biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: preparing presentations & proposals

by Grace Bonney

today’s biz ladies post comes from clair holt, who recently shared a great guide to calculating your rate with us. in this post, clair will be sharing her expert tips for preparing presentations and proposals- something we all have to do at some point or another. if you’re like me and could always use a few pointers on making presentations more professional, be sure to click here (or click “read more” below) to read clair’s full article. thanks, clair!

CLICK HERE to read clair’s full article on presentations and proposals after the jump!

{Preparing Presentations & Proposals}

Maybe you’ve given hundreds of presentations or perhaps you’re on one of your first. The truth is that we can all give our presentation skills a shot in the arm no matter how skilled or seasoned we may be. Freshening up your skills and revisiting the basics can make a big difference.

It’s good to be a bit freaked by a presentation. A little stress can provide the much-needed gasoline to get your engine started – and that’s the essential point: get started. Getting started is the hardest part. Pick a point and go for it. I like to start with the exterior of a project. I spend some time creating a frame around my project and then I move on from there. Amazingly, if you’re able to establish a frame around your task, you’ll have a great deal of fun decorating the interior – so to speak – of your project.

Just like in your own space, the exterior has its own personality and the interior is where you get to showcase your personal sense of style. Things tend to work out best when the exterior (the frame) compliments the interior (the content). When you can achieve a harmonious direction in design and execution, you’re on your way to a presentation that has real legs.

Project Frame

The first part of establishing a container for your project is to seriously take stock of the task at hand. It’s a good idea to deconstruct your task a bit and break it down into smaller pieces. Start with these vital questions:

1. what is the focus
2. what is the goal
3. who is my audience
4. what is the ideal outcome
5. how much time do I have
6. what are my resources

After you have a good sense of what you’re trying to do, you’ll be able to clearly outline your project’s container. From here, you can springboard into your project’s content – the interior.

Content – the Insides

Presenters who have seamless interplay between style and information come across as natural, passionate, dynamic forces that are impossible to ignore. If you know your audience and you know your offerings can help them, the presentation becomes more of an invitation than a pitch. Do your best to connect with them and be relaxed. You’re in charge of the mood in the room. If you’re rooted in your sense of self, the audience will mirror your state of mind. Chances are that they’ll want to jump in and join you for a ride if you do it right. You can do them a big favor by telling them where you’re going to take them. Show them a road map and use simple language to emphasize the key points you plan on highlighting during your presentation.

By giving your audience a map, you help them understand how they need to listen. You’re giving them guideposts in advance. When you pass these ‘guideposts’ during your presentation, they’re ready for them; they’ve been on the lookout for those very things. You’ve helped them stay active during the presentation. When you make it to a guidepost, don’t gloss over it, but clearly point it out; allow your audience to savor it a bit.

For example, if you’re on a trip and you reach a scenic overlook along the way, you want to make sure that you have a chance to enjoy the very thing that you pulled over to see. From your end, as the presenter, you need make sure that your ‘scenic overlook’ is worth checking out. You either want to show them something they’ve never seen or perhaps – even better – show them a new way of experiencing the view. It’s important to remember that you are a guest in their day and it’s imperative that you respect their time as best you can. Don’t pull them over in the middle of their day to show them a mediocre vista. Show them that you’re a great guide and you’re thrilled that they’re with you. They’ll repay you with their attention and hopefully their business.

Taking the scenic outlook analogy into consideration, you want to clearly serve up your roadmap from the very beginning. Now, you want to foreshadow what’s to come, not spoil it. Give a loose outline but don’t give it all away. You want to keep the anticipation bubbling but not boiling.

In this sense, I’m speaking about aides like PowerPoints, handouts or outlines. You want them to listen to you, not to focus on a piece of paper. PowerPoints and the like can be really useful and they can be really lame. If you’re using technology, make sure there’s a bona fide reason to do so. We’ve all experienced presentations where the projector’s gone haywire or you don’t have the right adaptor or or or….It’s painful and hideous, and therefore, make sure you know how to stand on your own, sans technology. Besides, being resourceful and flexible are qualities that are always in high demand. Knowing what you’ll do in the event that something goes sideways, you’ll be calm, cool and prepared: bonus!

