After successfully submitting your proposal, you’ve made it through the first big stage. Now you’ve been invited to the dreaded beauty parade. Unless there are some more negotiations to be done after the bid presentations, this is your last chance to impress the RFP issuer.
When the email arrives inviting the team to the presentation, in many organisations, it is cause for a sharp intake of breath. For every person who relishes public speaking there is another who dreads and fears it. For many individuals in professional services firms, who aren’t purely salespeople, this last stage can be the most uncomfortable one of all.
However, with the right preparation and support, these fears and apprehensions can be overcome, and you can deliver a compelling, interactive bid presentation that will give you the best chance of success. The 10 tips below will help you perform your best so that you nail your future bid presentations.
10 tips for successful bid presentations
1. Understand why the issuer wants to meet you
In some cases, they may well be interested in some of the technical aspects of your proposal. However, that has likely been clearly explained in your RFP response. The reason they want to meet you and the delivery team, is the same reason you interview people before you hire them. Beyond what’s written on the page in their CV, you want to understand how they will fit in with you and your existing team. You want to see how they align with your current team dynamic.
The same is true when you’re in the final bid presentation. The evaluation panel are meeting with you to see how you work as a team, and how you collaborate with each other. This is particularly true if your bid team included different service lines or departments, or if you are part of an alliance or simple partnership (multi-company) response. They want to test if you really do get along, and will collaborate.
The evaluation panel is also looking to understand your working and communication style, and how it will fit in with them and their organisation. The longer the project or piece of work being awarded, the more important this is. Chemistry is crucial, after all no-one wants to engage a person or team that they won’t enjoy spending time with for a few years.
2. Clarify the brief
Invitations vary greatly in quality in terms of their depth of brief. Some are very well thought out and detailed. However, lot of bid presentation invites tend to say “please come and present your RFP response for 30 minutes and we’ll have 10 minutes Q&A.”
The temptation is to take this as gospel and rock up with your RFP response on some PowerPoint slides, and present back to the panel what they have already read! How engaging do you think that is to your audience?
However, you can always clarify the brief. A simple response confirming your excitement at the upcoming presentation and asking if they’d like you to focus on any key aspects of the bid, may provide more clarity. I’ve coached teams to suggest a more workshop approach around a key issue. Or even a focus on the key project risks and how they can be addressed, as a suggested agenda. This has led to a much more engaging, and ultimately successful presentation. When the issuer has decided against these approaches, they have thanked my teams for the thought they have put into their responses, but have requested they present the whole proposal.
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” – Dale Carnegie
3. Practice, practice and practice some more.
Two common justifications for rehearsal avoidance are: “I don’t need to practice with my team-mates, we all know our roles”; and “rehearsals make me sound robotic, I’ll lose my edge.” Of course, some of the reasons are really just excuses put forward to sidestep rehearsing.
No-one got proficient let alone expert at anything without putting the practice in. Therefore, make sure you schedule an adequate number of practice sessions. The amount differs depending on the length and style of bid presentation, but loosely the below bullet points give you a good idea.
- Bid presentation team walk through: Agree themes, key messages, and who’s speaking when
- Bid presentation to non-presenting team members (e.g. BD, Bid writers): Gather feedback and incorporate into next presentation
- Individual presentation coaching (if required): This is best done on a one to one basis to build confidence
- Bid presentation to senior internal people, not in the bid team: Gather feedback and incorporate into next presentation
- Bid presentation to non-presenting team members (e.g. BD, Bid writers): Minimal feedback, only small work-pointers
You can repeat several of the steps above a few times, use these points as a simple guide to give you an idea on the amount of rehearsing you may have to do.
“The more I practice the luckier I get.” – Arnold Palmer
4. Decide what supporting material you need
Do you really need that massive 50+ page slide deck? In fact, do you need to use PowerPoint at all? There’s a time and place for a slide-deck and it may be that it will help get across some of the complexities in your offering. So maybe just have those slides, and only use PowerPoint when you need to. The problem with having a long presentation, with endless screens supporting the hour-long talk is that most audiences switch off during them.
Instead, if you need supporting material, look at bringing in a model, a placemat or a workplan. If you’re supporting material promotes a joint discussion between you and the evaluation panel, your chances of success are greater. For a start, they’ll be engaged and actively listening. On top of that, they’ll start to feel comfortable working with you.
5.Work on introductions that engage your audience
What can you say that will get them interested? Have you checked that your proposal covered off all their main concerns? I’ve known bid teams ask, “upon reading our proposal, were there any particular areas that you’d like us to focus on?” This has led to conversations in the room around the evaluation panel’s main reservations to a response, which were addressed up front and at the start of the meeting. It was a successful approach.
Try to avoid the cheesy. Ice-breakers can be good, but I once watched a rehearsal where the team told me what type of car they would be, but didn’t tell me what they’d be doing on the project if appointed. This is the key part for the evaluation panel, so make sure your gimmicks don’t get in the way of you conveying the key messages.
6. Practice your questions for the evaluation panel
What can you ask them that will get them interested? Think about ones that will promote discussion during the presentation. The more conversations you have, the more engagement you will create. The more questions you have prepared, the more natural it will be for you to use them when the conversation dries up.
“The goal of effective communication should be for listeners to say ‘Me too!’ versus ‘So what?’” – Jim Rohn
7. Practice answering the questions you dread
It might be my perverse nature coming to the fore here. But, I really like asking bid teams which questions from the evaluation panel they are most dreading. These questions usually pour out from the team. Once I have these, I use these questions in our rehearsals.
Aside from the entertainment I draw from this, the method is very successful. As a team, we have prepared properly for the worst-case scenario. The questions asked in the actual bid presentation, are usually not as bad, but when they do come up, the team is prepared and confident to answer the ‘hard’ questions.
8. Make sure your benefits are clear throughout
It is good to articulate the key benefits from your proposal at the start of your bid presentation, and again at the end. However, the middle part should not be forgotten. Reinforce these key benefits throughout and refer to them. It helps you tell a clear client focused and benefit driven story.
9. Know your team’s roles
Make sure everyone in the room has a role, and they all play their part. The evaluation panel want to see that each person in the team is across the areas that they are working on. They are also looking to see if they can work with all of you. If members of your team genuinely don’t get on, or you feel don’t match the evaluation panel’s culture, consider changing your team.
10. Be careful of the Hollywood closing “pick me” speech
This can sometimes do more than harm than good. Summarising the conversation you’ve just had with the panel is good. Re-stating the benefits your proposal offers also good. Closing by saying “therefore, pick us” is somewhat confrontational and also can come across as a bit desperate!
Instead, make sure that they have got all the information they need in your time together to be able to assess all the options, and make the choice that is right for them. Think about what’s best for your potential client, not what’s best for you, when closing your formal bid presentations.
After investing all that time and colossal effort into your formal bid response, don’t let it slip up by not putting the same effort into the final bid presentation.
Above all else, remember that rehearsing your bid presentations really works. A few years back I undertook some feedback after a successful win for an accountancy firm. The client said, unlike the others, they had clearly rehearsed. The client revealed that they liked that, it showed they cared about the project and the client enough to invest their time in rehearsing.
Therefore, prepare and practice properly for every client interaction and bid presentation. If you follow the 10 steps above, your chance of success will increase dramatically.