(Presentation) Lessons Learned from This Year’s APMP Conference

Monday, October 27th, 2014 by Simon Morton

I had the privilege of speaking at the UK APMP event again this year. For the uninitiated, this is an opportunity for the UK’s bid and proposal experts to get together over a 3-day period and share best practice, gain insight into new developments and swap war stories.

Pontificating at the APMP ConferenceThis year I was talking through the ongoing issue of the Presentation Paradox, that peculiar state of mind that hits companies large and small when preparing for an important pitch. For some bizarre reason, preparing for this important pitch presentation is too often boiled down to a kneejerk ‘pull some slides together’ activity rather than seeing it as a huge opportunity to address any shortcomings of the bid document whilst simultaneously moving the audience to the next stage of the process.

I could rant on but frankly that’s not the purpose of this blog – I’m keen to share the lessons learned from this year’s event…

The lowly pitch presentation is getting some love

APMP have recognised the valuable part played by presentations in the bid process and now invite subject matter experts in to share their insight and knowledge. This year’s conference schedule covered both the fundamentals (technical training on PowerPoint) through to people like myself who were sharing new ideas and throwing down the presentation gauntlet to bid managers and their ilk.

This can only be a good thing – the more people think about the presentation process (from message and content through to the way it’s delivered), the greater the standard across the board. The net result is that we all benefit – presenters, audience and businesses.

New presentation technology is getting an airing

A completely unscientific straw poll during my seminar showed that the majority of businesses had tried new technology as part of their presentation process.

Top of the pile was Prezi, an innovative take on traditional slideware which, when used sparingly and at the right time, can be incredibly powerful. The flipside of this, of course, is that when used poorly and inappropriately, Prezi can be truly horrible. Delegates seemed to agree – many had tried it but few had returned to it on a regular basis for pitch presentations.

I was surprised to learn that an increasing number of high stakes bid presentations are now being delivered remotely. With the value of these bids often being in the tens and hundreds of millions, this seems a very brave thing to do! Remote presentation tools have come on leaps and bounds over the last few years (in particular video conferencing) yet I personally still struggle with the idea of building rapport and a relationship with pixels on a screen. Now this may be a personal tick I need to overcome as timescales shorten and travel costs increase but, in the meantime, if I can possibly find a way of sitting in front of an audience, I’ll bend over backwards to ensure I do.

The good news from all of this new technology and thinking is that bid presentations are benefitting from people approaching things differently. As with any development process, there will be things that people try which end up an unmitigated disaster whilst others will flourish and become ‘best practice’ for a business overnight. The key is to pick and choose carefully, making educated bets on the right approach to take for a particular audience.*

[* Gaining a good understanding of your audience is a particular passion of mine – for more information, reference The Audience Heatmap concept here].

Some things never change

Sadly there are some constants in the world of pitch presentations, one of which is out of the control of most presenters – leadtimes.

There is a consistent frustration voiced by bid teams when it comes to preparing their presentations – they’re given completely unrealistic leadtimes. One delegate shared an example of where the weighty bid document needed to be submitted by close of business on the Thursday. On the Friday, they received a call from the prospect asking them to deliver a presentation to the board and procurement team the following Tuesday.

A few things spring to mind:

  • Is this some sort of sick power play by the prospect?
  • Is the presentation simply serving as a ‘Cliff’s Notes’ version of the main document?
  • Is there any process in place to truly test the value of each bid or has the decision been made and the fast track presentation process simply a way of getting through the formalities as quickly as possible?

What makes this all the more concerning is that the delegate was a senior member of a bid team for a huge, well-respected technology business. Each bid is for millions of dollars and likely to underpin the strategy of the prospect’s business so surely the process should be a little more robust than this?

I don’t have an answer to this particular quandary but I do have a huge amount of sympathy for the bid professionals on the receiving end of this short-term approach. All I would do is implore the bid team not to lower their standards when preparing the pitch presentation – see it as the huge opportunity it truly represents and throw every morsel of energy you have to make the most of it.

In conclusion, the bid professionals at this year’s APMP event demonstrated all the attributes needed to create a powerful pitch presentation – an understanding of their audience, the ability to cut through the ‘noise’ of too much content and an eagerness to try new things (such as Blended Presenting) to ensure that the presentation opportunity is grasped firmly with both hands. If we maintain this forward momentum across all pitch presentations, the future is bright indeed.

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