Regarding PowerPoints, I’ve learned a lot from researching the presentations of others. Take a look at some of the TED Conference talks and take a nod from some of those innovative and creative minds – they’ve got heaps to teach us. Break down the pros and cons of some of those presentations and see what you can incorporate in a natural way into your own work. As far as other aids go, make sure it’s a tool and not a crutch. Sometimes a handout says – which is passive – whereas you can show – which is active. You want them to pay attention to you and what you have to say rather than skipping ahead to the dessert course by reading it on the handout. If they’ve got a handout, they’re looking at that, not at you. If you feel like it’s absolutely necessary, I’ve found it’s best to avoid a handout with heaps of information or wait and give one out at the end – as a party favor.

Hitting Play

Making a big splash with your audience demands practice. You want your audience to have fun with you and see that you know what you’re doing – not just end up on the side of the pool all wet and frowny. Have fun, be enthusiastic and be well prepared when it’s time for you to hit play. By practicing, you give yourself a chance to harmonize with your style.

Sometimes it’s worth it to ask a pal for help and get them to play audience. If they’re comfortable (and you’re open to it), get them to give you feedback. Visualization is a really powerful tool, too. Go over the entire experience in your head: waking up, dressing, arriving, introducing and exchanging small talk beforehand, starting your talk, taking questions, wrapping up, outlining next steps, and thanking the audience. It may be seem silly to think about running through all of these steps in your head, but trust me, if you’ve practiced your talk, and visualized it being great, then when the actual time comes, it will be like visiting an old friend. You will have been there before and you will be relaxed and confident. That is one of the best ways to show respect for your audience’s time and resources: solid preparation.

When you wrap your talk, make sure that you outline a clear set of next steps. Offer up a quick outline of where you’ve been together, revisit those scenic outlooks once more and give your audience steps so that they can keep the journey active. Making an impression has to be intentional. Make sure you’ve ended on time, with solid, positive energy, and that you’ve left them with an easy way to take the next step with you.

Party Forms

In college, my roommate Amy would come to my room after we had been to a party. Together with our other two roommates, we would write out a ‘party form’ in which we’d go over the evening and break it down for our ‘ethnological’ purposes. We’d always end up cracking up laughing and got heaps of comedic mileage from our silly party forms.

Silly or not, breaking down your performance in a ‘party form’ is the best way to improve for the next time around. Take time after your presentation to do a post mortem on your experience. What went well? What fell flat? Sometimes a flop is the best crisis ever – it gives you the chance to improve and take a fresh crack at things. It can only get better, right?

Finally, make sure you follow up with your audience or organizer. Regardless if you got the job, won the pitch, hit it out of the park, or gave yourself a black eye, expressing gratitude is always the right thing to do. I’m a big fan of a handwritten note – I’m old-fashioned that way. In our electronic age, real mail is a welcome, unexpected delight. Do what fits your style. Make sure that you thank someone and follow up in a timely fashion. Even if you didn’t get the result you were hoping for, they’ll know you’re a class act and that’s never out of fashion.



Clair combines her passion for the modern entrepreneurial spirit, the exchange of creative ideas, and a sense of wild possibility in her business design consultancy. Her past experience includes work in the advertising and marketing industry on an international scale, and as a leadership and development consultant focusing on German-American business partnerships.

Many of Clair’s clients are creative entrepreneurs and other independent business people who “know they can do better but don’t know where to start.” She divides her time between her native Austin and Berlin and can be found after work either riding her bike armed with a fresh pretzel or on a very long walk listening to Ira Glass or Terry Gross. Clair founded Grid Impact in 2004.


Grid Impact is a consulting firm that helps you design and implement your next step in professional development. It is hard to make an impact without a well-crafted plan and we break down the process into the chunks necessary to execute your plan. Some call it irreverent organization. We call it business design. We like to take a creative approach to your most interesting problems. We create structure to help fortify your business and develop a clear set of steps to get you to your next breakthrough success. We are hardworking and curious. We listen. We support. We challenge.

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