Project Management Institute

Not-so-modest proposals


To win work in this competitive business environment, a project professional’s presentations must fly above the crowd. Here are some techniques to help you become as skilled at speeches as you are managing projects:

Differentiate or Die

Put yourself in the decision-makers’ shoes. They might have five or 10 organizations vying for the same business, and the last thing they want to do is have to sit though another insufferably bland PowerPoint deck.

If you come into a meeting primed to parrot a canned presentation, you’re setting yourself up for a crash landing. Clients can smell boilerplate presentations a mile away. Worse yet, if your proposal looks and sounds just like all the other short-listed competitors, you are giving the decision-maker justification to choose the one with the lowest price tag.

A powerfully unique presentation, on the other hand, can rocket you to the front of the line.

Build the Relationship

You can have a great proposal, but not knowing your audience personally puts you at a distinct disadvantage. After all, this is a relationship business.

Before the meeting (or, better yet, first telephone call), do some sleuthing to figure out:

  • Who is going to participate in the meeting?
  • What’s their background?
  • What’s their area of expertise?
  • What can you find out on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and other social networking sites?
  • What honors or awards have they earned recently?
  • What is the latest news about the organization?

When you meet, aim to build a partnership rather than just pitching the project. Talk, ask questions, clarify needs. And be sure to listen. Are there underlying concerns? Politics? Past successes? Failures?

In the process, you will find another advantage to this relationship-building process. It will calm you down during the presentation.

Now, with the groundwork set, it’s showtime.

Get Physical

Movement helps dissipate nervousness and makes you appear more in charge. Even if everyone customarily remains seated, consider getting out of your chair to make an important point.

As you walk the room, you become more interesting. Why is this powerful? Because so few people actually do it!

Project Your Passion

A sure way to sabotage your carefully crafted presentation is to appear bored. This happens when you are so familiar with the subject that you go on autopilot. You may not be aware of the lackluster impression you’re giving everyone, but it registers just the same.

Become more authentic during your presentation by subtly integrating your greatest joy, passion or hobby into your message.

One normally quiet project manager we worked with had a passion for race cars. During his presentation, he prefaced his opening remarks with a brief but colorful description of the “ultimate driving machine.” He effectively sucked any lethargy from the room when he ingeniously segued how his company would guarantee the same precision and dependability to the client’s upcoming project.

Perform Risk Management

The threat of a foul-up hangs over every presentation. To prepare for the unexpected, take time to map out and anticipate an alternative game plan for any glitch that may arise.

For example, suppose your projector suddenly smokes, sputters and quits. Now what? Have a scenario thought out in advance. Put on a poker face and praise the fact that bullet points will harm no one today. Then continue the show.

To avoid getting blindsided during a tough Q&A, practice your answers to potentially troublesome questions beforehand. Consider a seamless hand-off to another team member or branch to similar topics to buy time to think.

Visualize yourself giving the best project presentation of your life, handling sticky situations with aplomb.

When i’m not helping project managers hone their speaking skills, I work as a flight instructor. Visualization works in high-stakes airline training. It will work for you as well. PM


John Tillison is a speaker and corporate trainer at his consultancy John Tillison Productions in Sacramento, California, USA. He coaches engineers and project managers how to win work though more effective presentation techniques.

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