Q&A – Your presentation went well, now it’s your chance to throw it all away

We have been involved in hundreds and hundreds of presentations. We have completely lost track of how many. Most of them were in bidding. We were selling, usually construction, FM or design services. Nearly all were contracts worth £5 million plus. The record was £1.4 billion pounds.


So, if we are involved you can be pretty confident the presentation will go great, so we spend as much time worrying about the Q&A. If you’ve been Gristed you will know about PAM. We observed many Q&A sessions in live bids and we came to some simple conclusions. We tend to do 3 things wrong in Q&A.

1. We are too serious.

If you are asked a tough question you have to think very hard. Since you are swamping all the cognitive parts of your brain answering the question your brain turns off the bits it can do without, like vision and hearing. This may come as surprise to you but the harder you think the less you see and hear. You also lose a lot of self awareness. After all, you’re blind and deaf so you are blind to how you are being perceived.

We filmed a very bright man answering a really tough question. He was horrified at what he saw. After hearing the tough question he appeared to stare at the floor in silence (blind) for nearly ten seconds. Try it next time you are asked a question – I guarantee the questioner will be annoyed and think you are weird.

He then slowly and haltingly answered the question (very well by the way) while still staring at the floor.

He had no idea what he was doing until confronted by video evidence

2. We think it’s an exam

We all know what the task is. They ask a question, we want 5 marks out of 5. Wrong. Wrong Wrong.

This is not a written test. This is a conversation between two people. A dialogue. Think how exhausting it would be if we approached normal conversation like many of us approach Q&A.

This is a nice view isn’t it?  Yes. I have made a study of views and this is in the top quartile of available views in this country. 

But a dialogue is a subtle give-take process where we reach a conclusion together.

Can you lower your price? Of course we can, by the two of us really getting into the detail of what you must have and what you would like to have. Tell me…

3. We forget we’re selling

Can you lower your price? Yes.

That’s a great response isn’t it? Yes. Can’t do better than that? Well yes you can.

We have decided in the preparation the key messages we want the client to hear. These messages are the reasons they will choose us. And reducing the price probably is one of them. But there are more messages behind that ‘yes’.

Yes we can lower the price, because we have used our unique experience of jobs with similarities to this one to analyse your programme and discover real time and budget savings.

So now we remind them of our experience and remind them of all the work we have done to make their job more efficient and cheaper.

These are our key messages and every question in Q&A is an opportunity to repeat them.

So what should you do? Back to PAM.

P = Positive. Every question should get a positive response. This does two things – puts a positive mood on the exchange, and makes you behave positively. if you think my advice is worth anything then follow this mantra: Every time someone asks me a question I will nod. Nodding says, Yes, I like your question. Yes, its a good question to ask. Yes, I’m going to be easy to deal with in the future. Yes, I’m a nice person.

A = Answer the question. We do want to get the marks for answering the question right. But this is less important than you may think.

M – Messages. Every question is an opportunity to repeat you key messages. The key messages are what win you the work. So if you don’t repeat them, how will they know what they are?