The Art of the Business Proposal Presentation

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When giving a severe presentation, what was the worst response you ever got? It would most likely arrive

after the one I just heard about, the next best. A woman told me about her disastrous presentation; ironically, she was interviewing me for an article titled “Knockout Presentations.” She had just started as a policy analyst. She was fresh out of graduate school and relishing her first professional position.
She felt very accomplished when her boss was pleased with a report she had prepared. To her dismay, her “reward” was to provide an identical message to their executive team.

She stressed for a whole week, making sure her words were perfect. She spent much time crafting her speech and gathering data to support her claims. However, it never dawned on her that how she presented was just as crucial as what she delivered.

Things went south rapidly when it was her turn to present the report. She was understandably anxious. The next few minutes were crucial. She became increasingly agitated as she fumbled through 200 slides and lost her lines. Executives began checking their watches in boredom because they didn’t understand her message.
She was desperate to escape, and her listeners presumably felt the same. When she was done, nobody asked her any follow-up questions. That would have made a bad situation even worse.

Do any of these ring a bell? Okay then! Please don’t let this happen again. Particularly if a great deal rides on your success. You undoubtedly already know that effective communication grows in value as one climbs the business ladder. The sooner you learn new things and improve your existing abilities, the further along your career path you’ll be.

Maybe you’re already confident enough to share your thoughts during team meetings. Do you feel comfortable talking in front of a board of directors or at least a group of five people seated at a table? Where do we diverge? The stakes are more significant, to start with. You’re in the spotlight even more than usual when communicating with upper management.
They’ll either approve or disapprove of your and your team or department’s suggestions.
The outcomes of your few minutes will affect others for weeks, months, or even years. Of course, you’re nervous.

Do not fret. You have humanity. This is an entirely normal reaction. Keep in mind that people can only judge you based on your outward appearance and behavior. You don’t want them to read too much into your nervousness and dismiss your ideas. If you follow these Frippicisms when communicating with upper management, you’ll come across as calm and composed.

There are seven things you should do by Fripp.

A. Do your best. While a report to upper management is not a discussion, it must read like one. Once you have your notes, try practicing your presentation aloud to a colleague while commuting to work or walking on the treadmill. Know exactly what it is you want to say before you speak it. It’s not a competition for perfection. Being friendly and approachable is critical. (Rehearsal is the hard part; the show is where you get to unwind.)

Second, jump right into your findings. Avoid keeping your senior-level audience waiting while you reveal your purpose for being there.

Third, explain why people should follow your advice.
Render these advantages palpable and within reach.

4. Explain the expenses, but put a positive spin on them.
If at all possible, quantify the increased expense of ignoring your advice.

5 Provide a concise and detailed list of your specific suggestions.
They aren’t interested in aimless generalizations. Keep your eye on the money. Rather than specifics, please focus on the deals in your reporting.

Make eye contact with people when you speak to them. You will come out as more credible and convincing. (You won’t be able to read and pull this off!)

Be succinct. 7. Do so if you can say something in fewer words without losing meaning. “I spend an hour taking an eight-word sentence and making it five,” Jerry Seinfeld has said.
He did so because he anticipated a more significant comedic payoff. In this scenario, a shorter form would be easier to remember and use again.

There are three things you should not do with Fripp.

Avoid trying to cram the entire presentation into your head. Commit your introduction, main points, and conclusion to memory. Get enough repetitions in that you can “forget it.” In doing so, you can keep your natural wits about you.

Second, you should never read your lines, whether from a script or PowerPoint slides. The listeners will fall asleep.

Avoid making any hopping or waving motions. Don’t get too enthusiastic out of fear (or eagerness), but don’t freeze up. Avoid gestures that draw attention away from what you’re saying.

What to Do First

First, what are you reporting on specifically? Clarity of thought and expression benefits both the speaker and the listener.

Two, what makes your topic worthy of taking up the time of high-powered executives?

Third, what inquiries do you anticipate from your target market? Do you have the ability to respond to their questions quickly?

Here is an Illustration

Give your verdict: In your report, what would you say is its overarching purpose? What’s the best way to introduce it in a single paragraph? Let’s say you’re in charge of an interdepartmental group that determines whether your organization would benefit from diversity training. One possible opening statement is, “Our committee has spent three months examining diversity training programs and if one could assist our organization. Our research leads us to believe that diversity education would be a wise expenditure. We could reduce costs, boost morale, and hire more staff.

Give your suggestions: Next quarter, we suggest the company invest $…. to launch a test program with the ABC Training Company. In addition to numerous Fortune 100 firms, the ABC Company has successfully implemented this program with one of our subsidiaries. The 27-person interdisciplinary team’s verdict was unanimous. Two VPs, the Facilities Secretary, 18 associates (including a few with PhDs), and six new hires made up our team, so we represented the firm’s breadth. The team comprises some new personnel and some veterans of the company. And all 27 of us are willing to serve on the review panel that looks at the outcomes before deciding on a company-wide rollout.

Specify their benefits; Consider the company’s needs and upper management’s. Prepare responses to their likely inquiries and demonstrate how your suggestion will enhance their reputation. Senior leadership, for instance, may be tasked with boosting revenue and cutting expenses. What if this program has a minimum initial investment and a high return on investment through reducing turnover?

Why is this a good idea When trying to reduce wasteful spending? Our goal for the coming fiscal year is to hire and keep 20% more of the most qualified candidates than we did last year. Our 23% minority employees would have given a higher rating on the employee satisfaction survey if this training had been available last year. Minority employees have consistently reported lower satisfaction levels (by three percentage points) during the past three years. Satisfaction and remembrance might have been raised with better instruction. The time and money spent finding and acclimating new employees would be reduced.

When compared to other investments, how does this one stack up? To put that in perspective, the total pilot project cost for all three locations is less than two percent of what we spend annually on copier maintenance contracts at our headquarters.

I want to thank the 27-person committee for this fantastic opportunity. We’ve learned so much more about the company and made some great friends along the way.
Everyone on the team is dedicated to getting this done. We hope to have your approval to launch the test program.

When you can express yourself clearly and briefly, you make a good impression and improve your chances of being accepted.
Get ready and exercise your skills. It’s normal to feel anxious, but remember that people only judge you based on your outward demeanor.

Executive speech coach, keynote speaker, and sales presentation trainer Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is out of San Francisco. The National Speakers Association has honored her by naming her Past President. For additional information about Fripp’s Speaking Schools, executive coaching, and public speaking and presenting skills CDs, DVDs, and books, please get in touch with Fripp at PFripp@fripp.com, (415) 753-6556, or visit her website at http://www.fripp.com.

Patricia Fripp is making this article available to anyone who wants it. If you include Patricia Fripp’s byline and email address with the republished material, you have permission to do so. Reach us at PFripp@Fripp.com or 1 800 634-3035.

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