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Monday, June 20, 2011

What Makes a Successful Oral Presentation? | CEO SPACE

Oral presentations are a major evaluation process for awarding contracts, especially government contracts; however, many contractors put Orals on the bottom of their list when it comes to proposal preparation. Those that do ultimately lose.

Orals are not a direct restatement of your proposal. Orals supplement your technical approach and usually require your key personnel as presenters (thereby eliminating the “bait and switch” syndrome). There are three parts to a successful orals presentation:

  1. Slides
  2. People
  3. Final Presentation
The Slides

Orals must be prepared in conjunction with your written proposal with effective visuals that flow between the written proposal and the oral presentation. What constitutes an effective visual? An effective visual:
  • Grabs the evaluators attention
  • Clearly communicates your information
  • Presents a message that resonates with your customer
Avoid “Death by PowerPoint” – the slides should not distract from your presentation. The slides “lead” your discussion. You want your evaluators to listen to you and use the slides as a reference point.

You need to emphasize your themes and discriminators and the slide input is from your writers and book managers. Use at least an 18-point font or larger, Times New Roman or Arial, only four bullets per slide, and capitalize only when necessary. Mike Parkinson, founder of Billion Dollar Graphics, advocates developing a process-based graphics solution to improve your win rates and increase efficiency.

Effective visuals help evaluators remember key messages!

The People

The RFP usually requires your key people to participate in the oral presentation. It is very important that they are involved throughout the RFP writing process so they:
  • Know why those particular themes and discriminators are selected
  • Develop an in-depth understanding of the solution
  • Feel comfortable with the material
It is possible to transform the key person with the right qualifications into a powerful presenter. You need to help them develop the attitude to WIN! I use a three-step process when working with orals presenters – understand, practice, and refine!

First, all the presenters must understand what oral is about – the ground rules and expectations. Both experienced and new presenters need an overview of that particular solicitation’s oral requirements and the message(s) being delivered. Knowledge of the material ensures a confident presenter!

Second, practice, practice, and practice! Many orals coaches advocate scripting. If your presenter is involved throughout the RFP process, scripting is kept to a minimum. The more you practice, the more comfortable you are with the material, and that shows through your body language. Many times, we forget that over 50% of the communications package that we deliver is body language! There are three components to practice:
  1. Practice using a video camera or recorder
  2. Practice in front of a friend/family member
  3. Red Team
All presenters need to practice their material. If you listen/see your presentation and are bored, chances are good your audience is. The same is true when practicing in front of friend. It is amazing the number of presenters who come to me the next day after practicing at home and states their spouse had several great ideas to improve their presentation.

The Orals Red Team is the “dress rehearsal”. I prefer having upper management who knows the customer to participate in the review team. It is also the opportunity to practice the “Question and Answer” session. Before the review, I always ask the writers and management for client questions that are not specifically covered in the proposal – adding an element of surprise to your presenters and seeing how they react. The Red Team permits presenters to learn from their mistakes, so that the actual presentation is
  1. More responsive to the informational needs of the audience
  2. Answers are developed for likely questions to be asked
  3. Overall speaking confidence and competence are enhanced
Knowing as much as you can about the room where you will present will help make your presenters more comfortable and confident! Several years ago, I participated in an orals presentation where all the evaluators were sitting behind computer screens! The only person making eye contact was one person in the back with headphones. We later found out he was the technician. But try to imagine facing screens, not people! That is why it is important to listen to yourself and inject feeling into your words. If you give a 100% scripted monotone presentation, you will lose your audience and lose the contract.

Third, refine the message, delivery, and impact. Each presenter has their own style – it is up to the orals coach to balance personalities, messages, and delivery styles. And, perhaps the most important, addressing the Questions and Answers portion of the presentation. Presenters make the fatal mistake of taking too long to answer a question – keep the answer concise and to the point! Yes/No answers are acceptable.


A great orals presentation can take a good technical proposal and raise it to excellent. Following the steps above has always ensured a great presentation for my clients. Always remember, it is the last impression the client remembers you as – and your orals are the last contact with your client before contract award!

The Government Contracting, Oral Presentations by Rosemary McDowell, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Founded by Berny Dohrmann over 20 years ago, CEO Space is a private entrepreneurial business club with an environment that we created for people to be able to get quick results with their business through networking, education, and resources. Berny Dohrmann recently won the 2011 Inpex Ambassador Award for tireless contribution to inventors worldwide. For a one-time tuition payment Entrepreneurs receive a Lifetime membership and one free class, as well as a lifetime of mentoring, contacts; resources, and most of all a lifetime of support for you and your business as you grow. CEO Space is certified for Continuing Education credits. You can learn about Contracts, Government Contracts, I.T., Business Planning, Licensing, Marketing, Transformational Leadership and other topics at CEO Space.

ABOUT: Rosemary McDowell, an instructor at CEO Space, is successful entrepreneur with over 25 years experience in government and industry. She is known as “The Beltway Navigator.” It is this combination of experience that assures her clients the best possible service. She supported Government acquisitions for both large and small businesses successfully billions of dollars in government contracts while increasing her clients revenues to almost 500%. Ms. McDowell presents numerous workshops and seminars on Government contracting to local, national, and international groups and receives numerous awards for her work. Her "war" stories from actual experiences keeps her audiences engaged and her "how to" and "how not to" fully prepare you the unexpected in working with the government.

Rosemary is the author of "Demystifying Government Contracting", and co-author of “Fearless Women, Fearless Wisdom”, and the #1 bestseller, “Fight for Your Dreams, The Power of Never Giving Up”. Follow her on Twitter!/govtcontracts

For more information on CEO Space please visit or call CEO Space at 256.850.4700.

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