Presentation skills Pitch presentations

I’ve just returned from a training session for a client on an important element of competitive tendering – winning pitch presentations. There are many other blogs on selling, tendering, pitching, writing, presentations and client relationship management so please check out the other resources listed below. I organised today’s session around some key themes on winning pitch presentations and I’ve attempted to share the highlights and provide signposts to more detailed information.

Research, plan and prepare the content

“If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation. If you want me to speak for thirty minutes, it will take me a week to prepare, If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now”. Winston Churchill

The research and preparation stage of a winning pitch presentation is important for many reasons – to ensure that your messages are properly joined up, to increase the confidence of everyone participating and to enable those pitching to gel as a team so that the client sees real cohesion.

Empathy – Focus on the needs of the audience

Can you imagine what it is like to have to sit through half a dozen presentations that all follow the same structure and content? Having been on the selection side of the panel on many occasions, I can tell you that it’s boring. So the first job in preparing for a pitch presentation is to use some empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the audience.

Research – Go beyond the brief

Of course the client will need to hear some rational information. And you will have done extensive research as you talked to the client at scoping meetings and obtained the wider commercial context about the project or work to respond to their brief and submit a tender document.

But extend the research into the deeper values of the client organisation, its history, its other work, its business reputation, other business relationships and the people who will be present at the pitch presentation.

The more information you gather the more likely you will be able to identify additional value points and innovative ideas and to tailor the material more closely to the needs, style and language of the client.

Concentrate on the differentiating value proposition

Obviously in a pitch (whether a presentation or an interview), you will draw on the material in the original brief and in whatever documentation you have been asked to submit prior to a presentation. Ideally, your documentation, tender or pitch document will have made your compelling value proposition  crystal clear so that the client is in no doubt what unique blend of attributes and benefits you will contribute.

Focus on three key points

But the presentation is likely to be short – perhaps only 10 to 15 minutes of your allotted time (you’ll need as much time as possible to pose and answer questions and interact with the client – to simulate the future working relationship). So less is more. Most presentation experts advise you to identify no more than three key points.

Structure and signpost your content

I encourage people to prepare a mind map of all that they want to cover in a presentation. Then you can easily see the main points and perhaps a logical structure. We discussed many different ways of structuring content – to differentiate your presentation, to make it easy for the audience to follow, around those critical three key points, to present solutions to problems etc.

And you will need to signpost the content so that the client knows exactly where you are in the presentation and what comes next. Repetition and reinforcement are important – and support retention through the primacy and recency effects.

KISS – Keep it simple stupid

In professional services, the projects and work are likely to be complex. There will be lots of details on what is to be done, how it will be done, who will do it, the likely challenges and, of course, the cost proposals and contractual issues.

But your task is to make things simple. Later discussions and questions will allow the client to get through to the nitty gritty. So be assured and convey your key points as simply as possible.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

“Any fool can make things more complex. It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”

“Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler” Albert Einstein

Choose the best presentation method and audio-visuals

As your value proposition differentiates your firm’s offer from those of the competitors, so must your presentation stand out from them too. For many firms PowerPoint (or Keynote) is the tool of choice. More adventurous presenters will use tools like Presentia.

Some will be brave and work just with models or simulations. Others will use music, flowcharts, handouts, flipcharts, actors, videos and all manner of other props and aids. Your choice will depend on the facilities available, the client expectations and needs and the experience of your presenting team.

The critical thing here is to rehearse and rehearse. And rehearse again. So that everyone knows the content really well and everything moves along smoothly.

Prepare for questions

Anticipate all of the possible questions that the client may ask. And consider who is best in the pitching team to answer them so the chair knows how to direct questions. Rehearse tricky responses so that everyone is on the same page.

You are always invited to ask the client panel questions. So make sure you prepare some questions to ask. Questions that demonstrate your expertise and insight. Questions that allow you to show you’ve done your homework and have thought above and beyond the brief. Questions that add real insight and make the client reflect on their ideas. Questions that make your team stand out.

Anticipate disasters

Of course, you need to be prepared in case there is a power or equipment failure. Or a critical no-show. And be ready to go completely off-script if the client decides to take the pitch meeting in a totally different direction.

Ensure that you deliver well and connect emotionally

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou

Recognise that decisions are based on rational and emotional factors

You’ve addressed the rational element of the decision that the client must make. But the client’s choice will depend on a whole raft of emotional factors too – how well you understand them, whether you speak their language, the extent to which you make them feel confident and valued and so on. The latest research shows that the way in which clients experience the sales process is a major determinant of who wins (read the material on insight selling:

Adapt to the clients’ personality types

You will need to research and understand the role that each member of the client team plays in the decision making unit (DMU) and the decision-making process.

And you will also need to think about the different personalities and preferences of those people. We talked about “dogs and cats” personalities today and also information processing preferences – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic – from neuro-linguistic programming

Throughout your presentation and discussions, you will need to recognise different personality styles and adapt your style to ensure that they feel comfortable with you. Whilst remaining authentic and congruent with whom you are.

Ensure that you feel and look confident (NVC)

You need to manage what impression you make when you are meeting people for the first time. This is largely based on non-verbal communication (NV) such as your voice and your gestures. And these are highly dependent on culture so you need to take care in a global or multinational environment.

And if you don’t feel confident (which you will if you prepare well and rehearse a lot) then you need to find ways to reduce nerves (for example, breathing and visualisation exercises) or increase confidence (watch the fabulous TED video by Amy Cuddy on power poses).

Craft a great introduction

Every member of the pitching team will need to introduce themselves and explain their role on the pitch team and during the work. Again, think about three key messages for each person – otherwise the client will become overloaded with information. In some cultures, an “expertise and credentials” introduction is expected. In other cultures, a less formal and more personal introduction is the norm.

You should also consider how you tackle the initial handshaking and greeting routines – it can get complicated if there are lots of you. And think about the psychology of the seating arrangements – you want to avoid a “them vs us” scenario if possible.

Tell stories

Neuroscience tells us that when people listen to a story that they connect to, a whole host of cognitive functions take place – dopamine release and neural coupling and mirroring to name a few. So during the presentation and interview use stories, anecdotes and case studies to bring the material to life. Stories also offer a great way to simplify complex ideas – perhaps through the use of metaphors or analogies.

Create rapport and trust

The way that humans connect and develop relationships is addressed in psychology, And again, understanding non-verbal communication, empathy, active listening and showing an interest in others are the main routes to doing so.

Influence and persuade

Understanding the science of influence and persuasion will assist you in making a strong case in a way which has impact. As well as understanding the difference between features and benefits, and knowing that “telling isn’t selling”, it’s probably best to study some of the material by psychology experts

Control – time keeping and strong endings

You need to ensure that you use the allocated time for presenting and questions. You absolutely must finish on time. And before you finish there should be a strong summary reinforcing the key points of your proposition and making it really clear why the client should choose you.

Signposts to further reading

Blog posts – Book reviews

(And I will shortly write a review of ”Strategic tendering for professional services” by Fuller and Nightingale so watch this space!)

Blog posts – Presentations

Blog posts – Selling, pitching and tendering blog posts

PS As it happens, I am presenting a half day training course on “Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch” on 18th May. Further details here: