Ask the Expert

Bid presentation preparation and delivery

Question by: Chris Shaw

Hi Holger

I am interested in your particular combined back ground of bid writing and mentoring/coaching.

Making a presentation to Clients and preparing for likely questions is usually the critical final deal clincher on major contracts.  Using your unique combined skill set, could you give the top 5 points that a company should take in account when preparing for such an event. I’d also be particularly interested in your views on the most appropriate team and discipline selection to represent a company at such an event.

many thanks,

Chris Shaw



Hi Chris

Thank you for asking this question. You have touched on an important aspect of the bid process: the part after submitting your knock-out tender, when the client’s decision makers will either be even more convinced of your credibility for the job or left with doubt about how realistic your tender promises were.

When making a presentation to clients and preparing for likely questions, you need to think about the purpose of the presentation – what the audience and you want to get out of it – because that will guide how you prepare, what you show on the day, and what you say (with your voice and your body language).

My experience of combining bidding with coaching is mostly from helping people to transfer their confidence in the writing stage to the presenting stage. One of the key reasons for a lack of confidence in presenting is not having a clear structure in the mind of what to say, thereby fearing the dreadful state of ‘fumbling’ for ‘the next bit’. My response to your question is based partly on addressing that scenario, and on preparing from the perspective of the client and the advisers.

I had a long think to make sure I was able to reply with the top five points in the context of your question. Others may argue that a different top five is more appropriate, and I hope we can get that debate going through the channels of this Bid Solutions platform. Indeed, I’ll be interested to know your own thoughts, Chris, so please share your experiences for my and others’ benefit.

Preparing for questions: high-level thoughts

Before listing my top five points that a company should take into account, I think we should address the issue of preparation for questions from a general perspective. My top five points will go into more specific detail.

Think about the roles of the audience members. For example:

  • What challenges do they face in their day-to-day roles?
  • What causes those challenges?
  • What could make those challenges more significant?
  • What could be done to ease or eliminate them?

This is basically the equivalent of risk assessment territory in your line of work, which requires some thought early in your preparation for the presentation. Imagine yourself doing the role of your client organisation’s various key people, and think about the issues that do – or could – cause problems. What questions would you want to ask a service provider? What would be your most pressing topics? Since you are very experienced in your field, it stands to reason that you have a very good idea of what the work life must be like for your client’s team.

OK, my top five points (and sub-parts) that a company should take into account are:

1. What are the most essential points to make in the presentation?

The presentation will usually be time-limited. That means you have to make very good use of the time on the day, which means you have to make very good use of your preparation time. When thinking about the most essential points to make in the presentation, consider some key issues:

Why? What is the purpose of the presentation in the first place? Why can the same information not be conveyed in a different way? The answer to these questions is usually that the client wants to meet the people who would deliver the services, and to test their credibility for the job at hand. That means each presenter’s job is to show how their experience is directly relevant to addressing the client’s challenges.

The client’s invitation for the presentation may request a focus on a particular issue. Even if it does not, I recommend using specific challenge / problem areas of the project to show how the presenters would play a part in overcoming those challenges / problems. What, specifically, will each presenter do to address the issues, and what, specifically, will be the benefits to the client from that approach? Choose issues not already included in the written proposal, or build on those already submitted – but avoid merely repeating what has already been written.

As a coach, I spend a lot of time asking questions of my clients. To help identify challenge / problem areas, I might ask my clients questions along the lines of:

  • What steps does your client have to go through to achieve [outcome]?
  • What makes those steps essential?
  • What inputs are needed from other people at each step?
  • How much of each step is completely within your client’s control?
  • What can cause the steps not to be achieved?
  • How does your organisation’s services feed in to the steps?
  • How can your organisation’s services avoid failure of any step being achieved?
  • What expertise does your organisation bring that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the client’s process?
  • How does each presenter’s experience fit with the ways of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the client’s process?
  • What evidence do you have of your presenters having done that before?

This is a very summarised version of the line of questioning that leads to identifying how the presenters can match their expertise with the client’s process steps. By doing that, we can identify how the presenters can add value to the process. Once we have done that, we can plan how the presenters will add value to that particular client.

Stay focused: Avoid saying everything you know about a subject. Demonstrating your ability to meet a client’s requirements does not usually equate to demonstrating how much you know about a subject. Instead, it is about showing that you can address what matters most to the client. That requires a sound understanding of the client’s business – including its critical success factors – and of the audience members’ priorities. Always ask for a list of the people (and their roles) who will attend your presentation, if your client has not already told you. This will help you to go through the process step questions in 1a, which will help to focus the mind on what matters most. Other material, which will be more supporting than essential, can be included in a back-up presentation format for use during your client’s questioning.

