What You Need to Ask Your Customers before You Do an Oral Presentation (Part 2)
By Harley Stein, Partner, Tenzing Consulting

In Part 1 we covered the 10 questions that relate to the “Planning for Orals” phase. In Part 2 we get into the seven questions that apply to the “Conducting Orals” Phase.

Conducting Orals

1. Will this be recorded? Audio and/or video? Who will provide/run the equipment? It is unusual for the government to allow anyone other than themselves to do the recording, but we have seen a few where they require us to record and provide the recording immediately after the presentation or question-and-answer (Q&A). If this will be recorded, then you want to rehearse using the same type of microphones. This is particularly true when there are wires and microphone handoffs involved, as there usually are; for security reasons the government rarely uses wireless microphones. Rehearsals enable your team to learn to dance with the wire and to make smooth, quick handoffs.

2. Will this be interactive or will questions be held until a Q&A session to follow the presentation? This is a critical question because the answer significantly impacts three key areas: the number of slides you build, the duration of your narrative, and how you rehearse. For most presentations the government holds questions to the end, which helps the contracting officer ensure a fair and level playing field. If you are faced with an interactive presentation that has a time limit, you need to assess how much interaction you can expect from the evaluators. For example, if you expect them to be very interactive, you probably want to build a presentation that you can deliver in half the allotted time.

Interactive presentations impact how you rehearse. For these presentations you need to have a very good set of reviewers who can play the role of customers so they can ask questions during rehearsals, and so our presentation team can practice audience awareness, answering questions on the fly, as well as handing off questions as appropriate.

3. What about phone-a-friend for pop quizzes or sample tasks? A corollary to question #7, pop quizzes or sample tasks are often part of a presentation. Do you need some folks to present but another set to prepare and answer a sample task? It is unusual, but not unheard of, for the government to allow you to have different sets of folks participate in different parts to the day. More likely is for the government to provide you with a room to prepare your sample task response, and the capability to call subject matter experts (SMEs) as needed. If you need access to SMEs to respond, then by all means ask for this option. However, carefully weigh whether this helps you or the competition more.

4. Do we have flexibility scheduling breaks? Often in somewhat longer presentations – typically 3+ hours – the government provides an agenda that includes when the breaks will occur, and those breaks are usually every 45-50 minutes or so. Nothing wrong with that … except that are presentations rarely have a natural break that occurs every 45-50 minutes. The answer we want from the government is this: Yes, we are flexible about breaks as long as we have them. So our question needs to guide them to that answer by providing a viable solution: Will you allow us to schedule breaks to accommodate natural breaks in the presentation with the caveat that we will have all the required breaks, and each break will occur plus/minus 60 minutes after the previous break?

5. How early can we get into the room to set-up? This matters for two reasons: when we haven’t been able to see the room beforehand and when we have a lot of set-up work to do. The government typically provides about 30 minutes to set-up before orals, and that is more than enough time when all we are doing is hooking up a laptop to a projector and perhaps taping down some cords so our presenters don’t trip. It also leaves us some time to become acclimated to the room.

If we have a more complex set-up – for example, multiple laptops and projectors working off a toggle to show videos or conduct demonstrations on multiple screens, as well as a connection to the Internet – then we might need to ask for additional set-up time. The last thing we want is to be rushed on the day we deliver orals. If our set-up is really complex, we might even need to ask for permission to allow some of our technicians into the room solely for set-up and eventual breakdown of equipment.

Note: Security measures to get into government buildings might require that you arrive well before your set-up time to ensure that you pass through security.

6. Are introductions on or off the clock? We typically want to introduce our presentation team and attendees early in our time slot. With large teams, introductions, even those where all we provide is our name and our job function, can chew up valuable presentation time. In that circumstance, we can consider requesting that we be allowed to briefly introduce our team before the actual presentation clock starts. If, on the other hand, we have few presenters and we suspect our competition has many, we may want to craft a question that will help the government respond that introductions are on the clock.

7. What material/equipment will the government provide for our response to pop quizzes/sample tasks? Where this element is a part of our presentation day, there are several questions we need answered:

  • May we use our laptops to build our presentation?
  • If not, is the government providing transparencies and an overhead projector? (Believe it or not, a few times each year we do vugraphs!)
  • Will we have our own breakout room? And if so, will it have Internet connectivity?
  • Will we be allowed to either phone-a-friend or have SMEs join us in the room?

If we ask these questions, then even if we don’t receive all the answers that we want, we will still have a clear idea of how orals will be conducted and under what parameters. A good presentation coach will help guide you in determining whether to ask these questions – and how to ask these questions – to achieve your presentation objectives: a presentation team that is as prepared as possible to deliver a superior presentation.

About the Author
Harley Stein is a professional oral presentation coach and Partner of Tenzing Consulting, specializing in strategies, proposals, presentations and coaching. Contact Harley at hstein@comcast.net or 302-593-6718. Visit www.tenzing-consulting.com.

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