How to Develop a Winning Presentation - Pre-work Phase

The “pre-work” effort must specifically address exactly what the customer needs, culminating in a winning presentation through a clear and realistic estimate, a seamless and believable presentation — or both

be sure you know the constructability issues involved with the presentation and work hard to address those areas that can add a professional touch to your overall presentation.
be sure you know the constructability issues involved with the presentation and work hard to address those areas that can add a professional touch to your overall presentation.

In this short three part series on making the “winning presentation,” we are looking at all that a contractor can do, no matter its size, to win more work. In a previous article we discussed that often fans might hear football coaches, especially at the professional level, present that there are three phases of the game that contribute to winning: offense, defense, and special teams.

Like football, making the winning presentation also engages three phases. In the first phase we focused on the pre-presentation preparation effort. If our preparation is solidly in place, then our second phase, which is the objective of this article, will be made more effective.

The second phase of making the winning presentation involves the actual presentation itself, “live” before the customer. As we shared in the first article, not all bids require a verbal presentation. But many contractors have found that regardless of how the “paper bid” was delivered, customers often like some coaching on how to understand the bid. So, even when not formally expected, some form of verbal presentation is often used to further explain and sell the proposed scope of work.

Phase 2: Making the actual presentation

Public speaking continues to haunt many adults, many of whom admit to high levels of anxiety, loss of breath and sometimes even skin rash or blotching on their necks. Even though I speak hundreds of times a year (and have for more than 30 years), I admit to still getting a case of the “out of formation butterflies” in my stomach just before speaking. 

As one old presenter once advised me, “Brad, just train those butterflies to fly in formation and you’ll be fine.” Still not sure what that really means, but I think it leads being organized, poised and prepared. Let’s look at how to be more effective at making the winning presentation.

1. Know your bid and subject matter… “stone cold”

This is seldom a big problem for most contractors. However, experience alone doesn’t suffice for knowing your proposed scope of work. You must be the expert on what your bid provides, promises and prevents. You do not have to memorize your bid, but you should be very comfortable with its contents, the flow of the bid and how to translate the bid’s wording so the customer better grasps what you are proposing.

Knowing the overall subject matter is also something that isn’t normally a big deal for most contractors. However, while you might know your own subject matter involving your trade, be sure to know the subject matter of the customer’s project. This might include such things as site location, what properties and people are within close proximity to the jobsite, and what conditions exist that will need to be addressed.

Knowing your customer’s jobsite details, almost as well (or better) than your customer, can win you big points when you’re presenting. Presenting such a well-educated perspective, perhaps even sharing information about the customer’s project that the customer might not know, can separate you from other contractors bidding on the project.

2. Prepare for your audience; prepare for surprises

Certainly you always want to know who your listening audience will be. Are the listeners made up of owners, advisors, spouses, engineers…who? Knowing the audience should assist you in how you present, how much technical info will be required and even how much time you might need to allow in order to explain proposed processes and techniques.

Preparing for your audience also involves knowing in what sort of speaking environment you will make your presentation. Will you be standing up speaking to your audience or sharing a seat at a conference table? Will you be making a Power Point presentation? If so, be sure to familiarize yourself with the hardware so that simple functions (such as advancing your slides) don’t become a monumental effort to execute.

Preparing for “surprises” should include having a backup plan — regardless of whatever you were told would be the conditions for the presentation. For example, any time you prepare to make a Power Point presentation be prepared for bulb or electrical failure. If you can imagine something going wrong in your presentation then it probably will…eventually. Have your handouts readily available and be comfortable making your presentation without electronic support.

Another “surprise” that can happen is when a customer invites people you weren’t told would be attending. Or, the customer makes some “minor changes” to the project — changes that require greater effort on your part to adjust to, not to mention the additional cost involved.

You can’t be ready for every surprise, but you should still expect it. Brainstorming for potential surprises, even based on those that have popped up in the past, can better prepare you for the inevitable and allow you to address the surprise calmly and professionally.