2. ‘Put yourself in the shoes’ of your client

Work as a team to interrogate what the client wants to know by asking yourself process-type questions as in 1a, or work with a coach to facilitate such a session so that you and your team can be forced to address issues that might otherwise seem obvious to you. By ‘skipping over’ seemingly obvious issues, you run the risk of missing opportunities for identifying added value that you can bring to your client’s process. In coaching, we take the view that there is no such thing as a stupid question, which means we keep the team’s minds as open as possible for as long as possible.

What evidence of credibility does your prospective client want to see? In a recent coaching session for a presentation, we used the process-type questioning with a client, which led us to learn that our client routinely undertakes lessons learned reviews with his client. This means that my client’s client has gained the benefit of learning about areas for improvement in his business as a result of my client’s reviews. My client thought nothing of this until I pointed out that he knows much more about his client than the other bidders, due to the rich detail from the reviews. The deep insights from the reviews put my client in a unique position to act as a ‘critical friend’ for future improvement and business growth, something that the competitors could not do with the same explicit and tacit knowledge and understanding. That benefit was ‘gold dust’ that we used to good effect in the post-tender interview presentation. My client won the job.

3. Build presentation material around key points

I mentioned earlier that one of the ‘blockers’ to presenting is not having an easily remembered structure of what to say. Let me share a simple technique that I have found useful, and that my clients have told me is helpful.

Build your messages around one key point, not several; it is easy to remember one but not many. Make your presentation about one main issue and base all other points on that.  Examples are:

  • Your business management system as the core of all your processes
  • Your organisation’s approach to corporate social responsibility as the driver for achieving community benefits, e.g. apprenticeships, job shadowing, or legacy green spaces from construction projects
  • Your software tools helping you to simplify how your organisation delivers its services

Your presentation will link your client’s critical issues to your central theme via various strands. In that way, your presentation will be all about your client and how you will address her / his challenges, and you will tell that story via the strands linked to your central theme.

You could think about possible audience question topics, and use them as the strands linked to a central theme of particular relevance to your prospective client. For the points (strands) you make around the central theme, the following simple approach might help you to remember what you need to say about each point:

What? What is the point and what are its key features? What do people need to know about it?

Why? Why is the point relevant and how will your audience benefit from it? Why do they need to know this stuff?

How? How is the point applied and how should your audience make use of it? What do they need to do? What action are you expecting them to take?

What If? Give your audience some ‘What if?’ scenarios. For example:

  • What if they don’t take a particular course of action? Do they have the risk contingencies in place to cope?
  • What if they do take a particular course of action and such-and-such happens, e.g. an unwanted result as a consequential outcome? Again, can they deal with that?
  • What if they take your proposed course of action and they gain a specific benefit from it? How does your proposal ensure the benefit will be realised, and negative consequential outcomes will be avoided?

This helps to expand your audience’s understanding of the benefits of your services and products. This step takes the audience’s mind into the space of possibilities, i.e. benefits that will be gained if your services are chosen – and not gained if they are not. Make sure you have done your homework to demonstrate how your proposal provides the benefits. This step is not about overt scare tactics – your client will probably not appreciate being discomforted into action – but it is about taking your client’s mind into the space of possibilities, including how your proposal manages risk.

The four points are also very useful in my coaching work because they enable me to probe ways in which my clients’ proposals add value. Many otherwise-overlooked issues have arisen from coaching using the above four areas of questioning.

When you finish any one of the above four points, move on to any other. If you are visually oriented, imagine those four points as a grid on the floor, and step between the quadrants as you move from one point to the next. This will have the double benefit of helping you visualise your next ‘move’ in the presentation, as well as keeping you mobile on your feet – rather than standing rigidly on one spot. See more about this under item 5. The order shown above allows you to structure your presentation along the lines of:

What? Introduction (facts, definition)

Why? Benefits / reasons for audience engagement with your ideas (their meaning)

How? Application of your ideas / presentation material (process, steps)

What If? Expanding on your ideas and leading to your conclusion (future consequences, hidden possibilities)

Remember to consider how much the audience already knows about the subject, since this will be important when choosing your central theme and the points linked to it. Avoid telling the audience what they already know, unless you can use the four elements to build on current knowledge to make particular points. This approach is particularly useful when planning for audience questions.

