March 28, 2002

Delivering the pitch after making the short list

  • Tips for making an impressive presentation
    PS Associates

    You’ve prepared your proposal, submitted it, and have just learned you have been short-listed. That’s the good news.


    But, there’s also bad news — now you have to deliver the pitch. If writing the proposal was bad, this is much worse.

    To make it as easy on yourself as possible, you decide to do what most teams do: organize your presentation based on your proposal outline and deliver a condensed version of your proposal.

    And bore the panel to tears.

    Here’s a fact that can change the way you prepare and deliver your presentation. In the interview the evaluators are looking to answer two main questions: Can we work with these people? and Should we trust them with our project?

    The client already knows you are technically competent. That’s why you are in the interview. It ain’t about the technical work. It’s about the people!

    What you need to do is help the evaluation panel answer those questions in your favor. They want to hear your enthusiasm for the job and to feel that they can trust you with the project. You won’t get them to feel that way by repeating what you’ve already said in the proposal.

    Here are some tips to make a powerful presentation:

  • Think of the presentation as an oral executive summary. If you wrote an executive summary in your proposal — and you should have, either as a stand-alone section or more likely as your cover letter — you can use it as the jumping off point for your short-list presentation. In fact, the next time you write an executive summary, think of it as the blueprint for the presentation that will inevitably follow.

    Executive summaries should excite the readers and make them anxious to see more. Your presentation should do the same. It should get the clients interested in working with you. So interested that they can’t imagine working with anyone else.

  • Determine a “theme” or main message. And, make everything you say — every graphic you use — point to the theme.

    A presentation that revolves around a central message is easier to develop and deliver. From the audience’s standpoint, it’s a whole lot easier to listen to. It’s more interesting than just a bunch of techno-speak strung together, or a disjointed series of things you’ll do that seem to have no continuity. You will be able to control the listeners’ attention a lot more completely if you have a central theme they can get interested in.

  • Focus your theme on the client’s hot buttons. Your theme needs to grow out of your proposal win strategy. It must be directly related to what the client wants most. If it’s not, you are off target and the audience will drift away.

    This can seem like a risky approach because you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. But if it’s the right basket — if you have nailed your client’s hot buttons accurately — the risk is really pretty low.

    Don’t stop with the theme. Every single time you can point out how you will benefit the client, make sure you do. Pepper your presentation with benefits, large and small. The idea is to make your team as attractive as possible, to make it impossible for the client to not select you.

  • Give highlights of your solution. You need to talk about what you will do and how you will do it. This is, after all, what the client is paying for.

    But, of all the possible things you will do during the project, of all the many activities and approaches you will take, which ones should you mention in the 15 minutes you are allotted? What’s your basis for selecting the topics you will address?

    Focus on the issues you know the client thinks are important, then tell her how you will resolve them. This will grab and keep her attention. Remember that every competitor — every team that presents — is about equally capable technically to do the work. And each team will likely come up with a similar approach. But if you focus on the issues that are critical to the client, you score points.

  • Avoid minutia, jargon and too much detail. Too much detail is boring. It’s probably boring to you. Think of how boring it’s going to be to a panel that has to listen to three, four or five presentations in one day. Think about the people who are not technically savvy but who have a vested interested in the selection (and there will be some of them, maybe even most of them).

    You want to talk technical. It’s where your comfort zone is. It’s easy for you to lapse into a nuts-and-bolts discussion. The panel, however, doesn’t want to hear it, at least not as much as you.

  • Show you are competent, professional and willing to help. You want to leave the overall impression that you are technically competent professionals with all the skills, tools and people to get the job done. Plus, you want to leave them with the feeling that you are willing to help, that you are service-oriented (if you don’t, the winning firm will!) and that you genuinely want to help the client solve her problems, ease her pain.

    OK, that should get you thinking about how to develop your presentation. Now let’s talk a little bit about the most important five minutes in your pitch: the beginning.

  • The introduction is your only chance to make a first impression. You can show the client you are enthusiastic and excited about the project, or you can show that the presentation is just another dreary step in getting the job. You can lay out compelling reasons why your team is the right choice, or you can show the listeners that you are nothing more than one face in the crowd of presenters they’ll be seeing stream through their conference room in the next few hours.

    In other words, the first words out of your mouth lays the foundation for how the audience will perceive you — and your pitch — for the rest of the presentation.

  • Be bold, authoritative and confident. What you say shapes the rest of the pitch. If you make bold statements — “Our job during this next 30 minutes is hard, we’re going to have to get you to agree to change the way you do things” — the listeners will sit up and take notice. If you are tentative — “We believe we are well-suited to conduct this work” — the listeners will fall into complacency.

    Think hard about the tone you want to achieve, then figure out the best way to go about it.

    Make sure everyone on the team is on board. When the time comes for them to speak, they must play their role in controlling the tone of the presentation. If they don’t, things can unravel very quickly.

  • Lead with your theme. You should clearly articulate your theme right up front. Don’t be hesitant. Don’t nibble around the edges and hope the panel gets it. This is not a mystery novel, the listeners don’t want the secret of why they should pick you to be revealed at the end. If you wait until then, you will lose.

  • Make your introductory remarks compelling. You have only one chance to make a first impression. Once you’ve made it, you can’t change it. And part of the impression you want to make is that you have a compelling story to tell. You need to say what you’re going to say in a way that makes the listener think, “Well, that’s certainly interesting. I wonder what other interesting things they have to say?”

    If you start off flat, you will stay flat, at least from the listener’s point of view.

  • Let them know what you’ll talk about. Make sure you give the listeners a brief summary of the highlights of your presentation. They need to know where you’re going so they will be interested enough to follow along. It can be as easy as saying, “In the next 30 minutes we’re going to focus on three main topics: What we see as the top four critical issues in completing the Phase Two construction of Terminal A and how we will resolve them. How we will use our experienced team members to manage the project. And our plan for doing all the work necessary within your expedited schedule.”

    It can be as simple as that.

    Remember this about the short-list presentation:

    • The panel members don’t want to be there either

    • They have to listen to the same pitch on the same topic over and over

    • They’re looking for a team they can trust and work with

    Help them. Think about them. And give them what they need to make the decision in your favor.

    Dan Safford is CEO and senior proposal consultant at Seattle-based PS Associates. He has nearly 20 years of experience managing proposals, including a stint at Boeing Defense & Space Group as a proposal specialist, where he had a win rate of over 75 percent. PS Associates can be reached at (206) 463-6827 or on the Web at

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