RFP Presentations Are Back: 5 Tips To Tell Your Story (And Win)

For the last few years, your team likely hasn’t done a ton of RFP presentations. Between health precautions, supply chain disruptions and a desire to accelerate the purchasing process, the oral presentation stage of the RFP process has often been either altered significantly or abandoned altogether.

But, now it may be time to refresh your presentation and storytelling skills. As travel restrictions relax and organizations prepare for global economic changes, buyers are bringing the RFP oral presentation back into their process for high-value, strategic projects. The reason? Decision makers and procurement teams are facing increasing organizational pressure to maximize the big-picture value of vendor engagements while minimizing risk.

For them, this means exploring each offer from multiple angles to make the right choice and form a long-term, innovative and mutually beneficial partnership. For you, it means an opportunity to share a compelling vision of the future, create a stickier relationship and higher customer lifetime value.

While intimidating, the revival of the RFP presentation offers you an opportunity to tell a story that stands apart from the competition and seal the deal.

What buyers hope to get from an oral presentation

Before exploring tips for memorable RFP presentations, it’s important to understand why buyers find them valuable. Indeed, after spending hours composing a detailed, written RFP response, you may wonder what more they could possibly need to know to make a decision.

There could be a variety of reasons for a buyer to request a presentation. For example, it can be a way to get buy-in and final approval from all the key decision makers at once. Alternatively, it may be the most expedient approach to dig into specific differentiators between shortlisted vendors.

Regardless of exactly why a buyer requests an oral presentation, it’s crucial to remember what they’re really looking for — connection and understanding. While the RFP itself is designed to be data-based and objective, it’s incredibly dry.

The presentation format is more engaging. It tells a story where the buyer is the main character that gets the perfect happy ending they’re hoping for with your company’s help. It also gives the buyer confidence that your company doesn’t just look good on paper, but that you can also walk the walk.

Indeed, success or failure of a strategic partnership may hinge (at least in part) on intangible factors like communication style, team chemistry, collaborative ideation, company vision and culture, creative problem solving and responsiveness. Accordingly, the RFP presentation enables decision makers and stakeholders to see your team in action, ask specific, situational questions and get more information. Essentially, it’s the final “gut check” for many buyers.

5 tips for a successful RFP presentation


1. Prepare by asking a lot of questions

Before you fire up Powerpoint to start pulling slides together, it’s important to ask questions. Certainly this isn’t new advice. However, it would be unwise to assume your old checklist of prep questions is compatible with a postpandemic world.

This list of suggested questions will help you create an environment that feels safe and respectful while establishing expectations. Remember to check the RFP for any details it may provide before adding these to your question list.

  • Who will attend the presentation? What are their names, titles and project or user roles?
  • Will attendees be in person, remote or hybrid?
  • What is the presentation setting? Will a large screen, projector or other technology be used?
  • Are masks and social distancing preferred?
  • Would it be helpful for us to bring additional key team members in person? Or can they participate remotely?
  • Which other companies will be presenting? How much time will each have?
  • Within the allowed time, what would you like us to cover?
  • Should we leave time for Q&A or will we be permitted additional time if there are questions?
  • Will all attendees have existing knowledge of or access to our RFP response?
  • Can we provide helpful supplementary documents or leave-behind materials?
  • Are there any specific topics or questions that are important to individual members of the group?
  • What criteria will be used to evaluate the presentations?
  • What are the expected next steps, assuming the presentation is successful?

Ideally, the answers to these questions will help you visualize the setting and plan how to present your solution in a way that best suits the client’s specific needs and tells the tale of your partnership.

2. Create an outline using RFP requirements

Using an outline to plan your presentation is a great way to ensure you don’t miss anything. Fortunately, you can use the RFP requirements and criteria to help with this step.

Review the RFP to outline your presentation, adding a bullet point for each potential slide and subpoints for what those slides should contain. By using the original RFP as a guide, your presentation will follow the same structure and topic chronology that the evaluators are already familiar with. This will improve memory and focus while also making it easier for attendees to follow along and score in real time.

