Orals

Oral proposals are like a job interview for your company. The written proposal qualifies the selling organization, but the oral proposal may determine the winner.

Introduction

The oral proposal is like a job interview for your organization. Generally, teams asked to give oral proposals have made the short list and the customer wants a preview of what it will be like to work with them. The customer might want to see how the contractor solves problems, as written in the proposal. Many times, they will conduct a question-and-answer (Q&A) session after the oral presentation.

Oral proposal team members have likely been hard at work on the written proposal and may be tired as a result. They might be tempted to relax and not prepare fully for the oral presentation. However, if your team makes only an average oral presentation, you could lose the opportunity—putting your work on the written proposal to waste.

Best Practices

1. Plan your approach before preparing your presentation.

Both oral and written proposals require careful planning before preparing the presentation or document. The team should:

  • Identify time limits
  • Understand the setting and occasion
  • Analyze the bid request
  • Create a compliance checklist
  • Integrate the win strategy into the oral proposal
  • Retain an orals coach

The Proposal Manager or other leader should facilitate the oral presentation. Before presenting, always conduct a final dress rehearsal with the entire team. By properly preparing and rehearsing the presentation, each speaker can refine his or her persuasive message and develop the delivery skills needed to be successful.

2. Conduct oral proposal training with an orals coach.

Some teams try to prepare oral proposals without a coach. But would you do a written proposal without a Proposal Manager? Of course not. Make sure to engage a qualified orals coach, either internal or external to your organization, to prepare your team.

Your orals coach should conduct formal training to bring your team up to speed. Although the team may be made up of highly intelligent people, they may not be experts in oral presentations. Orals coaches can help proposal teams deliver the most effective and persuasive oral presentations possible.

3. Leverage an oral-proposal planner template.

Use a template to build a presentation that is logical, responsive, consistent, and persuasive. A template lends structure and logic to help you develop powerful presentations that are easy to follow and understand. Order your main points as specified in the bid request. If no instructions are provided, present main points in order of importance to the customer. Follow these steps to plan each major topic:

  • Identify time allotted
  • Review evaluation criteria
  • Show how the strategy will be implemented
  • Develop the introduction
  • Develop content point by point using the Triple-S formula
  • Summarize key benefits and discriminators
  • Close with power (your value statement, sales message, or call to action)

The “Triple-S” formula

You can use the “Triple-S” formula to plan oral presentation content: State, support, and summarize each main point.

State

  • First point
  • Second point

Support

  • Solution overview and description
  • Key benefits
  • Discriminating features
  • Proven experience examples
  • Awards, statistics, and recognition
  • Impactful visuals
  • Risk mitigation points

Summarize

  • Conclude with value proposition

Introduction and conclusion

Your presentation’s introduction and conclusion also require consideration and planning. Develop the core of the presentation first, and then create the introduction and summary. Introductions have both mandatory and optional functions. Mandatory functions include:

  • Gain attention
  • State the requirement(s)/customer need(s)
  • Summarize your value proposition
  • Preview your main points

Optional functions within an introduction include:

  • Establish credentials
  • Define key terms
  • Offer background
  • Set the tone and establish rapport
  • Introduce key program personnel

Like introductions, conclusions also have mandatory and optional components. Mandatory functions include:

  • Review main points
  • Restate the value proposition
  • Close with power

Optional components include:

  • Transition to the next speaker
  • Address any questions the customer might have at that point in the presentation

4. Create effective visuals.

Carefully selected visuals have a powerful effect on evaluators (Figure 1). Visuals help readers remember key messages, particularly after a series of oral proposals presented in one mind-numbing day or several days apart.

With limited time and resources, use an organized process, like the following, to identify and incorporate appropriate graphics:

  • Determine your key strategies and how you could graphically depict each
  • Review the evaluation criteria and major issues, then brainstorm which graphics tell compelling stories and/or offer proof of performance
  • Identify project risks and visually depict risk mitigation approaches
  • Visualize ways to portray added value

Make sure the oral proposal team rehearses with the visuals. Coach presenters to always speak to the audience, not the visual.

