Why should a good proposal presentation be so closely linked with a fundamentally good proposal?

I recently sat through a review of research proposals, and there was a pretty close correlation between good presentations and good scores from the committee. This led to a spirited discussion after the review – would more presentation training have resulted in better scores from other proposals?  Half the group, including me, thought that good ideas may have failed to get their full airing because of gaps in presentation skill.  But other reviewers were dismissive of that. “If these people can’t present their proposals well, then they couldn’t manage the project either.  The idea probably isn’t useful. We shouldn’t train them, because they should be doing other things”.

Who is right?

I have to admit to being sympathetic to the Darwinian approach.  If you don’t take the time to find out how to handle a key proposal opportunity, you deserve to fail.  Talk to people who have been there, and listen to their advice.  Read a good book or two on presentations – my favorite is Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. Read my post on The Five Slides You Need. Test your presentation on your colleagues, and even on the reviewers themselves.  Many organizations are much more interested in having good proposals, than in having some arbitrary separation between the presenter and reviewer.  Ask if you can talk to them ahead of time.

But ultimately the link between good presentations and good proposals goes much deeper than the 10 minutes of screen time. A good proposal has structure – there is a need, there is a way to fill that need, there is a program for executing the work.  And guess what – a good presentation follows the same format.  If you have trained yourself to think about either one, the other comes along with it.  One of the real values of good presentation skill preparation is that it trains you to think clearly about your message.  That results in a good proposal, and a good presentation.

So please take the time to develop your presentation skills.  Even in an audience closely attuned to your science, it is respectful of their time to do the best job possible presenting your idea.  For the non-experts on the committee, your good presentation skills will help them understand the importance of your work.  And for yourself, structuring a good proposal pitch helps you establish the fundamentals of a good proposal itself.