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To win a contract for a large construction project these days, you have to show the customer how and why your company’s proposal gives them the best value.

Your written proposal begins the process. But contracts are often won or lost during the follow-up presentation or interview.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to make a formal presentation with a set agenda and PowerPoint slides. More and more frequently, your team will be asked to participate in an interview.

Both formats—the formal presentation and the interview—require the same amount of preparation and practice.

Three Rules for Making Persuasive Construction Proposal Interviews and Presentations

Rule #1: Begin With Them and Their Needs

Your written proposal has already established your capabilities to some degree. It got you to the next round: the interview or presentation.

So don’t begin by talking about yourself and how great your company is.

Start, instead, by telling the customer what you know about them, their needs, their projectwhat they want and why they want it. You’ll win extra brownie points by pointing out the project’s unique challenges and opportunities.

All you’re trying to do at the beginning is to establish your credibility and to win the customer’s confidence. You want them to let down their guard, to say in effect “You get me.”

Rule #2: Prove Your Value.

Once you and the customer are in agreement on what they want, how they want it, why they want it, it’s time to show them how you’ll give it to them.

Value is relative. The value of your proposal is always judged in relationship to the value offered by someone else.

You win a contract by convincing the customer that you’ll give them more of what they want and less of what they don’t want than the competition.

Rule #3: Show How You’re Different

Customers can often weed out proposals that fall short of what they’re looking for. But they sometimes struggle to choose between the top two contenders.

Your proposal and that of one other company may be similar in price and approach. Both of your companies may have comparable experience and capabilities.

A great way to make your company stand out is to talk about your differentiators or discriminators: things that make you different from the completion in a way that benefits the customer.

Those things may be your people (their experience, expertise, values), your processes (especially if they’re proprietary), or your tools and technology.

By following these three rules, you will make the best of your construction proposal interviews and presentations.

Check out What Is an Oral Proposal?

Photo courtesy of Adam. at Flickr.com

I distinguish, somewhat arbitrarily, between a presentation and a speech.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they deserve to be handled differently.

Presentations Are Informative

In the business world most people make presentations.

A presentation communicates information so that people understand it and can do something with or about it.

A presentation’s goal is to educate or inform audiences to take action.

Check out The 25 Best Slideshare Presentations of 2013 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The top-rated presentation is titled Internet Trends. It is, according to the description, “filled with over 100 charts, stats and trends on digital, technology and economic issues that affect us all.”

An effective presentation is clear, accurate, and detailed. You want everyone in the audience to understand exactly what you mean.

A presentation is persuasive, if it is any good. You want people to do something — preferably what you want them to do — as a result of listening to you.

PowerPoint can be an effective presentation aid, because it allows you to display information…even “over 100 charts, stats and trends.”

Presentations tend to be matter-of-fact, prosaic, somewhat unimaginative almost by default. The title Internet Trends, for example, seems designed to elicit yawns.

Speeches are Influential and Inspirational

Few people these days give speeches.

Preachers, politicians, coaches at half-time, military leaders before a battle, and motivational speakers are the main practitioners of speeches today.

A speech shapes how people think and feel about an issue or topic, and changes their behavior as a result.

Churchill’s wartime speeches portrayed the war not as a doomed effort on the part of the British, but as a life-or-death contest between civilization (the British empire and way of life) and evil incarnate (Nazi Germany). His speeches steeled people’s resistance and gave them courage and hope to carry on.

An effective speech is evocative. It uses words and phrases to activate people’s imaginations, to call forth their memories, and to elicit the feelings associated with them.

Speakers don’t — or shouldn’t — project pictures for the audience to look at.

Speakers tell stories and create images that people picture in their minds.

Words — the right words — without pictures or external visual stimuli force the mind to supply its own images. On their own, words trigger the imagination, which in turn calls forth a flood of memories and emotions.

PowerPoint is not the friend of a speech. It keeps people in their heads, in their rational, conscious minds, divorced from their imaginations, emotions, and memories.

That’s why I titled my book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. What I really meant to say is that real leaders don’t make presentations (which use and should use PowerPoint); they give speeches.

