Preparations For C-Level Presentations Make Perfect

Your final test to win contracts is your presentation. How professional you look based on what needs to be heard will determine your success or failure. Remember these voters want what they want – not what you think they should want. They also want no risk and maximum gain. Therefore you’ve got to be believable and on target. Confidence exudes believability and the best way to become confident is to rehearse. So here is the best way to put your presentation together.

1st Rehearsals:

Plan on rehearsing your presentation 4 times. Start your 1st practice session with introductions of your participants and bystanders. Decide on their seating arrangement. Everyone does their own introduction using numbers, names and details to describe themselves in 25 words or less.

Focus your talking points on what the audience wants and how you can deliver it without problems. Practice the wording you’ll use. Be sure the slides match. Keep the slides simple and explain the details. Again, be sure to address the concerns of the panel, their bosses and the spec – not what you think the concerns and spec should be.

Review red flags and possible concerns with your team of attendees and non-attending bosses. How will these be handled, addressed, or avoided?

Questions and Answers

Brainstorm any questions that could be asked. Who will ask them? Decide how each will be answered and by whom. Then role play. Ask questions buyers might ask and actually answer them as if it were for real. Critique and adjust your answers accordingly. Then practice the wording again. Remember it is all about saying the right things in the right way under pressure and this skill requires practice.

Questions and Answers Tips

When a question is asked, give it a moment before you jump on the answer. Practice pausing during Q&A rehearsals.

Decide in advance who will answer what types of questions. However, the leader fields the question and hands it off accordingly.

Be sure you understand the question before answering. Don’t assume you know what is meant. When in any doubt, ask for clarification. For example, someone asks about timely service. This is ambiguous because timely is a relative and personal concept. So ask that person, “Please explain what you mean by timely service.” Or “What’s your vision of timely service?.” It’s OK to ask for clarification or meanings.

After answering the question, get feedback from the asker. I like to say, “How do you feel about what I just said?” Some people are uncomfortable saying this. If you are, you might say, “How did my answers satisfy your concern?” Many people will say, “Did I answer your question?” This draws a yes or no which isn’t much feedback. Try to keep them open-ended using the words how or tell me about or explain.

If the questioner looks perplexed or concerned, it’s also okay to say, “You seem concerned / confused with my answer. Please explain your concern.” All of these are okay to say, no matter how formal or regimented the presentation setting. If you’re out-of-line, they’ll tell you, or refuse to answer. Don’t worry, it doesn’t look badly. It looks professional and it looks like you are being thorough.

Typically, if you ask, people will give you a lot of feedback – not only on how well you address their concern, but what’s really on their minds. This is powerful stuff, but you have to have the confidence to set it up. That’s why you have to practice.

After one person answers the question, be careful of the pile-on effect where another person then jumps in and then another, etc. The leader should manage this until s/he is satisfied the audience is satisfied. In other words, no one speaks without the leader’s permission. This keeps order and shows that the leader is in control of the team.

Be sure you role play any possible questions that could be asked. Get feedback on the answers and redo them until they sound convincing.

The Wrap-Up

This is your final attempt to instill the feeling of confidence that you are the contractor or vendor for this project. Be sure to summarize your understanding of the project. Be sure to show you know the impact it has on the company or the environments or the community. Be sure to summarize how you’ve done similar work for similar companies or agencies and how these experiences will help you successfully complete this project. Most importantly, readdress your ability to deliver each person’s personal desires, such as on-time for Joe, under budget for Mary, no community complaints for the Commissioner, easy to work with for the Engineering Manager, etc.

Finally explained to the audience why you and your company wants this project and what efforts, investments, and resources you’ve made available or will use to make this project a success for your audience, their constituents, and your company. They must know that you really want this and this project has got your company’s full attention. The impact to the audience is, you really want this job. Do not give the impression you really need this job. That makes you sound desperate.

Use references and suggest their willingness to speak with the committee if desired. I like to say, “ABC and XYZ had similar projects completed by us and John Smith and Mary Adams have been notified that you may be calling them.” Most importantly, be passionate with your wrap-up. This will leave a lasting and convincing impression.

The End of 1st Rehearsal

After the dry run, decide if your presentation and Q&A won every buyer’s vote? If not redo where necessary.

This 1st rehearsal could take a whole day. But if it takes less, don’t do anymore as it relates to rehearsing for that day. Sleep on it and absorb all the comments before you move into the next rehearsal.

2nd Rehearsals:

Now you want to simulate the real feel so make this a dress rehearsal, but with a catch. Stop on the spot anytime an adjustment or fix is needed. Make suggestions and corrections. Then redo from that spot and continue with the rehearsal.

As the rehearsal progresses, ask yourself, “Is a colorful picture being painted? Is it answering the concerns of the decision-makers? Is it believable? Is it showing competence – minimum risk of failure, maximum chance of success?” Redo sections until correct. This will take a long time (4-5 hours) so plan for it.

Practice the speeches with the actual words over and over again until they sound right.

Do not do formal Q&A on this rehearsal.

3rd Rehearsals:

This rehearsal gets outside feedback. Assemble a panel of your expert people (managers, tech specialist, etc.) that are not part of the presentation team but have been prepped and/or have knowledge of the project and know the voters attending. Assign each to act as a mock panel member – preferably one they know. Ask the panelist to keep notes, but not to interrupt with corrections or suggestions. Also have questions for them to ask and encourage them to ask their own questions. Also ask them to rank the presentation on a form you put together.

Do a full presentation including set-up, entering the room, schmoozing, introductions, Q&A – all with no stopping for adjustment. At the end get feedback and suggestions from panelists. Ask about their ratings and what they’d suggest to make the ratings higher. Redo as necessary.

4th Rehearsal:

This is the final run through. Do a complete presentation without any outsiders. Include set-up, introductions, and presentation – no Q&A. Then review among your team members and sleep on it.

In the next section I’ll show how, to win more business from this proposal and presentation work whether or not you win or lose.

And now I invite you to learn more.