Proposals and Pitches

Stimulate action!

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When you present a proposal or a pitch, you are trying to do more than simply inform – you are trying to persuade.

A proposal seeks to stimulate action or acceptance of an idea. Here are some examples: A company’s research and development chief proposes that top management authorize additional funding for a key project. An architect presents designs for a condominium complex. An advertising agency director proposes a new ad campaign to a prospective client. An insurance sales representative pitches the idea of a company-sponsored bowling team to the owner of a bowling alley.

In all of these cases, your speech must include sections designed to inform. It often involves a discussion on dollars spent versus gains made. And the gains may be high-tech in nature, such as an improved insulin pump for diabetics. For such situations, some technical information must be included. Yet, the objective of the presentation is to sell a product, a concept or a set of recommendations. By combining your technical expertise with the ability to present proposals that get positive results, you’ll generate many opportunities for visibility and career advancement.

Follow these four steps to prepare:

  • Determine your purpose.
  • Analyze your audience and determine its needs.
  • State your main message and support it.
  • Urge the audience to take definite action.

You must determine the effect you want your presentation to have on the audience. Are you selling a product or service? Recommending a course of action? Striving for agreement or approval? Be specific about what you want your proposal to accomplish.

Analyze your audience, and then create your main message to address their wants and needs. Be sure to translate the features of your product, service, idea or recommendation into audience benefits – and target the benefit to fit that audience. For example, if a company’s need is for a quality product with excellent durability, these are the qualities you would highlight as opposed to emphasizing cost savings.

Organizing your proposal
To organize your ideas into an effective proposal, use an approach developed in the field of journalism – the “inverted pyramid.” In the “inverted pyramid” format, the most important information is given in the first few paragraphs. As you present the pitch, the information becomes less and less crucial. This way, your presentation can be cut short, yet remain effective. This approach has other important benefits.

To make the most of these benefits, begin with your main message, followed by the supporting points and detailed data. If your listeners agree with your main message, the supporting material that follows it will reinforce their agreement. If they disagree, they will be focused on your viewpoint from the beginning, and your logic may win them over to your side. If you are allowed your fully-allotted time, make the most of it by ending with a call to action. Telling the audience what you want them to do may seem too aggressive, but it actually helps the audience to select a course of action.

Use visual aids
Effective visuals can illustrate and clarify your verbal message. On the other hand, poor or poorly presented visual aids can seriously damage your proposal and create a negative impression with the audience.

So, keep your visual aids clearly visible to each person in the audience. They must be simple, with each page or slide illustrating a single point.

Handling questions and answers
A question-and-answer period following your proposal or pitch benefits both you and your audience. It provides you with feedback indicating to what extent your listeners accept and agree with your proposal. It also lets you reinforce your message by addressing areas that concern the audience. And it benefits your listeners by giving them an opportunity to get clarification of ideas and data in your proposal.

Here are some tips for effectively dealing with audience questions:

  • Plan for them. Announce at the outset of your speech that you will entertain questions. Plan a smooth transition between the conclusion of your proposal and the question-and-answer portion of the presentation.
  • Anticipate questions. Try to anticipate the questions your audience will ask. One way is to rehearse your proposal before colleagues or friends and see what questions they have. This has an added benefit: It can indicate elements you’ve neglected to include in your proposal.
  • Clarify the question. Before attempting to answer a question, be sure you understand what the questioner wants. If necessary, rephrase it, asking if your interpretation is correct. If you don’t know the answer, admit it, but tell the questioner you will find out the answer later and contact him or her.
  • Don’t be defensive. Give your listeners the impression you welcome their questions and appreciate the opportunity to answer them. Your positive attitude can be the “icing on the cake” for a successful proposal.
  • Align your answer with your main message. Rather than blurting out the first response that comes to mind, mentally evaluate how you can answer the question in a way that supports what you’ve said in your proposal.
  • Disarm loaded questions. Occasionally a questioner may try to trip you with a loaded question—one based on false premises or irrelevant assumptions. Be polite, but don’t back down from your position. You can disarm the questioner by asking him or her to explain the question and share information.
  • Divert irrelevant questions. Don’t waste time on questions that are out of place, even if you know the answers. Politely ask the person how the question bears on the proposal.
  • Divide complex questions. If a questioner hits you with a multifaceted question, split it into components before answering it. This helps you, as well as other listeners.
  • Summarize. Watch your allotted time. Before it expires, conclude by briefly summarizing your proposal. This way, you can control (and prepare for) the way your presentation ends. This is the final impression you leave on your audience, so make it positive and upbeat.

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