Fran Pruyn is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at CRSA. She is also a theatre director with decades years of experience. She has coached hundreds proposal interviews, we stopped counting.
“We won it in the Q&A.”
Yep, you can score big with a selection committee during the question and answer period and be awarded a project. You can also go down in flames, when one member says just the wrong thing.
So yes, we rehearse and rehearse and rehearse a presentation only to mess it up in the Q&A. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
People ask questions that they already have answers to. The challenge is not just answering the question intelligently, but also providing the answer the questioner wants to hear. That means doing some homework about the project and the committee members.
EXAMPLE: Is there enough money in the budget?
Actually probably not, or they wouldn’t be asking the question, but what are they really asking? Do they just want you to say yes, so they can hold you to it? Do they think that you might want to “design the Taj Majal” and you don’t understand their need to be frugal? Or do they think there really isn’t enough money in the budget and want to get validation in front of their colleagues? The best answer is specific, “The Utah average cost for this building type is $____. Your budget is $____; that will make it tight, and we will have to set priorities.”
Try not to over-answer questions. Start with a one-word answer that summarizes your position. After that, you can explain your answer, but get to the point, don’t show off. Sometimes the answer is yes or no. Say that first. This does mean you must have thought of an answer in advance. Try not to think and talk at the same time.
EXAMPLE: What is the biggest risk in this project?
Again, what does the person asking the question think is the biggest risk in the project? Is it budget, schedule, or lack of communication? It is typically one of those three things, or things like bad soils, shortage of labor or a huge steering committee that will impact the budget, schedule, or communication. Have a plan you can explain in one sentence on how to mitigate that risk.
EXAMPLE: Why didn’t you include the construction period on your design schedule?
Because it is a design schedule? Because it is not a design-build or CM/GC project? True, but what do you actually say? This is a trick question. Either you will make them feel bad, or you will come off looking stupid: “Oh, we misunderstood what you wanted…We don’t know how long the contractor will take, we haven’t talked to one…Well it’s the time between when we finish and the time you want to get in…” Hopefully no one asks this question.
Assign questions to be answered by one person! Then let that person answer the question, don’t pile on. The only exception is if the person answering the question misunderstood it. Then redirect the question back to the person asking the question, “Mr. Client did you want to know if the budget is realistic, or how we are going to keep within the budget?” Once the question has been clarified, let the assigned person re-answer the question.
Stay on point. It is easy to go down dirt roads when you start talking about subjects that are complex, or about which you know a lot. Answer the question; don’t school the client.
There is no foolproof way to be prepared for every question that a prospective client can throw at you. Still, you need to be prepared with a short answer to every question you can imagine.
The Q&A period is where you build trust with your client, and make them think you are someone that will take care of their money, their job, their business, and their dream. Be direct, be sincere, be honest, and be disciplined, disciplined, disciplined.