Want to close more deals? Start by polishing your presentation skills 

Oct. 11, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by TSP.

There’s a reason events such as TED Talks, 1 Million Cups and PechaKucha Nights draw audiences around the world: The speaker — even more so than the topic — makes the presentation memorable. 

That’s why local legacy firm TSP Inc. is polishing its skills with help from  Parallel Partners, a consulting group based in Northfield, Minn. Parallel Partners is collaborating with TSP’s  architects, engineers and planners to fine-tune the team’s approach to interviews in the short-listing stage of the “get-work” process. 

“The more people in an organization who become better communicators, the better it is for the company and the stronger the entire organization becomes,” said co-owner Pat Johns of Parallel Partners.  

His wife, Pam, who makes up the other half of the consulting team, agrees. She puts a finer point on it: “You need to get good at being persuasive and projecting confidence. If you show your expertise, you’ll have a 10-times return over just telling them you know what you’re doing.” 

Here are a few best practices you can put to work in your business or organization — along with practical examples that show how TSP’s people are applying them to create connections with clients and potential new audiences. 

Put the listener’s needs first 

Knowing your material inside and out isn’t enough. You also need to know your audience — or at least develop an idea of a few personas likely to be in the room. Think about how your topic applies to their work or personal needs. Then, brainstorm a list of reasonable questions they might have. Expand on that problem/solution setup, and you’ll have the beginnings of an outline. Be intentional: Frame your message points before you select relevant stories or visuals to illustrate your concepts, and make certain your content truly delivers on the promise of its title. 

Kelli Osterloo, a TSP electrical engineer, kept those factors in mind as she worked up a presentation for a statewide conference of facilities administrators. She knew some attendees would come to her session with no background on circadian lighting — automated systems that mimic the sun’s intensity and color hue as it moves across the sky. 

“I opened with something that relates to daily life, not just our industry,” Osterloo said. “I talked about why experts say you shouldn’t watch TV before bed and then moved into a brief overview of the science. From there, I walked into how it affects the audience and could be used in their buildings.” 

Refine your topic  

Allison Dvorak is passionate about sustainability and design for people of all abilities, particularly those with autism. The TSP architect has pursued those dual interests through independent research that has earned her a breadth of knowledge on complex, nuanced subjects. 

“I presented a paper to architectural theorists at the University of Manitoba, so I had to base that talk on the actions taken to incorporate these concepts,” Dvorak said.

“I’ve presented in PechaKucha, a quick-hit slide show that gets right to the point. When you are building up content and images all along, it helps because you can adjust and divide it up in different ways.” 

Tip: Don’t forget to collect images as you’re building up the language for your content library. 

In May, Dvorak co-presented a session at the Rocky Mountain Green in Denver with two other professionals — including one she’d never met in person before the event week. The group planned ahead by creating a PowerPoint template, agreeing on the points they wanted to cover and assigning a time limit proportionate to the natural divisions they found for each speaker. The trio later brought the presentation back home for the AIA South Dakota convention in mid-September. 

Think beyond traditional formats 

Intimidated by the thought of public speaking? Consider other ways to share your message. If it’s only large groups that elevate your heart rate, bring your audience to you in small batches. Immersing them in your office environment or project site engages them in a way that can’t be matched in a convention hall. Get them behind the scenes to learn about your processes and take away something about you as well as the work itself. 

Tip: Engage your audience by taking them behind the scenes with you. 

Greg Schoer, an architect with TSP, has used the tour format to host various groups at the firm’s office and to showcase a signature project. As a lead-up to the grand opening of the Alumni Center on the South Dakota State University campus in Brookings, Schoer co-led a tour for fellow AIA South Dakota members. He reprised that role with back-to-back, 90-minute tours for two groups of SDSU students. Limiting each tour to roughly 20 people assured everyone could hear the information, see firsthand the concepts embedded in the work and ask questions before moving to a different area within the building. 

“I always want to make sure it’s visually memorable for the audience,” said Schoer, who offers a few ideas for professionals whose fields don’t align quite so well with the touring approach. “Is there a video you can embed in a PowerPoint slideshow or an activity you do? You also could bring an object as a prop or a conversation piece.” 

Practice — and then do it again 

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Bad rehearsal, good performance?” Don’t believe it. Ditto for the school of thought that worries a well-practiced interview will come off as too impersonal.  

That’s particularly true when presenting as part of a group, as Dvorak did. In that case, team members held intensive, in-person rehearsals on-site as they arrived in Denver from Sioux Falls and Omaha. In contrast, solo presenter Osterloo took advantage of her 20-minute workday commute to practice aloud in her car. As the event drew near, she rehearsed and fielded questions from two stand-in audiences: her co-workers at TSP’s Rapid City office and her husband, who also is an engineer. 

Tip: If possible, scope out the venue early — while you’re planning which types of visual aids will best convey your message. Get a feel for the room’s setup and sight lines. 

Each team member’s role should be clearly assigned. Think through any equipment or collateral materials needed, making certain to communicate early with marketing or IT support staff. And don’t forget to walk through the logistics and mechanics ahead of time: Who will stand or sit? Where will you place visuals or handouts? Who will choreograph the flow of conversation? 

Understand the potential 

As a professional, you know sharing your knowledge can help establish you as an expert in a specialized field. A potential client who feels comfortable asking questions already has decided you’re a credible voice.  

It’s a first step toward building trust-based relationships. Those partnerships sustain organizations such as TSP, which has been part of the Sioux Falls business community for nearly 90 years. Highlighting smooth communications in the interview phase gives clients a glimpse of what they’ll experience throughout planning and design workshops. 

“About 75 to 80 percent of this is the knowledge base we bring to projects. The last 20 to 25 percent is where the creativity comes in,” CEO Jared Nesje said of interview prep.

“We know what we do, and we do it well. Now, we’re showing how we connect with people in a way that makes new clients, especially, want to work with us.” 


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Want to close more deals? Start by polishing your presentation skills 

Giving presentations might not be your favorite part of your job, but it’s a key to winning business. TSP shares some great tips on how to build your skills.

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