The Goal of an Oral Proposal

Think of an oral proposal as a sales tool.

The goal of an oral proposal is to win the contract. You do so by showing the customer how your team and technical solution will solve the customer’s problems and/or meet the goals they set out in the Request for Proposal (RFP).

An oral proposal is a technical presentation. You have to explain in some detail precisely how you will respond to the customer’s request. The selection committee will have a checklist to make sure you address every aspect of the contract.

It is also a job interview. The selection committee will be answering a question that is important to them but is never written down: Are you the kind of people they would want to work with for the term of the contract?

The Process of an Oral Proposal

An oral presentation is often part of most procurement processes for major contracts — especially for government and military contracts.

Here’s how the process typically works. (There are exceptions and endless variations on this process, so pay close attention to the customer’s specific requirements.)

The customer — also called the “offeror” — issues an RFP. It’s a lengthy, formal document that outlines the scope of the job and the procurement process. (RFPs for federal contracts must follow guidelines set out in the Federal Acquisition Regulation.)

Because it is often pulled together by different people who have different agendas, the RFP may be confusing and contradictory. But it is exacting: provide this information, in this format, by this date.

Sometime after submitting your proposal, you will be notified whether or not you’ve made the short list. If you have been selected, you’ll be told when and where your team will make its oral presentation.

The RFP spells out the specific requirements of the oral proposal. The customer enforces these guidelines very strictly, in order to avoid any semblance of partiality.

The RFP may detail

  • What topics you are — and are not — to address and in what order
  • How many people can participate and what their job titles are to be
  • How long your presentation will be
  • How and when questions will be addressed
  • How many slides you can use

If you are allowed to submit clarifying questions to the customer, both your questions and the customer’s answers will be forwarded to the other teams. (You will, likewise, receive copies of questions submitted by others and the answers they received.)

You may — or may not — be able to visit the room where you will be presenting in advance of your presentation. Occasionally, pictures of the room will be posted on a website. If not, ask the contracting officer to describe the room.

You probably will not be told the identity and the positions of the people who will be on the selection committee.

You will typically be allowed into the room an hour before your presentation in order to set up and test your equipment.

The contracting officer, whose main function is to ensure compliance with regulations, will probably be on hand to answer any questions.

When the selection team enters the room, you may be allowed to introduce yourselves informally. Otherwise, they may simply take their seats and wait for you to begin.

The clock will start the moment your first presenter begins speaking. And the second your allotted time runs out, your presentation will be ended.

The Q&A session, if there is one, typically follows your presentation. (The customer usually won’t interrupt your presentation with questions because they don’t want to be accused of using up your allotted time.) After you’ve answered the last question, the contracting officer will thank you and usher you out.

Many factors influence how long it will take for you to be notified about the awarding of the contract.

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See also How to Plan an Oral Proposal and Designing PowerPoint Slides for an Oral Proposal.

Chris Witt is an presentations coach based in San Diego who specializes in providing team coaching for oral proposals. For more information, contact us.