Your firm has been shortlisted. Congratulations! Now the real work begins to prepare
the presentation. Not only are you responsible for capturing your sales message and complex technical information into graphically appealing slides or other visual displays, but you are also responsible for organizing all of the rehearsals and corralling the egos to deliver a cohesive, winning presentation.
Presentations have been the most challenging portion of the sales process in AEC for me. The written word is finite and can be edited and re-edited before it is printed. Marketers have nearly complete control over printing and delivery. We have no control over what someone is going to say live in front of the client – no matter how many times you rehearse. There is just so much that can go wrong that makes control monsters like me just nutty.
Over the years, I have experienced well over a hundred presentations and probably double the number of rehearsals. I have been witness to the good, the bad, and even the unbelievable. From technology-related issues to presenters falling asleep during the presentation, unfortunately, I have seen it all. Through these experiences I have come to realize as many of you probably have as well, is that the rehearsals set the tone for the presenting team which will be carried into the presentation. For this reason, I have insisted on butting into and taking over the rehearsal process. Marketers typically do not participate as presenters in most shortlisting presentations, so we bring an objective, goal-oriented (to win), level-headed presence to the rehearsals. Although we may have big egos, we often are the only objective participants during the rehearsals. For this reason alone, we should be ruling the rehearsal roost. I have shared some ideas and ways that I have been able to do this.
Drive the preplanning process
From the moment you receive notification of the presentation, you, the marketer, should be driving the scheduling and production process. This is no different from the proposal phase. You should be communicating with the team members and presenters. This includes all slide templates, production items and information needed, brainstorming meeting and rehearsal logistics, etc. If there are any key principals or other big wigs who need to travel for any of the meetings, get the information on their schedule right away.
Determine the type of reviews and rehearsals needed
Depending on your timeframe to prepare, the complexity of the technical matter, and dollar amount of project, you may choose to schedule different types of reviews and rehearsals.
What I have found in my experience is that when you get all of the presenters and reviewers looking at the slides at the same time, the presentation completely changes. This almost always happens. You don’t want to have this anxiety and frustration in the room the day before the presentation. It will carry into the presentation. Learning from this, I always mandate at least a complete slide walk through a week before the presentation. This is a meeting that is usually a web-based meeting in which we literally walk through the slides and each presenter goes through what he/she is going to say. The ideas and changes get almost completely hashed out during this walk through and we have enough time to make the changes. I then also have time to send the revised, near-final draft to the presenters so they can practice on their own before the rehearsal.
This slide walk through is not a replacement for the Red Team Review (or however your firm refers to them). The Red Team Review should happen before the slide walk through. This way the principals and other reviewers have had a chance to provide their input. Depending on your timeframe you can do these meetings simultaneously, but I strongly recommend against it.
Do you have one full day of rehearsals, two full days, or all-nighters?
There is no one-size-fits-rule regarding the number of rehearsals to conduct for presentations or how long those rehearsals should be. You want to rehearse the timed presentation enough that each presenter can deliver his/her message consistently but you don’t want to do it so much that the presenters are exhausted or sound like robots. How long this takes depends on your presenters. This is where you, the marketer, have the objective ability to determine when the presentation team is at this point. You should know at least your firm’s presenters and understand their presenting abilities. Some project managers are excellent and some need some extra practice.
Having subconsultants and teaming partners is an added wildcard. Unless your team with them often, you most likely do not know their presenting ability. Moreover, the team must be able to present showing team cohesion. This is quickly accomplished by spending a couple of times rehearsing together. This is why you must have all presenters with speaking parts in the same room together to conduct a timed rehearsal of the presentation. Going back to my first point of why it is imperative that rehearsal notifications be scheduled almost as soon as you are notified of the presentation. More often than not, presenters will have to re-arrange their schedules and make travel arrangements.
Whether you schedule one day or two, the rehearsal most closely to the presentation time needs to be free of stress and anxiety and filled with positivity and encouragement. It sounds a little Cumbayá-ish and anyone who knows me I am not like that at all. But it is true. The presenters, especially the project manager, need to be in an environment to provide him/her the confidence of winning the job. That confidence and positive energy will come through in his/her delivery of the presentation. As marketers, we need to take care of all of the other details (food, logistics, production, displays, handouts, etc.) during this time to further remove stress and anxiety from the presenters.
Running the rehearsal
There are multiple roles that we fill during the actual rehearsals. You, as the marketer, should be running this show. If you are fortunate to have multiple marketing staff, one should be actually running the slideshow and the other can be working on a different version to be making any last minute changes. If you are the sole marketer assigned, you are doing it all! That is why the slide walk through days before the rehearsal is imperative. During the rehearsal, you only have enough time and capacity to make only minor edits before having to produce the handouts or leave behinds.
During each presentation run-through, I find myself keeping the time of each segment/presenter, noting any enhancements or corrections to the slides, and listening for the messages each presenter portrays. It has taken years of practice to be able to achieve all three and most of the time; I can only do one or two of them during any given run-through. What I have found to help are these three things:
- Stopwatch application on my iPhone. This has the ability to create “laps,” and pause and start. I use the lap for each presenter or main topic. When someone interrupts the presentation to discuss a point, I pause the timer and pick up when they start the presentation again. I track each “lap” and the total time.
- Rehearsal timekeeper assistant. This is a worksheet I created after years of drawing it on notebook paper. It basically allows me to capture the time each speaker as well as jot down changes to slides and notes to coach the presenter. I have created one to share with you here: Rehearsal Timekeeper Assistant.
- Knowing when to stop. After a few run-throughs, as an objective observer, I acknowledge when the presentation becomes consistent. This is when you need to speak up to suggest that another run-through is not needed and suggest that the team practice Q&A. This will divert their attention to another very important, if not most important, a portion of rehearsals that often gets overlooked. You may want to another run-through after Q&A practice, but again, you don’t want to do too many that you sound like robots.
What are some other ways that you rule the rehearsal roost? Share your suggestions below.