3. Take a big breath and let your confidence show

Bringing your butterflies “into formation” can often be accomplished by taking a big breath just before starting your presentation. Do not attempt to present while holding a cup of coffee or a can of your favorite soft drink. While you might think this makes you look relaxed, you are opening yourself up for an embarrassing spill…right onto the customer’s carpet. Not a good move!

I have encouraged contractors and construction leaders for years to do three things to ensure a more professional and confident presentation. 

  • First, write down your opening statement and memorize it.
  • Second, have your presentation’s major points written down in an outline format. If you can’t memorize this outline then have a cheat-sheet close by for reference. 
  • Third, write out the very last statement you will make that concludes your presentation and memorize this as well. 

Of course…rehearse the presentation either in front of a “live” audience who will assess your good and weak points, or tape the rehearsal and review it (painfully if necessary) being completely honest about areas needing improvement.

The reasons for the three efforts are clear:

  • Most contractors who are nervous when making presentations need to nail their opening statement. 
  • Once the contractor has done this the next period of time, presenting the “meat and potatoes” of the bid, is actually pretty easy for most contractors so a cheat-sheet is all you need for support.
  • Then, rather than “hem-hawing” back and forth wondering, “When and how do I end this thing?” having a memorized closing statement will help you conclude with confidence and authority.

After more than 30 years of public speaking (and almost the same time coaching others on public speaking) I can attest that most contractors’ biggest problems lie internally…inside their own heads. Contractors and presenting construction leaders are normally confident individuals. They know their trade and how to construct their projects, yet many of these same individuals are scared to death to stand up in front of customers to make a presentation on something they know better than anyone else.

If a case of the nervous “heebie jeebies” is your experience when making a presentation, keep the following confidence-boosting thoughts in mind:

  • You are the construction expert…not the customer
  • You know your company’s strengths better than anyone
  • You represent a quality-based company
  • You can and will do all that you propose
  • You are prepared for every point of your presentation
  • You are counted on by your company employees to win work
  • You are also counted on by your customer to deliver the best solution for their building needs

Contractors are some of the smarter people in the world. It’s high time they realize it and demonstrate the pride with being such a professional.

4. Maintain a comfortable physical presence when presenting

This element focuses on all of the items listed below. Work hard to make each tip part of your future presentations.

  • Maintain eye contact with your audience…without staring at them
  • Pause periodically during your presentation to allow your audience to “catch up” or to ask questions
  • Always thank the audience for allowing you the time to help them in their decision making
  • If standing, keep your hands out of your pockets and don’t stand in a locked way; relax and take a step one way or the other periodically
  • If sitting, don’t lean too forward, but don’t slump down in your chair as this gives a poor impression of your professionalism
  • Determine in advance some formal “breaks” during your presentation so you can ask your audience members if they have any questions
  • Smile comfortably throughout your presentation
  • If you have a flip chart do not stand behind it but off to the right or left side
  • If standing to present, do not stand closely over your audience members who are sitting
  • If sitting, keep a comfortable distance from those around the table; three to four feet is often the minimum distance of separation

More than any one physical effort you can make is the need to be yourself. Trying to emulate someone else’s style doesn’t work in most cases. 

If you have any physical challenges such as stuttering, tapping a pen or pencil non-stop, rubbing your hands constantly — or if you have a habit of letting a few coarse or foul words go during a conversation — you will certainly want to rehearse your presentation. Remember, in most situations, making a presentation completes the earliest impressions that you've made on a customer.

Unlike professional football coaches who have a week (two weeks in the case of the Super Bowl) to prepare their players for the next big “presentation,” you might have only days, sometimes only hours, to pull together a winning presentation. Don’t panic, be sure you know the constructability issues involved with the presentation and work hard to address those areas that can add a professional touch to your overall presentation.

Here’s to making the winning presentation!