparing and delivering a successful, impactful presentation.

Your company is asked to submit a proposal on a significant project. You spend time assembling the proposal and providing information to the project team. Once the proposal is submitted, you get a call from the construction manager and are asked to come in for an interview/presentation to the project team. The interview/ presentation lasts approximately 90 minutes and carries significant weight in the selection process.

My guess is that most of you are finding yourselves in this situation more often.

Years ago, HVACR contractors were rarely asked to make presentations. We submitted proposals, including cost estimates/ prices and were perhaps asked to come in for a “scope” review. The scope review tended to be a “question and answer,” “roll out the plans” meeting. In other words, the discussion was in our comfort zone. We were asked to speak on the technical aspects of the project and talk about what we included in our scope of work.

Now, we are asked to make proposals on projects, and in the case of design/ build or design/assist, we might make these proposals without submitting a firm price. We might submit fee and labor rate information and/or estimates of management overhead and general conditions. In these cases, there is no “scope of work” to review, and we are making presentations to contractor/owner groups where we must create desire on their part to put us on the team on a basis other than price.

One of my favorite stories around this change involves contractors who go to interviews with the plans and, upon entering the room, learn that the entire hour-long presentation should be used to tell the project team why they should be hired. Needless to say, the contractors had planned to talk about the technical issues and to answer questions, not to make strategically persuasive arguments about why they represent the best company.

Given the changed landscape, what can you do to improve your chances of making successful, impactful presentations?

Understand Your Audience

When you get the call about the presentation, ask who will be present. Be persistent on this, as you may not get the complete list on the first try. Once you have the list, look for friendly names and call them in advance. Ask each stakeholder what is important to them. For example, the owner will have certain “hot buttons,” which may differ slightly from the CM and/or design professional. While you cannot address all of the hot buttons, you can certainly organize your presentation around addressing those that are the most important. This knowledge also will help you determine who from your company should attend and what part of the presentation they should handle.

How You Will Help

Your best relationships will be with those customers you help succeed. So, when you prepare your presentation, make sure that you specifically articulate how an organizational strength or capability is good for your customer. For example, you might have a large and sophisticated fabrication facility. You need to articulate that it enables you to move work off the job site, into your shop, potentially accelerating the schedule and raising quality — all good for the customer. Too many times we talk about our capabilities, but we don’t tell the customer how that capability helps them succeed. People buy benefits, not features.

Make a List of "Gotta Cover" Points

You know why your company is right for the project. Make a list of those key things, and keep it in front of you during the presentation. Look for opportunities to introduce your unique capabilities (and why they are good for your customer). You won’t do this as completely unless you make a list in advance of all things you want to cover. Don’t let the conversation dictate what you are able to articulate. My rule is that when we leave a presentation, I want to look at that list and know that we introduced everything we think makes us uniquely qualified. I am disappointed if we leave the presentation and say, “I wish we had talked about this or that.”

Confirm What is Important

Even though you should know who will be in the presentation, and will hopefully know in advance what is important to each of them, you should still confirm this at the beginning of the presentation. I recommend starting with introductions and then saying something like: “We want to make sure we address the significant and strategic areas of importance, so I’d like to go around the room and ask each of you what is important to you in terms of the project and the selection process (these are the ‘hot button’ issues that will be the basis of selecting the winner).” We write responses on a whiteboard in the presentation. This allows us to “hook” our discussion to these important issues, and we always wrap up with a quick review and ask each stakeholder if we have addressed the issue that was important to them. If you do this, you confirm what is important and where to focus your discussion.

Anticipate Questions

As part of the rehearsal process (and you should always rehearse, especially if there will be multiple participants from your firm), think of all the questions you might be asked, especially the hard ones like, why is your fee so high? Your team will be relaxed and confident if you have adequately rehearsed. They will feel comfortable handling any question that might be asked. I feel like we were well prepared when we leave a presentation and were asked questions that we had answers rehearsed.

Limit Your Presentation Team

It is always a challenge to decide who should go to the presentation from your company. My rule is that we should take people who will contribute to the presentation and will handle a part of our delivery. If you take people who are silent, it can be a distraction for the team and can make you feel compelled to draw them out. This can lead to a disorganized and less focused presentation. This also relates to rehearsing, especially if you include individuals who might be less comfortable in a public speaking situation. For them, rehearsal is the only way to increase their comfort and reduce their anxiety.

Forget Powerpoint

This may be a point of dispute, but I recommend not using PowerPoint. If you use PowerPoint, you’ll tend to “read” the slides, and it will be more difficult for your personal delivery style and personality to come out. My preference is to take very little to “hand-out.” You don’t want the customer reading your stuff, you want them engaged with you and your team. In my experience, you have one hour in a presentation to make an emotional connection with customers — to give them a sense that you are good people and are sincerely interested in their success. You can’t accomplish that if you are reading slides or if the customer is reading your documents.

These are suggestions, in no particular order of importance, for you to think about as you prepare for and deliver presentations. I believe that the ability to articulate why your team is the best choice for a project, and the ability to express how you will help your customer succeed, will continue to grow in importance. Sophisticated customers, in particular, are moving more and more toward this procurement philosophy.

Paul Grunau is Chief Operating Officer at APi Group, Inc. APi Group is a family of more than 33 independent construction and constructionrelated businesses. Its life safety division includes fire protection sprinkler systems, air sampling, and low voltage alarm systems. Its industrial and specialty construction division includes steel fabrication, thermal insulation, distribution, electrical and mechanical construction.

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