Effective Graphics for Your Proposals

Show, Don’t Tell: Effective Proposal Graphics

While there is more to winning your next proposal than good visual communication, graphics, when used properly support your message with both facts and emotion and can be a powerful persuasion tool. Research done on the topic of retention, shows that evaluators will remember twice as much of what they see in a graphic as what they read in text. Additionally, when they both see and read the same point they recall it six times as much. High-level evaluators often only have time to skim proposals, and are looking for the answers to their questions in graphics, captions, headings and highlight statements. Proposal evaluators are human and because they are affected by time constraints, incomplete information, the inability to calculate consequences and other variables; they often make decisions based on their intuitive judgment and what they initially see. Effective proposal graphics leave an overall positive impression and make it easy for evaluators to find detailed answers to their questions.

How to ensure graphics enhance my messaging?

Begin with a cohesive plan and develop the graphics before you begin writing the text. Preparing graphics before the text is written can often cut writing time by one-third. Once an effective graphic is in place writers typically find that they have much less text to produce. The final size of the graphic, as it will appear in the proposal, should be decided before the graphic is created so that it can be designed proportionately and eliminate last minute problems including pixilation, or unreadable text that can arise when resizing later.

Use graphics that demonstrate an understanding of your customer’s needs, emphasize your strategy, and highlight your unique discriminators. Visualize what is possible if your solution is awarded and the benefits your company can offer. All imagery should be customer focused and fully support your message. When designing graphics, focus on what your audience wants to know, rather than what you want to express about your company. All visual elements should have a specific role and a reason for being incorporated. Use images that convey important information and avoid using graphics just to break up large blocks of text. A proposal loses its validity when paired with an inappropriate graphic. Proposal evaluators have been known to consider the use of canned clip art, insulting and say that it shows that the respondent is obviously not invested in winning the work. When an evaluator is quickly scanning your proposal, the graphics should answer one of their central questions or illustrate a process that will be of great benefit to their organization.

How to decide what graphics to use?

Select the type of graphic that best supports your message. Side-by-side comparisons are an effective way to highlight the benefits that set your company apart from other proposers. Use a graphic to show a complex process next to a simplified process, an old product beside your new product or side-by-side graphs, bar or pie charts to illustrate how your proposed solution makes the most sense for your evaluator’s problem.

Choose or create graphics that are understandable and appropriate for all evaluators, including non-technical ones. Begin each section with a clear and concise summary that is broadly understandable and then increase the technical complexity of both graphics and text to fulfill your more technical readers. Each visual element should be labeled directly to avoid confusion. When selling complex technologies and services, illustrations can help your customer visualize what to expect. This is often more effective than expressing your method in dense text. Whenever possible, use recognizable images that the reader will relate to immediately or identify and explain any unknown imagery. Few customers will give more than ten seconds of attention to a complex graphic before they have given up and turn the page. To make sure your graphic is fully digested by the reader, create an image that is easy to interpret and attracts them in less than ten seconds.

Keep all of your graphics simple, uncluttered and easy to read. Only depict one key idea per graphic. Focus on the most important questions your audience is looking to answer. If a concept is too complex or verbose, it is better to use a series of graphics that explain your point rather than overwhelming your reader. Avoid a large amount of text within a graphic because it distracts your reader and creates unnecessary visual noise that interferes with the objective of your graphic. Whenever possible avoid the use of legends. Legends add clutter and force the audience to spend valuable time decoding your message.

Evaluators of proposals have often said they look for graphics and tables in a proposal first. If they find the answer through these items, they do not bother to read the text. Even if competitors have the same proposal message, the message coupled with a graphic will appear superior because it is being explained in more than one way and has the added benefit of being vividly remembered by the reader. As long as the graphics being used in your proposal are professional, clear and uncluttered as well as relevant and supportive in conveying your message, they will enhance you proposed solution and show, not just tell, your evaluators why your company is the answer they have been looking for.

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