Sample of a simplified presentation outline

  • Cover slide
  • Full overview/contents
  • Client needs overview
    • Project goals
  • Company info
    •  Who are we?
    •  Background and history
    •  Introduction of presentation team and expertise
  • Experience
    • Similar case studies
    • Past performance data
    • Expected benefits for client
  • Approach
    • Differentiators
    • Vision for partnership
  • Scope
    • Features
    • Implementation timeline

Using an outline helps you maintain a clear message. Then, you can use your most impactful RFP content to add color to your slides and script. Naturally, you should pay special attention to the criteria with the highest weights as well as areas where your organization excels. Remember, it’s okay to highlight your ability to scale in the future and add ongoing value, but it’s not the right time to try to upsell. As with all the other elements of winning an RFP, focus exclusively on the client’s stated needs.

3. Use visuals to your advantage

Written RFP responses are jam-packed with information. For visual learners, it can be a difficult format to digest. Consequently, the visual aspect of the RFP presentation is another one of its benefits. So, be sure to make the most of it and follow presentation best practices.

Your slides should be both written and designed. Avoid filling the entire slide with words that will overwhelm the audience and tempt them to read ahead. This takes away from actively listening to the presenter as they paint the picture of what your partnership will look like. White space is important for readability and recall.

For each slide, identify no more than three things you want the attendees to remember from it. Then, use short text prompts and visuals to support that message. For example, if you want to spend a slide talking about your superior customer service, you might include an engaging header like “Custom, caring support from day one,” accompanied by a short customer quote and a recent satisfaction statistic. Then, use your talk track to echo language used in their RFP requirements and offer more detail. Include infographics, charts and graphs when it enhances your message. Additionally, it’s wise to engage your marketing team in the review process. Let a designer and copywriter bring fresh eyes to the presentation. They can ensure your brand, message and visuals are clear, impactful and consistent.

4. Pick the right presentation team

A good presenter can make even the most boring topic interesting and engaging. Of course, charisma isn’t everything and presentation skills can be learned, so it’s also important to pick knowledgeable subject matter experts to present. When building your team, consider natural speaking or storytelling ability as well as these questions.

  • Who is most familiar with the client’s business, goals and challenges?
  • Which team members have the most expertise related to the RFP criteria?
  • Is there anyone with an existing rapport with the prospect?
  • Who will work with the client once the contract is signed?
  • Can team members speak to experiences with similar clients?

Even among small presentation groups, it’s wise to designate a primary speaker. This person will facilitate the flow of the conversation, manage introductions, present material and be responsible for time management. However, during the Q&A, the leader should defer questions to the team member most qualified to answer. This highlights your company’s collective expertise, cohesive vision and ability to effectively collaborate. With your team now assembled, you can rehearse and refine each member’s skills.

5. Review, rehearse and refine

Once you’ve made it to this step, you should have: a clear idea of expectations; a comprehensive but concise, visually-appealing presentation; and a knowledgeable team. Bring all of these elements together and practice.

Rehearse your presentation from beginning to end as a team. Provide positive feedback as well as suggestions for improvement. Throughout this step, keep the client’s experience in mind. Use their company name when it fits naturally, and express your genuine enthusiasm for the opportunity.

Once you feel comfortable with the material, invite a panel of peers to review your presentation in a dress rehearsal. Have them observe, ask follow-up questions from the client’s perspective and take notes.

  • Do the slides tell a story? Does it have:
    • A beginning with background information to set the stage?
    • A middle that explores and overcomes the clients’ challenges?
    • An end that helps them envision their ideal future state?
  • In a few words, what is the core message of each slide?
  • Are the slides clear, concise and easy to follow?
  • Do the slides follow the RFP requirements?
  • Is the presentation focused on the client, their benefits and goals?s
  • Does the presentation help the client envision a partnership with your company?
  • Is the transition from one speaker to the next smooth?
  • Are there any distracting gestures or placeholder words?
  • Do presenters stay focused, concise and engaging?

Review feedback and refine your presentation. Practice a few more times, but don’t overdo it. You want to appear confident and prepared without becoming overly rehearsed or robotic.

Hopefully these tips help to refresh and revamp your presentation preparation practices and storytelling skills. So, the next time you’re called to make an oral presentation, you can set aside any hesitation and embrace the opportunity to tell a tale that connects, persuades and wins.

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