4. What is the clearest way to present information for ease of understanding?

The post-tender interview audience will usually have questions, but do not let them be the result of unclear or confusing presentation material. Think about the clearest and easiest-understood way of presenting the points you want to make. As a coach, I probe the purpose(s) of my clients’ presentations to help clients devise the most appropriate material to include, and the best way to present it.

Unless you are requested to use projected slides with a stand-up delivery format, think about the benefits of other ways of presenting, including:

  • Handouts: useful for specific points and for leaving the audience with a take-away
  • Flip charts: good for making the session more of a discussion platform, particularly if you want to record the audience’s comments
  • Tabletop flip books: effective for making the session more of a meeting platform in which everyone is sitting together – i.e. no ‘them and us’

Your choice of presentation method has to suit the occasion, the subject and the audience, which is another reason why you should always learn as much as you can about the audience as part of your preparation. If you decide to use projected slides, the usual rules of presentation preparation apply, including:

  • Use graphics to enhance messages and make them easier to understand – use animation or click-by-click build-ups of graphics to avoid showing all the detail in one ‘hit’.
  • Avoid text-heavy slides – nobody wants to read a ‘wall of words’.
  • Present detailed data in summary charts rather than overly ‘busy’ ones – turn numerical data into graphical form, if appropriate.
  • Use large fonts to make slides easy to read from the back of the room.
  • Limit each slide to one (or two maximum) key points.
  • Plan your material to enable you to present at a pace with which your audience can keep up.
  • Ensure correct grammar in all your written material.
  • Create a presentation plan as part of your planning, then stick to it. Change it for significant and auditable reasons only.
  • Use build-ups (e.g. animated lists) when presenting several items (e.g. bullet lists) rather than presenting all the information in one go.

You might choose to pose questions in your presentation, then answer those questions using your presented material. This is a good way to pre-empt audience questions, having gone through the exercise in 1a. Your presentation will be more engaging if you involve the audience, rather than expecting them to listen only. You can ask for their questions to be raised at the end of your presentation (unless your client has already stipulated the rules about questions), but you can ask your questions whenever you like.

5. Use positive body language

The audience’s questions are more likely to be born out of genuine interest in your services and products – rather than being asked merely as tests – if you present with confidence and conviction. While body language is not the only factor that determines how you ‘come across’, it is usually the most significant – accounting for 55%+ of your communication.

Plenty of people have written about body language over the years. One of the experts whose explanations I love is Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard University. I always recommend that clients watch her TED Talk on the subject.

She makes the point that strong and positive body language can make you feel more empowered and confident. I regard this to be a hugely powerful phenomenon, one that has a great part to play in excellent post-tender presentations. Imagine the power of feeling more confident merely as a result of your physical stance! In my coaching, I encourage my clients to imagine watching a movie of themselves presenting, and to tell me what they ‘see’. The coaching sessions include discussion of what my clients like about what they ‘see’, and what they do not like. We use the sessions to reinforce the positives and turn around the negatives, stretching individuals’ comfort zones just enough to help progress to be made without degrading confidence.

Most appropriate team and discipline selection to represent a company

Choose team members who represent the services and functions that the client wants to deliver the work. Avoid support functions – e.g. marketing and bid management, unless the bid is being managed by someone who will be involved in delivering the services.

I tell clients not to be afraid of putting forward team members who are experts in their subjects but not excellent presenters. This might seem counter-intuitive, but remember that the client wants to see evidence of genuine expertise in the leadership team. As long as the key points are put across clearly, a post-tender presentation will appear more genuine if given by people who have ‘lived and breathed’ the client’s challenges. The five key points above provide the basis for effective coaching to help prepare anyone in the team, but particularly those less familiar with presenting.

Stay within the limit on numbers of people to take to the presentation. This will probably mean you include a senior team member with a very good understanding of all disciplines required for delivery of the project – e.g. the proposed Project Manager / Director – unless you are allowed to take a representative from all disciplines.

Include support services when it is likely that they will be involved in delivery of the services – e.g. quality assurance – and make it clear how their role will make a difference or be essential for the success of the work that you do for your client. This will reinforce how your organisational setup is geared to excellence every step of the way.

Further reading

If you want to read more about presenting and bidding, you might have a moment to read some of my blog posts. It has been a while since my latest one, but 2018 will bring many more updates.