Walking into a room full of agency reviewers who have the power to decide the fate of your IT proposal takes courage. You already know you're among the select few who have advanced this far, and therefore, your proposal is being considered carefully. But now you must conduct an oral presentation that demonstrates the same level of commitment that, so far, has propelled you forward in the selection process.

It's not enough to be excited about your project; you want the reviewers to share your enthusiasm by the time you finish your presentation. However, the questions still remain: How do you stand out from the competition and win the favor of the reviewers? And how can you possibly anticipate what the reviewers will expect of you during the oral presentation phase?

These tips may help.

Communication is Key
As the assistant city manager and interim IT director/CIO of Des Moines, Iowa, Mike Matthes reviews IT projects on an ongoing basis. They key, he says, is to communicate well.  "You have got to think through exactly what the points are that you are trying to make." 

In his role as interim IT director, he's reviewed about five proposals per month submitted by a combination of outside vendors and internal staff members. Based on those experiences, Matthes said he believes that respondents must be able to answer clearly the following questions when they step foot into the interview room: "Why is this proposal a good one?" and "What problems does it solve?"

It may sound easy, but when you're trying to appeal to more than one reviewer, how do you know what points to emphasize in your oral presentation?

Matthes suggests one of your main priorities should be to demonstrate that you have the support of everyone who has made a commitment to the project. For example, if he interviews a firm that has responded to an RFP, then he wants everyone involved in the project on the telephone line.

"I may ask them one question in half an hour, but you must demonstrate that you can do the project," he said. "And that means I want to see the horsepower you have."

Other basic do's and don'ts that Matthes suggests include the following:
Avoid using buzzwords that may cause the reviewers' eyes to glaze over, such as "collaboration," "interface," "critical mass," and "business intelligence." Also eliminate any type of sales jargon that might turn off the reviewers.

Don't present a manifesto. Give a brief summation of your key selling points and use bullet points to highlight essential information.

When explaining central ideas, use metaphors that reviewers can easily understand.

Limit your presentation to 15 minutes. However, do not use up valuable time by reading slides or other printed materials that are also being passed out to the reviewers.

If you must include a PowerPoint presentation, limit the number of slides to 10, and only use two bullet points per slide. Then, if possible, use schematics or other graphic illustrations to highlight your main ideas.

Restrict the length of handouts to one page.

Sometimes the emphasis of an IT project isn't necessarily to add capability, he said, as much as it is to maintain the capabilities that an organization or agency already has. That can definitely be a tough sell. "That is why I have to trust you. If you are asking me for a lot of money, I have to trust that you are going to deliver."

In essence, applicants must be both truthful and accurate in the presentation, and not misrepresent their capabilities or abilities, said Bill Beveridge, director of Colorado's Unemployment Insurance Operations. By initiating the review

Suzane Bricker  |  Contributing Writer
Suzane Bricker has extensive experience as a grant writer for educational institutions and social services agencies, and has secured funding for her own nonprofit organization in south Florida. She has a master's degree in mass communication with a minor emphasis in science writing.