Oral Presentations and Government Proposals – Fed Edition

One of my favorite topics for streamlining and innovating procurements is the use of oral presentations (i.e orals). I prefer the use of orals versus paper-based solicitations, as they can save industry and the government valuable time and money. Let’s also assume that in this context, orals will be done well, as they can be more expensive to industry if done poorly. (topic for another day).

I recently saw a great post about orals from the The Pulse of GovCon, and really enjoyed it. Allow me to expand on some of these topics from the vantage point of a federal evaluator.

“…Presenting to the Federal Government requires a bit more effort. Oral presentations are not just a recitation of your own internalized knowledge – it is theater…” [emphasis added].

In my time as a business consultant, I always advised firms interested in doing business with the federal government that is was a “game”, and those that played it best won contracts. I also agree that federal government contracting is theater, especially as it relates to orals.

To prevent professional actors from delivering orals on behalf of an offeror, it is a best practice to ensure that key personnel who will execute the contract deliver the orals. I am looking for team dynamics, a.k.a the “show.” How does this team think? More so, how do they perform under pressure by providing on-the-spot case studies.

These observations are important to ensure that we select the best team for “fit”, in addition to providing solutions that solve the issue. Again, we are assuming we are doing orals properly, so this is all spelled out in the solicitation. We therefore follow our procedures, and there are no surprises.

Offerors need to prepare for the unexpected and put on a good “show”.

…“Orals are rarely a solo act. Invite other speakers to engage in your speaking section to avoid overexposure. Avoid the temptation to take center stage and to have the last word. Invite your team members to engage by name to further elaborate on your section.”…

Excellent advice. As I mentioned, team dynamics are important, as I want to ensure that everyone can play their part. This should be part of an evaluation factor based on “fit”, and not just formulaic evaluation criteria that rarely offer opportunities for differentiation.

Is the Project Manager overbearing? Does the System Engineer do all the talking? Why are your subcontract partners not participating, when they should be doing a certain percentage of the work?

Remember the joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Same for orals. (Practice of course, not the F train.).

It is easy to spot a disorganized team. I actually experienced an oral presentation where the team was fighting amongst itself, and we just sat back with popcorn and watched everything unfold. It was entertaining for sure, but not an effective presentation.

…“Just like a well-written proposal your presentation must always answer the pinnacle question: “So what?” Whether you are answering scenarios, responding to questions, or reciting a relevant anecdote – your content must be strategic and purposeful.”…

It is incredible how often I see this error. I witnessed it recently in different circumstances participating in technology demonstrations and wrote about it here. Like orals, it was a missed opportunity for not answering the “so what?” question, which I agree is the most important.  

Don’t spend your time with marketing and business development. We are past that. A few minutes introducing the team, roles, and that is it. Don’t just explain what your technology does, and how you are “industry leaders”. Remember, “so what?”.

Why is your solution the best? How does it solve my issue? How will it help solve future issues, perhaps different issues we have not considered, or prevent them altogether? I am looking for overall best value, that you understand my issue and my mission. Don’t tell me you do. Explain it to me.

Ensure you make your argument that we would be nuts not to select you. I am looking for home run hitters.

Lastly, the question and answer session is also the golden opportunity to either blow it, or further impress the evaluation panel.

…”Optics will matter. Your Federal audience will notice, evaluate, and assess your non-verbal communication almost as strongly if not equally as the words that you present.”…

Prior to starting orals, all electronic devices should be off, and put away. This should also be part of the procedures; no presentation deck, no devices. Just provide white boards and everything else needed for the orals. Give flexibility, but don’t worry about recording and think about the costs for industry in conducting and executing orals. All further best practices for having a successful orals.

Be engaged. I am watching.

I hope that oral presentations continue to advance as a best practice for procurement innovation. I encourage procurement professionals to use them as the primary response in lieu of paper based submissions and replacing solicitations. If done properly, they save time, money, and provide better opportunities for not only best value, but to lower barriers to federal business for both small businesses, and non-traditional firms.

Use them for what they are, an excellent opportunity to win federal business.

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