Every Presentation Is a Proposal

Christopher Witt —  October 29, 2012

541077.TIFOver the weekend a friend sent me an email. Her sister is writing a grant proposal, and since she knew I’ve worked on them in the past, she asked for my advice.

After responding to her request, I realized that the advice I gave about writing a grant proposal applies to preparing most, if not all, presentations. (I’m talking about business presentations, mind you: technical presentations, sales presentations, project updates, research reports, oral proposals, and the like.)

There’s a reason why writing a grant proposal is like preparing a business proposal: they are all a proposal of one kind or another.

You don’t make a presentation in the business arena simply to communicate information for its own sake. You make a presentation because you want your listeners to do something with the information you’re presenting. To accept your report. To implement your procedure. To buy your service or product. To discuss your research findings. To fund your project or to give it the green light.

You make a presentation for the same reason people write a grant proposal: to get something (approval, permission, funding, a contract, etc.) from those who have the ability to give it.

So that brings me to the advice I sent off to my friend’s sister about writing a grant proposal, advice that applies equally well to preparing a presentation:

  1. Answer the questions.
    Grants, if they’re well written, ask specific and detailed questions. The first thing you have to do, if you’re writing a proposal, is to make sure you answer the questions. Answer all the questions. Answer them completely. Sounds pretty basic, right?
    The same is true with giving a presentation, except for the fact that the audience usually doesn’t give you their questions in advance. Here’s the trick: it’s your job to figure out what questions you audience might have and answer them. How do you figure that out? You ask them. Or you know them so well from your previous experience that you can figure out what their questions might be.
    Use your presentation to answer your listeners’ questions — all of them and as completely as you can in the time available — and you’re on your way to making a successful presentation. Don’t make a presentation more complicated than it is.
  2. Be clear.
    Don’t dumb things down. Don’t simplify complex material beyond recognition. If you confuse people, you lose them. They’ll never agree to your proposal. Be clear, instead. Select the essential ideas and information you need to present. Eliminate everything else (even some good stuff). Provide explanations and demonstrations. Use the appropriate types of charts and graphs, and make them legible.
  3. Be credible.
    Back up your claims with evidence and proof that your audience will find credible. (Audiences differ; what they find credible differs too.)
  4. Spell out the benefits.
    Explain how your ideas will benefit your listeners.
    If you’re writing a grant proposal, say, to upgrade your computer system, show how the new system will benefit the people you serve. (Just make sure that the grant-giving organization is interested in those same people.)
    If you’re making a presentation, show how your listeners will benefit. How will they get more of what they want (money, customer, clients, contracts, time, status, etc) or less of what they don’t want (miscommunication, rejection, hassle, etc.) as a result of adopting your idea. Do not assume that they’ll see the benefit. Tell them. And prove it.
  5. Put yourself on the line.
    You don’t make yourself more credible by appearing objective or detached. On the contrary, you come across as uncaring, not invested. If you want others to care about your proposal, you have to care. And you have to let them see you care.

Every presentation is a proposal. You are, in essence, asking for something from your listeners. So make it easy for them to give you what you want by following these five rules.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to Every Presentation Is a Proposal

  1. Great post. Only thing I’d change (and what do I know…) is I’d put “Put Yourself On The Line” first. Everything else falls out of that commitment.

  2. I agree. You gotta be committed. If you’re not sold on your idea, how do you expect others to buy into it?