How to Plan an Oral Proposal (Overview and Schedule)
Review the RFP
The Request for Proposal (RFP) spells out in detail much of what you need to know as you plan your oral presentation. If the RFP is unclear, vague, and/or contradictory, you may submit questions for clarification to the contracting officer. (Your questions and the answers you receive will be passed on to other bidders; their questions and the answers they receive will be sent on to you.)
Choose your presenters.
Select people who
- Have the knowledge, experience, and expertise relevant to this job
- Will be assigned to the job when the award is granted, and
- Have the time and commitment to devote to preparing for an oral presentation
At the very least, you need your proposed project manager and chief technical/scientific expert. Unless the RFP explicitly rules it out, you should also bring a senior executive whose presence and introductory words demonstrate your organization’s commitment to the project.
Know the structure.
- How long will the presentation be?
- What is its format?
- How will Q&A be handled?
- Are there any restrictions on the number of slides you can use?
- Where will the presentation be held? What is the room’s size and setup?
- Who is responsible for providing the computer, projector and screen?
- Where will they be situated?
Know the customer.
- Who are the individuals on the selection committee?
- What are their job titles?
- What departments or agencies do they represent?
- What are their concerns, pet peeves, agendas?
- What is their investment in the project?
- What do they know/feel about you/your team?
Set your schedule.
Once you know the time and date of your presentation, you can rough out a timeline, which should include these elements:
- Hold an initial team meeting
Introduce team, define roles, review RFP and proposal, agree to schedule
- Develop message
The RFP may suggest or require that you address certain subjects in a particular order or it may give you not guidance at all. In either case, you’ll want to address:
- Your team – the individuals and companies involved in supporting the project, their relevant experience and strengths; your organizational chart, how the different individuals and companies are going to interact and how they are going to interface with the customer.
- Your solution – how you propose to address the customer’s problems or goals; the overall design, technology, processes, and personnel involved; timetables; possible risks and your mitigation plan; benefits to the customer.
Best value proposition – why your team and your proposal provide the best solution for the customer; what differentiates you from the competition
- Flow – rough out a basic structure of the presentation: introduction, main sections, and conclusion.
- Develop message
- Design PowerPoint™ templates
- Have a graphic artist design a simple, clean template.
- Assign sections and create PowerPoint™ slides.
- Let presenters know which section they are responsible for creating. Other experts can and should be assigned to assist, but the person presenting the slide is ultimately responsible for the final product.
- Pull it all together.
- On a regular basis, print out your slides and arrange them (on a table or pinned to a wall) so you can review them in order. Look for continuity, flow, and gaps.
- Edit and proofread slides.
Have one person – preferably a professional – proofread your slides, checking for grammar, spelling, and inconsistencies.
- Submit slides to customer, if required.
The first time through, focus on simply talking through the slides. You will need to do a second and, most likely, a third rehearsal.
- Practice Q&A.
Either as part of your rehearsal or at a different time, practice handling questions from the audience. As you work on the presentation, keep track of questions the customer might ask. Brainstorm answers. Then practice them on your feet.
- Do a formal rehearsal.
Assemble a group of experts, people who have not been directly involved in your proposal, to act as members of the selection committee. Give your presentation to them as you plan on doing on the day of the presentation. Have them ask questions and answer them as best you can. After the rehearsal, listen to their feedback.
- Fine tune your presentation.
In response to the feedback you receive, make any last minute, minor changes.
- Give yourself a pep talk.
Gather as a team. Remind yourselves why you and your proposal are the best solution for the customer’s problem. Be positive and mutually supportive. At this stage of the game, a winning attitude is important.
Stop working on your presentation at least 12 hours in advance. Take a break. Get a good night’s sleep.
- Do an After-Action Review.
After your presentation, assemble the presenters to evaluate how the proposal went and to capture lessons learned. Answer four questions: 1) What did we expect to happen? 2) What actually happened? 3) Why the difference? 4) What can we learn to improve our next proposal?
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See also Designing PowerPoint Slides for an Oral Proposal and The Seven Biggest Presentation Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them).
Chris Witt is an orals coach based in San Diego who specializes in providing team coaching for oral proposals. For more information, contact us.