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Architecture, Constructors, Facilities Management, Presentation Tips, Winning New Business

Q and A – your chance to lose new business

In the very early days of Grist we had a bidding presentation cut off by the client, “Times up!”, while the Bid Director was delivering the conclusion. Since then, we have never had a bad presentation.

Sounds impossible, but it’s true. Every single one has gone well. I promise.

But, Q&A is a different story, which is why we spend almost as much time preparing for Q&A as the presentation itself.

We have a very, very simple process to ensure that Q&A goes your way, and I apologise but I’m not going to tell you what it is. We know it works, but it is easy to copy.

Here I thought I would just try and scare the horses with the reasons why Q&A goes badly.

Q&A is not an exam

The first problem is with our perception of Q&A. When we are bidding for new work we write a bid document to which we devote huge amounts of effort and care. Bid documents are like exam papers. We are set a test and we try and get full marks.

But when we come to Q&A we can approach it in the same way. We see each question as an exam question. How can we get 5 out of 5 for this?

This leads to a specific mistake which we call Shooting the Question Dead.

This is where we get asked a question which is easy to answer, so bang! We kill it!

This can come in two flavours, dismissive, “That’s a dumb question and I will take the minimum amount of time to answer it” and exhaustive.  Exhaustive is where we over-deliver on an answer.

I hope you are asking how you can over-deliver on an answer, because this is subtle idea that deserves explanation. The first thing to say is we have witnessed it in real life. In that early presentation where our team were cut off, we were asked a technical question. One of the team spent 6 or 7 minutes nailing the answer.  He was really pleased he had demonstrated a deep knowledge of the subject. In the room, the questioner, when the answer finally finished, said, “Right” in a wide-eyed way. The official feedback from the session complained we were “too aggressive.”

Had the answer been written on an exam paper it probably would have been perfect. But this isn’t an exam. This is human beings talking to each other.

A presentation should always show the very best of you, but it is totally under your control. Q&A is where the client gets to find out what sort of people you are. If you just focus on the answers you will miss the point. Here, the medium is the message. You are the message. Are you nice? Are you easy to deal with? Are you listening? Are you open to our ideas?

The second fundamental problem with Q&A is that the brain has limited capacity.

It’s hard to be friendly while you’re thinking

When we think really hard the brain devotes its attention to that and shuts down the stuff it doesn’t think it needs.

When you are thinking really hard you are mostly blind and mostly deaf.

We saw this during a course the other day. There was a creaky floorboard just next to the screen.  The first speaker stood on it and during his entire piece the floorboard creaked every few seconds – loudly. Everyone in the room was acutely aware of it, except for one. The speaker never noticed.

The next person up avoided the floorboard, but the third did it again, and was alerted by the audience laughing, not the creaking.

Thinking consumes our brain’s capacity and when we are asked a difficult question we have to think really hard.

We use filming a lot in rehearsal because people can see what they are doing wrong and understanding is the path to getting it right.

But people are most shocked by how they look when they are thinking. One candidate stared at the floor for most of ten seconds in silence. He was horrified that he was so unaware of his surroundings.

So just at the moment when you are hoping to demonstrate that you are nice, positive, listening, collaborative people you go quiet and blank. Which frankly, looks weird.

Of course there are simple effective ways to prepare for Q&A that deliver on all the objectives. Being friendly, knowledgeable and collaborative. But, I’m sorry, to find out what they are you will have to call us.


We do really effective Q&A training – click the logo


About gristpresent

Presentation, Q&A and Engagement Coach. We help you win more business. Also BAFTA-winning film maker. See our new site www.grist.co.uk


One thought on “Q and A – your chance to lose new business

  1. this was helpful; thank you

    Posted by Evangelos Tzazopoulos | March 13, 2012, 9:29 pm

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