Speakers play with words, the way a poet or playwright does. They’re not interested in pinning a concept down to a single meaning that is the same for each person in the audience. They know — and they are pleased by the fact — that each individual hears a different message (shaped by his or her experience, wisdom, and needs), draws his or her own conclusions, and resolves to take his or her own action as a result.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they need to be handled differently.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

Important element of a speechThere are many elements that make a speech powerful, effective, memorable:

A message that has the power to change lives for the better, if only in a small way.

Images and stories, words and phrases that are both evocative and provocative.

A connection with the audience that communicates understanding, respect, and a desire to be of service.

A delivery that brings the message to life.

One of the most important elements of a speech is often missing: the person of the speaker.

Who you are as a person determines the audience’s interpretation of what you say, whether and to what extent they trust your message.

Who you are as a person shapes their response: their willingness to support, endorse, or implement your proposal.

Who you are as a person influences their engagement: their emotional and intellectual investment in your presentation.

Who you are as a person is perhaps the single most important element of a speech. And that element is too often missing.

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Making the Most of Q&A

Christopher Witt —  December 4, 2014 — 1 Comment

Encourage audiences to ask questionsQ&A is one of the most engaging, powerful, and effective elements of a presentation.

And yet many presenters (especially technical experts) avoid Q&A, mostly out of fear that they’ll be asked a question they can’t answer.

Addressing your audience’s questions makes them feel like participants, not passive recipients of your wisdom from on high. Their questions let you gauge how well they understand and accept your ideas.

I used to be happy with my presentations when the audience didn’t ask any questions. Their silence, I thought, meant that they understood and agreed with what I had said.

Now I think that an audience’s lack of questions means that they are so confused or so uninterested that they can’t be bothered.

Stirring the audience up and making them want to ask questions is a good thing. Knowing how to respond in a way that feeds their interest and drives home your message is even better.

Guidelines for Handling Q&A Effectively

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Don't set your presenters up to failI often get called in to help individuals improve their public speaking and presentation skills.

And often there is much work to be done with those individuals.

Through inexperience or lack of training, people — even highly-placed, successful professionals — need help:

  • Developing a strategy that identifies their goal (what to accomplish in the time they have available with a particular audience) and ways of accomplishing it.
  • Creating a compelling message that engages the audience’s hearts and minds and moves them to take action.
  • Delivering that message with the right amount of drama to bring it alive.

But quite often the problem isn’t all the individual speaker’s fault.

Often individual speakers are set up to fail — to give a mediocre talk — by the organization, by its systems, culture, or processes.

Even proficient speakers have a hard time giving a winning presentation when:

  • They’re given too little time to prepare.
  • They’re told to present a PowerPoint slide deck that was developed by someone else, and that they don’t understand or — worse — agree with.
  • They’re scheduled to speak to an audience they know nothing about.
  • They’re notified of significant changes in the agenda — the topic to be addressed or the time they’re assigned to speak — at the last moment.
  • They’re interrupted early and often by people in authority who have an agenda of their own, which they haven’t previously communicated.
  • They’re expected to sell an idea, product, or service that is fundamentally flawed.

There are, of course, strategies and techniques that individuals can master in order to cope with such situations. (Which isn’t to say that every situation can be salvaged or that every presentation can be a winner.)

And, at the same time, there are systemic issues that organizations need to address.

How do you think organizations can help their people give better presentations?

Three Presentations PMs needProject managers — like most leaders — get things done by getting other people to do them.

A project manager’s responsibilities include overall management, but he or she is seldom directly involved with the activities that actually produce the end result. PMs oversee any associated products and services, project tools and techniques to help ensure good practices. In addition, they are responsible for recruiting and building project teams, and making projections about the project’s risks and uncertainties.

Project managers are strategists and communicators.

They give presentations at various times and for different reasons to customers and clients, to upper management, and to team members.

The Three Presentations Every Project Manager Needs

  1. Promote
    Program Managers make presentations to promote an idea, service, product, trend, development, or organization. They provide information and insight about that idea, etc.  in order to attract people’s attention, to gain their interest, and to build support. The goal of a promotional presentation is to motivate the listeners to take some action that will advance the PM’s goal.
  2. Propose
    Program Managers make presentations to seek the buy-in, support, or approval of relevant stakeholders for a particular project. PMs require authorization to act from their own leaders (internally) and/or from prospective clients. The goal of a proposal presentation (sometimes called an oral proposal) is simple: to get those in authority to say “yes” to what’s being proposed.
  3. Update
    Program Managers make presentations to communicate information about a project’s current status — its progress, problems, and opportunities — to relevant parties and to recommend next steps. The goal of a project update (also called a status report) is to keep people informed and to gain their input and approval for necessary changes.

