Orals is high stakes poker. Along with the written proposal, the Orals outcome results in winning contracts of many millions of dollars, or not.
The Orals presenters are typically Program Managers and technical experts who must demonstrate good speaking skills as well the confidence to deliver on the contract they hope to win.
As an Orals Coach for more than 20 years, I am often asked if one presenter or another has sufficient speaking skills to be on the orals team.
With the right coaching, almost any presenter can deliver on Orals Day with confidence
There are a few items that can negatively impact a presenter if not dealt with in a fundamental way. Two of them are Power and Accent.
Find Your Power
Most technical experts seldom make presentations that can win, or lose multi-million contracts. Most of their presentation experience has been in making presentations to inform — giving updates on projects, and the like.
“Mary” was one of those experts. She had no experience in Orals and was intimidated by the attention that internal managers were giving her as she prepared to deliver at Orals.
Management asked that I give her special attention.
Mary was shy but very good at her work. She knew she needed to do well at Orals. We got down to work.
I asked Mary “Who at the company did she think was an excellent presenter?” She mentioned the name of a woman, a corporate vice president I knew. I said simply, “How would she deliver this orals script?”
Mary paused and then became visibly changed. She stood taller and altered her face to a firm but friendly expression. She then began to speak in a voice I had not heard. It had new emphasis and more volume. Management was impressed.
She had reached a new level of power by emulating someone she admired. Mary was clear something had shifted in those moments.
And she never went back to the wimpy presenter she had been. The Orals went very well and the contract was secured.
Frequently some of the presenters on an Orals Team have English as a second language and have some level of accent. If their accent is so significant that it’s difficult to understand, I give them special attention. As we practice their portion of the Orals they may stumble over certain words (e.g. “methodology”). I change the word to one more speakable (“approach”).
We avoid long sentences. Make them into two short ones. If they add lots of paralanguage (“ah’s” and “ums”) keep them tightly scripted.
While the evaluators don’t expect professional orators in Orals, they do expect the presenters to be clear, concise, and connected. They need to come off as a team as well. Not a group of unrelated presenters who barely acknowledge each other.
Power and Accent are two of the challenges of working with technical experts who have little presentation experience. The other good news is that now that they delivered well in the Orals environment, they can never go back to their old ways.