Secrets to a Winning Oral Proposal Presentation

Imagine that you’ve just read the procurement instructions for your current opportunity, and sure enough, it includes some form of oral proposal presentation (commonly known as orals). You’re obviously excited because you know that you’ve received that extra ticket for an opportunity to win, right?!

If that’s not exactly your mindset, you’re not alone.  After all, we have key personnel and SMEs to engage, teaming partners to enlist, pricing issues, volumes of pages to write – the list goes on and on. Orals prep can easily end up on the backburner if we’re not careful.

There are a few overarching strategies that help put the whole process in perspective:

The Strategic Secret: Appeal to Humans First

An oral proposal presentation is as much an exercise in emotional intelligence as it is proving knowledge and competence.

Think of orals as a career-launching job interview. You’re in competition for a new job or recompeting for a job you already have, and it’s time for that final face-to-face (or video conference) discussion. Prepare by taking the same approach as you would for that coveted interview. By this point, you should be able to show up knowing exactly what your interviewer needs to hear from you and what questions they may ask. You can find all your pre-interview research right there in your capture plan or opportunity’s business development strategic plan.

To satisfy the emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient, EQ) aspect of this presentation, the team must answer the question “why?” even more effectively in orals than in the written proposal, and we must do that before starting to explain “how”.

As the contracting officer, government program manager, government engineering lead or the primary decision maker, I want to know,  “Why should I hire these people?” “Who is this program manager, infrastructure architect or software engineer, and why should I trust them?” “Can I work with them day-in and day-out?” “What will hiring this company really mean to me?” “How will my decision reflect back on me in the end?”.  Answering these EQ-related questions allows your audience to feel comfortable with who you are so they can quickly turn their focus to your winning solution.

All these questions can be addressed with verbal and visual proof and past performance, along with a presentation style that is as much comforting and thoughtful as it is confident.  We’re not just presenting what we know, but why it’s a benefit to this specific customer. That’s not always an easy concept to put into practice. We’ll verbally convey our overall value proposition throughout the presentation.

The Tactical Secret: Start Early

Begin orals prep at the same time you begin your proposal.

Preparing for orals can be an overwhelming tactical and logistical challenge if not started early enough in the process. Since the presentation date typically comes after the written proposal submission, orals prep tends to get put on hold.

Just like interviews, no two presentations are exactly alike. Even if directions are copied from another solicitation, specific SOW requirements, key personnel, time limits, slide requirements, presentation medium and overall compliance are always different. A strong process, parallel schedules, and participant expectations set early on will help the team avoid pitfalls.

Consider orals as a separate volume of the proposal and assign a volume lead just like you would with technical, management or pricing volumes. Orals consultants and coaches have exposure to more iterations of these requirements than most contractors are likely to experience. They support both the people and the process and act as a volume lead. A dedicated internal resource can also act as the orals volume lead. They must be familiar with the process and able to reinforce every aspect of the presentation.

Your presentation is typically the culmination of your entire capture. Whether a consultant or internal source fills the lead role, you’re entrusting them with that extra ticket (hopefully the winning ticket!). They must have the time and ability to draw the best out of people who typically don’t have to prepare for such a crucial performance.

Final Thoughts

There are many tips and tricks to developing and presenting at orals. Slide development, scripting support, presenter coaching, program orchestration, extensive Q&A practice and rehearsals all must be scheduled and executed on a demanding timeline. Start early!

Customer-focused preparation, clear and concise visuals, thoughtful and compelling presenters, and a compliant submission all lead to a winning orals proposal presentation.