Last blog I introduced part one of a three part series on the role of a Red Team. If you missed it, here’s Wikipedia’s definition for a Red Team – “an independent group that challenges an organization to improve its effectiveness”.  
In this blog I will further address the mandate of the Red Team as judges and coaches to help improve not only the content, but also the quality of presentations. In this missive I will provide some suggestions on how the Red Team can help create winning presentations that go beyond being good to having high impact and building personal connections with the prospective client.
Let’s assume your firm has an established reputation for being able to do the work, frankly that’s how you got short listed, and you are now meeting the prospective client and doing a great job demonstrating your technical skills. It’s essential to start generating a personal connection with those at the table. Don’t assume you’ll be “lucky” in building a relationship; rather create your luck by preparing in advance. This is where the Red Team can help the presenters work to build rapport and connect on a personal level.
The following is a summary of a project where I was part of the Red Team that coached a group preparing for an interview to construct a Community Center, which they ended up winning. The team included a Superintendent, Project Manager and Estimator. Once we got passed “yes, we can do the job and here’s why” portion of the mock interview, we cored down into how they could build strong personal connection with each member of the selection committee. We helped the team focus on the two key areas – thinking like the client and differentiation strategies.

Thinking like the Client

Our Red Team had a good understanding of what the client’s issues and concerns were because they had done their homework. We were able to take on the client’s mindset and ask questions that went beyond technical requirements and related to the values and concerns of the community. We probed to find out how the construction team would address issues such as safety concerns, traffic disruption and noise. Regarding safety, we knew that small children, especially boys, love the machines and equipment found on construction sites.  We wanted to know how they would address concerns of parents who would be bringing their children to an adjacent school during working hours. We asked them to discuss, in detail, how the site and surrounding area would be secure.

The Red Team questioning was fortuitous as one of the selection committee members asked a question about site safety. This is where the magic happened in the actual interview and a personal connection was made. Because we had prepared well, the Project Manager was able to answer by stating that he had children the same age as those who would be passing the site daily. He indicated that he would manage site safety in the same manner as if his children were attending the school and laid out a detailed summary of how safety issues would be addressed. His response resonated especially powerfully with one of the selection committee members as she had school age children and was reassured by his response and commitment.  
To be clear, the Red Team did not set him up to provide a slick or polished answer. By preparing and role playing in advance, he was able to be calm and comfortable, stay in the moment and respond in a sincere yet professional manner.
Differentiation Strategies
To demonstrate that the presentation team wasn’t just another firm claiming to be different, the Red Team worked with the presenters to strategically identify collective and individual talents, experience and examples as differentiators. The goal was to create confidence in the mind of the prospective client to see the construction team as being unique and innovative based on their past project experience. We had them address anticipated project issues and provide specifics on how they had previously innovated and found ways to improve the construction process, reduce costs, meet the schedule and improve quality. We also had them speak to how they would communicate candidly and respectfully to create an environment of trust which would be the basis for all decisions between the owners, designers, trades and various stakeholders. The Red Team also coached the presenters by asking them to:

  • Support responses to questions by the client, with specific illustrations, examples, testimonials and endorsements relating to past projects.
  • Whenever possible, highlight examples that demonstrate the skill, knowledge and talent of each team member. Make it personal – If you have done it, and can do it it’s not bragging. If you do not raise these differentiators throughout your presentation, the panel won’t know and your firm will be at a potential disadvantage.
  • Utilize their firm’s core values and mission statement to provide examples of how their culture and the manner in which they live their values will impact the client or project. This is often underestimated or discounted as being “soft and fluffy stuff” that doesn’t matter. I strongly disagree. Several years ago I was requested to review a proposal by an architectural group pursuing a project. After viewing the web sites of both firms and realizing they both placed an emphasis on core values and culture, I noted the absence of any reference to their values and how they related to those of the prospective client. In response to my suggestion they added a section specifically addressing where the corporate values aligned between the firms. The partner contacted me approximately one month later to advise me they had won the work and that the discussion on values had been an important component of the interview and a factor in the win.

Read my previous blog for more ideas.
Winning presentations require commitment and hard work. Practice with purpose and focus makes a big difference. Smart companies use Red Team sessions to work out the presentation kinks and gain valuable feedback from objective and sometimes tough yet supportive allies. Remember getting the technical portion of the meeting right is critical, however don’t discount the importance of developing skills relating to the soft or more qualitative aspects of the presentation and interview. Use Red teams as the personal and relationship building coaches they can be. You don’t get a second chance to make a good impression so make the first one count!