A New Type of Government Proposal

Christopher Witt —  July 24, 2019

I’ve been seeing a new type of government proposal this year.

Traditional government contracts — especially in the federal arena — require a lengthy written proposal. The request for proposal (RFP) specifies the content to be addressed, things like past experience, pricing, resumes of key personnel. And much more.

Sometimes, the RFP requires an oral proposal as well. After submitting a written proposal, companies that are down selected are instructed to send in a team to present the highlights of their proposal in person, with PowerPoint slides.

In the past, oral proposals highlighted and elaborated on a few key issues already addressed in great detail in the written volume (or volumes).

This year I’ve worked on four proposals which follow a different format.

This new type of government proposal shifts most of the content from the written volumes to the oral proposal.

I’ve talked with other proposal professionals about why this is happening.

Why are written proposals (created in Word) being subordinated, if not replaced, by oral proposals (created in PowerPoint)?

Their consensus is: The new — and younger — crop of contracting officers is not accustomed to reading (or writing) lengthy volumes. They prefer having information presented in a simplified and visually appealing format. 

The PowerPoint deck for this type of government proposal must fulfill two requirements at the same time.

  1. It must present enough content — ideas, information, and explanations — to demonstrate how your approach (your people, processes, tools and technology) will give the customer more of what they want than the competition, addressing the specific issues addressed in the RFP; and

  2. It must make the main idea of each slide clear, concise, and obvious to reviewers who are more likely to skim than to read attentively.

As I review the slides that most teams prepare for this new type of proposal, I’m usually impressed with how well they address the first requirement. Their slides are typically rich in content, compliant with all the specifications spelled out in the RFP. 

The problem is that the good stuff –the ideas, information, explanations — obscures the main idea of each slide.

Meeting the second requirement requires more creativity.

The selection committee should be able to look at a slide and quickly understand its main point: what is being offered + how it benefits the customer. 

Do not hide that point on the slide. Do not bury it in the middle of a paragraph. Make it painfully obvious.

I’d be happy if that main point were no longer than 10 or 12 words. 


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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.

3 responses to A New Type of Government Proposal

  1. Thanks Christopher
    Totally agree that knowing exactly what you want to say is key.
    The challenge is always to find a way to make your point in the fewest possible words. That’s where most of us need to spend the time. We produce creative slide packs that tick the boxes, but that’s just the beginning. However long it took to do the PowerPoint, I have found that it often takes twice as much (or more) time to get to the essence of my message. Then condense it into one sentence and put it front and centre of the presentation. Significantly increases retention.

    • Garfield, Great insight. And I absolutely agree with you: getting the message focused and concise takes longer and is more important than getting the PowerPoint slides down right.

  2. Off topic perhaps, but just wanted to say thanks for the book – Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint.
    Bought it about 8 years ago (hard back). I always recommend it to participants in my training and coaching sessions.
    Down to earth, practical, simply stated and yet deeply insightful.
    Oh, and looking forward to the follow up.