How to ace your interview presentation and get the job
Presentations are becoming an increasingly common part of the recruitment process, particularly for roles that require verbal communication skills. Marketing, sales, public relations and teaching are just some of the sectors that ask candidates to give a talk at interview. If you're asked to give a presentation, here are seven tips to impress.
1. Know what's expected of you
Find out as much as you can before the interview. Who will be in the audience? How long will you required to speak for? Will you be expected to host a Q&A session at the end, or field questions during your talk?
'Sometimes you'll be given a topic in advance, sometimes you will only be given this 30 minutes or so beforehand,' says John Lees, author of a wide range of career books including The Interview Expert: How to Get the Job You Want.
'The employer should also clearly inform you whether you are expected to use PowerPoint, and when your slides should be submitted.
'Ask if anything is unclear. The more you know, the better you can prepare – and the less nervous you're likely to be on the day.'
2. Rehearse against a stop watch
Think carefully about what you can realistically deliver in the time you have.
'Most candidates try to fit in too much,' warns John. 'You will probably spend between two to four minutes on each PowerPoint slide, so don't expect to get through more than four or five slides in a 10-minute presentation. You're likely to be stopped at the time limit, cutting out your closing points and denting your confidence.'
Rehearse in front of a mirror or video yourself on your smart phone. If your delivery style needs improvement, pick up some tips from Ted videos. Remember to time yourself!
3. Focus on your opening and ending
'When clients are planning presentations, I ask them to practise in front of me and pretend I'm an audience member,' says John. 'They usually start, "when I get there I will talk about…" which is always a worry. Vagueness means you have no plan at all.'
According to John, interviewers are likely to remember your opening and closing words more than anything else you say, so it's important to plan and rehearse the exact words you will use to start and end - and how you will link sections.
'Your closing comments are hugely important, so plan those first, thinking about what message you want to leave in the room.'
4. Use PowerPoint carefully
PowerPoint, used well, maintains audience attention. However, John warns against overcomplicating things.
'Average presenters apologise for missing slides or for not having enough time, get lost in written notes rather than directly addressing the interviewers, or run out of time.
'Don't over-complicate or over-deliver. A few good points made well, with illustrations, work better than something long and complex. Three or four bullet points per slide - plus one image - works well.'
John also has some advice for using handouts.
'Some people feel handouts add value and make them look professional, but they can lose interviewer attention. Tell people that background documents are available later.
'If you feel a handout is vital to explain something, find a better way of communicating: a story, an image, a diagram. Show it on screen and keep it as simple as possible. Bullet points should tempt, tease, or encapsulate.
'Keep attention on what you say rather than what you are showing; people listen harder when they need to unpack something. The worst PowerPoint presentations contain too much text which the presenter then reads off the screen. Less is much, much more.'
5. Demonstrate your suitability for the job
Hopefully, you've put together a presentation that shows off your knowledge – but have you persuaded the interviewer of your suitability as a candidate?
John says: 'A presentation is a great opportunity to reveal your understanding of the role. Show that you've analysed what the organisation is trying to achieve. Reveal connections between this and your background, and make practical recommendations where appropriate.'
'Think about the wider challenges faced by the organisation and its sector e.g. what are the technological trends, the new expectations of customers, or economic conditions. Show how you can help the organisation meet some of those wider challenges.
'Be confident in your capabilities – this is no time for modesty.As long as you back up your claims with examples then you will not be bragging – you will just be stating fact.'
6. Conquer your nerves
It's easy to feel intimated by the prospect of giving a presentation. Being prepared is the best ways to avoid nerves.
Sarah Archer, career coach and co-founder of CareerTree says: 'Check out the interview panel so they are "familiar" to you - LinkedIn is a great resource for this. You can see their career routes and interests, and this can help you to make small talk.
'Walk into the room confidently and greet the panel with a smile - it's a great way to start and helps you relax too. Don't forget to make eye contact frequently once you start speaking.'
Sarah suggests adopting a positive posture and using breathing techniques, such as those described by Dr Weil. 'Remember that nerves are useful and can help enhance your performance when managed well.'
7. Be entertaining
Finally, there's more to a good presentation than the quality of the content you deliver.
'Candidates often believe the process is mainly about showing how much they know. However the main reason employers want you to give a presentation is to see you in action. This isn't just a meeting - it's a screen test,' warns John.
As soon as you start talking, the audience is comparing your performance with the real role.
'They're thinking "how would my team react to this speaker?" or "would I feel confident putting this person in front of colleagues, clients, senior staff, or any other future audience."
'Don't underestimate the importance of being entertaining – which isn't about telling jokes (although well-pitched humour wins an audience over), but about concise enthusiasm.
'Audiences enjoy listening to people who know their stuff and speak with energy about the things that matter to them.'