Bob Violino 2016-01-29 01:14:02
Making Presentations that WIN Work An engineering firm might have the best skills, experience and resources to handle a particular project for a client. But without a top-notch presentation at the outset, the deal could easily go to a competing firm. Experts say a firm’s initial presentation is extremely important in ultimately winning the contract. “It is of pinnacle importance to make a positive first impression,” says Hilari Weinstein of High Impact Communication, a specialist who guides engineering firms in making presentations. “A first impression acts like a filter through which others process everything they experience after it.” Clients weigh initial information more heavily than later information, Weinstein says. “That information involves what is seen, heard and felt,” she says. “As communicators, we deliver 1,000 signals per minute. So every contact and communication after that can either enhance or diminish the first impression that was formed.” Engineering firm executives understand how important it is to present well at the outset, especially considering how competitive the market can be. “The ability to establish rapport and a feeling of trust has always been a goal in the procurement process,” says Michael Lefebvre, vice president of GRAEF. “Clients tend to look for reasons to reduce the competition and make their final decision process less complicated,” Lefebvre says. “A bad first impression is a proven way to make sure you are quickly eliminated from consideration.” COMMON MISTAKES Despite the importance of making a good first impression, many firms make common mistakes when presenting themselves. “The biggest mistake has little to do with the mechanics of presenting,” says Jim Rogers, of Unbridled Revenue, Inc., a consultant who helps engineering firms win more contracts. “It is a failure to understand what the client really wants. “Your decisionmakers don’t really buy an ‘artifact’ such as a bridge, airport or water treatment plant,” Rogers says. “People really want to either attain or avoid something. We want to attain recognition, or money and what it brings, or to leave a legacy. We want to avoid trouble, criticism and unnecessary effort.” For example, an overwhelmed project manager with a newborn at home wants to avoid unnecessary effort, Rogers says. “Ask yourself what you offer to do that for him,” he says. “One way might be for you to do it all under one roof and not have teaming partners.” Not focusing on the needs of the client during a presentation is a huge mistake, Lefebvre says. “Talking too much and ineffective listening will guarantee failure,” he says. “Regardless of the sophistication of the client, it is important to be genuine in your communications.” Another mistake is relying too much on “slideware,” Rogers says. “PowerPoint has been under siege for two decades, which is a bit unfair,” he says. “There is a place for it. But when misused, slides can create a barrier between you and your decision-makers.” Presenting in a lackluster manner can also lead to failure. Going into “automatic” mode and presenting generic information “comes across as boring, without authority and uninterested in the client,” says Susan Murphy, of Murphy Motivation and Training, a presentation and management skills coach. This kind of presentation “is the default for most nervous presenters or teams, playing what they perceive to be safe,” Murphy says. “The client has heard it many times, often in the same day. It is boring, shows no vigor, hides personalities and focuses on the speaker, not the listener.” Along the same lines, giving scripted presentations and responses is a bad idea, Weinstein says. “Actors train years to deliver the script in a natural way,” she says. Another common shortcoming is the failure to clearly articulate what differentiates a firm from its competitors. In general, many firms are simply not well prepared for presentations, Weinstein says. “I often find this to be one of the most pivotal reasons people hire me when they have a big client presentation,” she says. “Too often, presentation teams, left to their own devices, spend most of their time playing with slides or trying to wordsmith their talk, leaving insufficient time to practice aloud as a group and individually.” BEST PRACTICES Experts offer a number of suggestions to counter these and other presentation errors. One key part of preparation is being aware of what are the primary client concerns. Practice responding to anticipated questions, Weinstein advises. “Collect questions from past interviews and allow folks to practice answering them and get feedback,” she says. “For certain types of questions, it may be worthwhile to write out company-preferred responses. This is not a script to be memorized but a guide to ensure clarity and consistency within the organization.” Practice your presentation with an outline, Weinstein says. Use note cards, and then go over each segment in portions of no more than a minute or two. Master one segment before moving on to the next, but again, do not try to memorize a script, she says. Gearing the presentation to the needs of the specific client is of the utmost importance. “For each of your client’s hot buttons, match that up with a truly unique feature or solution you bring to the table, and underscore how that will be of value to or benefit the client. Then prove your ability to deliver that outcome,” Weinstein says. “I always suggest that a team wrap up their presentation with a segment that focuses on the most powerful reasons why the client should select you.” Another way to ensure that your presentation stands out is to leverage a unique experience that showcases your personality. “Tell a story,” Rogers says. “Stories paint pictures and are easily recalled. What’s more, stories call people to action. Think about the founders and other great leaders and sellers in your company. I’ll bet they were good storytellers.” Presenters need to be effective speakers and to learn the art of persuasion. It’s a good idea to join an organization such as Toastmasters to develop skills, Rogers says. Memberships cost less than $100 a year. “The expense is in the time and effort you devote to it,” he says. Rogers recommends designing presentations from scratch on paper or a whiteboard. “Never begin with a prior presentation,” he says. Think in terms of the images that you want people to recall when they’re later making a decision, Rogers adds. “Then think of all the ways—other than slides—to create the image; for example, a vivid story, a prop like a toy or flipchart.” Firms might want to consider using newer technologies to illustrate their capabilities, including images produced through 3-dimensional laser scanning and printing. “Using the technology in the presentation that you intend to use on the project is a good approach,” Lefebvre says. “That technology may be specialized software that will be used to identify and vet out possible project solutions and alternatives. It could also include social media and other presentation resources that would be used to communicate with the client or other project stakeholders during the project. These typically work because most clients have a desire to learn about new approaches, methods or resources for project success.” It’s also important to train staff in areas such as leveraging unique experience and personality, using persuasion, creative writing and other communication techniques, Weinstein says. “You would not expect the people within your organization to be proficient with a business tool without extensive training to ensure they use that tool optimally,” she says. Also, be prepared for the situational interview, a recent presentation trend that requires quick thinking. “This is where the client gives the interview team a project challenge on the spot with 20 minutes to come up with an approach as a group, using a flip chart to record and illustrate that approach,” Murphy says. This allows the client to see how the team works together and how flexible and creative the members are. “Scary, but very effective,” Murphy says. These newer approaches to presentations do work, Murphy says, because they show - rather than tell - the client who the team members are, how smart they are, how experienced they are, and, most important, how devoted to the client they are. “The authenticity of each member of the team is displayed,” she says. Regardless of what steps firms take to become better at presenting, the improvement process will take time and effort. “My best advice is that you cannot take a crash course to learn to present well; therefore, don’t wait until a big presentation is imminent,” Rogers says. “Learning to present well is a process, not an event.” Bob Violino is a business and technology writer based in Massapequa Park, N. Y. The above article was re-printed from the September/October 2015 issue of Engineering Inc. magazine.
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