What other presentations do you think Project Managers need?

Make the best use of your speeches.A lot rides on a speech. The success of a project or an initiative. Winning a proposal. Getting the green light for a project. Changing people’s perceptions of a key issue. Your reputation. Perhaps even the future of your organization.

The problem is: it takes time to create a compelling speech. And who has time these days?

(By a compelling speech, I mean one that wins people’s hearts and minds, and stirs them to action.)

The answer is: put time and thought into creating a compelling speech and repeat it. Recycle it. Reuse it.

Three Reasons for Repeating a Speech

1. Repeating a Speech Saves Time and Money

Total up the cost of a speech — your time and other people’s time at the going rate — and you’ll realize how much giving a speech really costs.

If you only give a speech once, it’s a very expensive investment. But if you give it ten or twenty times (changing it slightly to suit the audience and occasion), well, that’s another story.

2. Repeating a Speech Makes It Better

Every great speaker knows this secret. A speech gets better the more often you give it. (That’s one reason why rehearsing a speech is so essential.)

The first time you give a speech may be good. But it’ll get better each time you give it. Say it again and again and again, and it’ll get better and better.

Repeating a speech improves its content. (You change it subtly, sometimes substantially, in response to your audience’s responses.) And it improves your delivery, making your more confident and more self-assured.

3. The Message is Worth Repeating

You can’t say the important things too often.

People don’t listen all that well to begin with, and they may miss what you’re saying the first time around. Or they may hear it and not really get it. Or they may understand what you’re saying and forget it.Or they may not think you mean it.

So say it again, Sam.

Sometimes, of course, you can’t or shouldn’t repeat the entire speech. But you can always recycle parts of it. You can tell a story or anecdote, cite a study or statistics, make an assertion that you polished and presented in one speech in an entirely (or almost entirely) different speech.

Try it. See how it works for you. Create a really great speech. And repeat it any time you get the chance. Once you perfect that speech, you can create another. (I recommend having three core speeches.) But always find a way to repeat, recycle, and reuse the speeches you create.

Maybe the most important thing to know about ending or concluding a speech (see “How to End a Speech”) is knowing when to end it.

Ending a SpeechI was once on a plane preparing to land in San Diego Airport, considered by some to be one of the country’s most dangerous due to its downtown location. It was late at night and foggy. Everyone just wanted to land and deplane.

We fastened our seat belts. We raised our tray tables and seats to their original, upright positions. And the plane made its descent.

At the last minute the plane pulled up, and the pilot announced that due to the fog we were unable to land. He circled the airport again, hoping that the fog would part enough for him to bring us in.

The pilot repeated the process — circling the airport, coming in for a landing, pulling up, and starting over again — two more times before landing.

I often have the same experience while listening to inexperienced speakers.

They’ve clearly said everything they needed to say. They’ve exhausted the subject as well as the audience. And they’ve given every indication that they’re ending. But they don’t stop. They keep talking. You can almost hear the audience groan.

Here are three iron-clad rules for knowing when to end a speech.

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Masterful Speaker Create Images In Audience's MindsMasterful speakers create images in their audience’s minds, because long after people have forgotten everything else, they’ll remember the images.

Think of Churchill’s evocation of the “Iron Curtain” or Herbert Hoover’s classic campaign slogan “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”

You don’t have to project images on a screen when you give a speech or presentation to create images in your audience’s minds.

You can engage an audience’s imaginations in a speech in at least four ways.

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Prepare Presentation in a PinchDo you ever have to prepare a business presentation when you haven’t been given adequate notice or time to prepare?

If you’re like most business people these days, here’s the problem you face.

On the one hand, you have to prepare.To give any sort of presentation without doing your preparation is to court disaster. And preparing a presentation takes time. 

And on the other hand, time is the one thing you don’t have. Typically, you are given little advance notice: “I want you to make a presentation at tomorrow’s meeting.” And typically, you are overworked and have little, if any time, to prepare.

So what do you do?

How do you prepare a presentation when you are given short notice and little time? 

5 Steps for Preparing a Business Presentation in a Pinch

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