Figure 1. Retention of Visual and Verbal Information.

Figure 1. Retention of Visual and Verbal Information. Effective visuals help evaluators understand and remember key messages presented in oral proposals.

5. Develop a winning delivery style.

A winning delivery style reinforces your verbal messages, as demonstrated in Figure 2.

Nonverbal messages can reinforce, replace, or contradict your verbal message. Your goal should be to control your nonverbal messages so they reinforce your verbal delivery. Ways to assess and improve nonverbal presentation skills include:

  • Focus on eye contact, facial expressions, appearance and posture, movement and gestures, and voice projection and pauses
  • Eliminate distracting movements, gestures, and monotone delivery
  • Conduct video critiques for each speaker during rehearsals

Figure 2. Importance of Nonverbal Communication.

Figure 2. Importance of Nonverbal Communication. Research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA demonstrated that 93 percent of a message’s emotional impact is conveyed nonverbally through visuals and vocal cues.

6. Prepare for questions and answers.

While some oral proposals do not specify a question period, always assume this will be part of an oral presentation. Prepare for a Q&A session by:

  • Knowing your materials
  • Anticipating specific questions
  • Brainstorming possible questions with the proposal team and technical experts
  • Conducting multiple Q&A practice sessions
  • Learning a consistent method to address questions. Follow these guidelines:
  • Respond to one question at a time
  • Listen carefully to the full question
  • Focus on the questioner:
    • Face the questioner
    • Lean forward or move toward the questioner
    • Establish eye contact
    • Indicate active listening
    • Do not interrupt
    • Listen to the content (words) and for the intent (ultimate purpose) of the question
    • If you do not know the answer, admit it or defer to someone else on your team

7. Practice and rehearse.

Public speaking is a common fear, and members of proposals teams are sometimes reluctant to get up and present. A key danger for an oral proposal team is the lack of necessary practice and rehearsal.

Many sports coaches observe that players “play the way they practice.” If your team has rehearsed your presentation in advance, you will increase your chances of success. Each presenter should practice his or her presentation 10 to 15 times out loud to become effective. Follow these tips for presentation practice:

  • Practice a presentation in individual parts and as a whole
  • Rehearse multiple times before an audience
  • Set a timer during each presentation
  • Conduct individual coaching sessions
  • Coach each speaker for message clarity, persuasiveness, and delivery skills
  • Digitally record each speaker to quickly give feedback and improve skills

Application in Diverse Environments

Different presentation settings for small and large customers

The oral proposal requirements will be defined by your customer. Another variable to be aware of is the venue for your delivery. For a larger organization or a government agency, you may have a formal meeting room with a requirement to turn in your presentation materials so they can be displayed on your customer’s equipment. For a smaller customer, you may be able to sit at a table and answer questions about your proposal.

Try to identify the venue and expectations for the presentation beforehand, and then develop your materials and delivery style to match.

Recent Trends

Use of video presentations

Some government customers are using video technical proposal presentations to assess vendors’ capability to satisfy the requirements of the solicitation. Producing a video takes additional time and resources that need to be budgeted for when planning. If you are not familiar with presentation media and their attributes and constraints, it may be in your best interest to seek professional resources that can help with the development and production.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Misunderstanding guidelines for oral proposals

Don’t assume that the oral proposal is an opportunity to improve your solution and modify what was in your written proposal. If you are not allowed to update your solution, your customer may perceive you as being disorganized or dishonest in your presentation. Even if your solution or cost is improved, you must be sure you understand what you can and cannot do during the oral presentation.

Lack of preparation

Some teams try to “wing it” during the presentation and fail to truly prepare. Don’t fall into this trap. Plan and practice carefully to win.

Summary

  • Oral proposals are like job interviews for your company, moving you from the short list of qualified vendors to the winner of a bid.
  • Planning, professional coaching, and practice are the best ways to ensure a winning oral presentation.
  • Effective visuals and nonverbal cues can help reinforce your verbal messages.

Tools and Templates

See Also

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