I recently read surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande’s bestseller “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.” It’s about the amazing power of simple checklists. For example, a five-step checklist saved 1,500 lives and $200 million by reducing infections in Michigan hospitals.

The first step on that checklist was that the doctor must remember to wash his or her hands.

That got me to thinking about putting together a checklist for winning new business presentations.

Checkpoint 1: Before the presentation, speak to the client.

I worked with an architecture firm that was shortlisted for the chance to design a corporate headquarters. They had no idea what motivated the project. I told them that without more information about the client’s needs, you have almost no chance of winning.

Checkpoint 2: Present solutions only.

If it doesn’t bear on your plans to solve the client’s problems, dump it. If you’re up for a chance to represent a big company in bankruptcy, talk only about how you’re going to address the key challenges the company will face.

When you introduce the team, don’t tell where they went to school. How does someone’s attendance at Harvard help win a lawsuit? Tell how they will contribute to resolving the prospect’s key challenges. “We have Janet on our team because we see discovery as a huge issue in this case. She is an expert at managing discovery in complex cases.”

Will your firm’s fascinating history help solve the client’s problem? No? Then dump it. No one cares.

Checkpoint 3: Start by Articulating the client’s business problem.

First words out of your mouth? How about “We understand that the key challenge you’re going to face in this matter is how to limit liability while at the same time training your existing employees how to comply with current law.” Don’t know what their key challenge is? Either see checkpoint 1, or save everyone time and stay home.

Checkpoint 4: Limit your message to a few key points.

Leonard DaVinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Limit your message to three points and you seem both sophisticated and easy to work with. You might say, “We’re going to talk about three things today:

  • Our assessment of your liability
  • Our plan for the litigation.
  • Our plan to train your employees to avoid future liability.

You want people leaving the presentation thinking, “Wow, they were easy to understand.”

Checkpoint 5: Tell success stories.

One of the easiest ways to build credibility for a solution is to tell how the solution has worked elsewhere. “We used this same approach for the lawsuit that we won last year against the Justice Department. Here’s what we did there . . .”

Checkpoint 6: Create a list of 50 questions.

Fumble just one question and you’re toast. So be prepared. I recently worked with a construction firm as they prepared a pitch for a large hospital construction job. I urged them to send an email to their entire firm asking for suggested questions. They received 150 questions and weren’t surprised by a single question.

Of course, you need to practice answering the questions.

Checkpoint 7: Rehearse.

I asked a program manager who watches dozens of presentations what he thinks separates one firm from another in a competitive pitch. “One easy separator is practice. It’s easy to tell who has practiced and who hasn’t.”

Checking off these seven points may not save lives. But it may help put your kids through college.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, speech@speechworks.net or on the web at www.speechworks.net

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