(hint: it is completely different to presenting anywhere else!)
So…you may have given loads of presentations before, to clients, customers, potential investors, colleagues or lecture theatres. You may even have made a wedding speech or two. You may have a natural charisma and engaging personality and feel perfectly comfortable standing up in front of an audience. Or, on the opposite end of the scale, you may feel utterly terrified of public speaking and would only agree to it if you were able to read from a script, whilst hoping for the ground to swallow you whole....
Wherever you sit between these two camps, when it comes to giving a presentation in an interview situation, it can be totally different to anything you have ever done before.
Many interview processes nowadays, even for contract roles, incorporate some kind of presentation. Personally, I think they can sometimes be a box-ticking exercise that takes a lot of time and ultimately achieves very little, but that is a separate issue. The reality is that, as you progress to each next phase of a career, you will most likely encounter a presentation at some point. If you are asked to prepare one, then the chances are that you have already done very well to get to this point – congratulations! But before you begin putting pen to paper and pretty pictures to Powerpoint, you owe it to yourself to take a step back and consider a few things first.
First and foremost, you must remember that a presentation in an interview is very different to giving a presentation elsewhere. The ultimate purpose is not to sell a service or educate others, but to result in you getting a job. You need to consider what it is that the interviewers will be evaluating. Perhaps the prospective employer wants to judge:
- Your ability to prepare a piece of work to a specific brief
- Your ability to follow specific instructions (e.g. sticking to a 10 or 15-minute time limit)
- Your confidence in communicating to a group of potential colleagues
- How well you cope and react under pressure
- A different perspective of your personality
- Your technical expertise and experience
It is most likely to be a combination of all of these points; but you can bet your life that the interviewers are just as interested in the process you went through to make the presentation as they are in the presentation itself.
If you are working with a Recruiter, hopefully they will be able to give some helpful pointers based on their experience with the company. Whatever the motivations for you being ask to give a presentation, this part is usually towards the end of the recruitment process and will certainly be a major deciding factor in you being successfully offered a role. If you routinely give presentations in your current role, do consider the contrasting context of a job selection scenario versus presenting a product, service, or management report in a non-interview situation. It is easy to treat this like any other presentation, but a presentation in an interview is a very different and unique thing.
It will help you to consider the following points before you begin:
1) What is it that has got you this far in the interview process?
Presumably things are going well. If you are applying through a Recruiter, what sort of feedback have they been able to obtain so far from the hiring managers? Is it your specialist knowledge of a particular subject? Your sales figures? Your writing style? Your ability to explain complex concepts to people with less knowledge than you? Whatever the answer, if you can bear this in mind when creating your presentation it will help to reinforce to the hiring managers why they should employ you.
2) Why do you think you are you being asked to give a presentation?
Will you be required to give presentations in the actual job? If so, they will be wondering how well you will do in front of a client. If not, what other reasons can you think of?
3) Do the interviewers know more about the subject matter than you, or less?
Hopefully you will know some things that the managers do not know, and this will be one of the reasons to hire you. If so, how can you present your material in a way that they can understand? Conversely, if you are presenting to people who clearly know a lot more about the subject matter than you, you will want to pitch it at a higher level overall. Or, the audience could be a mixture of different people, in which case you need to think about how you can engage every person in the room.
4) What is the message you want to convey?
What exactly is the presentation title? Some titles can be incredibly (and deliberately) vague, whereas others might have a much narrower scope.
5) How long does it need to be (in number of slides or time)?
If you have been told you have 15 minutes, then you need to aim for around 10 minutes for the presentation (12 maximum), leaving some extra time for potential questions, discussions, distractions or digressions. You are not just being judged on the presentation’s content but how you have gone about designing it to a specific brief.
6) Do you want people to interrupt you, or leave their questions to the end?
This is an important point that is often overlooked – more on this below!
Now you have considered the above points, it is time to begin!
Firstly you will need some key information in order to prepare your presentation. This should be the subject matter and/or title, the medium you are required to use (usually PowerPoint; but if you use other software you need to make sure this will be compatible with the company’s system unless you are allowed to use your own laptop), time constraints for the presentation and the number of people who will be present.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules as to how your slides should look and what they should contain, the following guidelines are worth considering.
• Before starting to develop your slides, ensure you fully understand the subject matter and decide what it is you are going to present. It is worth taking time to consider if you are fully addressing what you have been asked. Usually it is a good idea to write down an overview of what you are considering presenting and develop this into a “story”, with logical steps that can be readily broken down into individual slides. If your presentation is technical, ensure that you have fully researched the facts that you are going to communicate, and that you can quote your sources.
• Once you have a clear idea of what you are going to present, decide on an overall theme for your slides that will make them aesthetically pleasing and easily visible. A dark background with light text is often the most visible, as is a sans serif font such as Arial or Helvetica (Times New Roman, whilst being the default, is often hard to read from a distance). A general rule is “keep it simple” and avoid mixing too many colours and fonts or styles L!
• Start with an introduction slide displaying the subject title, your name, the company name you are presenting to and the date you will be giving the presentation. The company logo in place of the company name can have a positive impact. You could even consider basing your colour scheme around the company’s branding, if you think this would be appropriate.
• Give each subsequent slide a simple, relevant title and make sure you use the same font, size and capitalisation on each slide. It is usually best for each title to be bold and Capitalised Like This.
• Avoid long sentences! Use bullet points with short phrases. Your slides should guide the audience through your story and be your prompts for what you are going to say. If you write lots of long sentences / paragraphs, this will generally lead to you simply reading the slides aloud - and the audience is quite capable of doing this for themselves!
• Avoid cramming too many points on a single slide. If you can barely fit all of your points on a single slide then it contains too much material. Leaving some blank space on the slide is important in making it accessible to the audience. An often-quoted guideline to measure against is the 6 x 7 rule: 6 lines per slide, 7 words per line.
• Graphics, pictures and animations can be effective; but be very selective as they can be a distraction if used incorrectly. Consider what kind of impression you want to make.
• Finish the presentation with a final slide thanking the audience for their attention and inviting any questions. A large question mark will not look out of place. This slide enables you to bring your presentation to a logical conclusion and will speak for itself.
• Finally, check your spelling and proofread for grammatical and punctuation errors, as well as reviewing your slides to ensure consistency of fonts, font sizes, spacing and colours.
PRACTISING THE DELIVERY
Once you have fully researched your subject and developed your slides, there are now a number of steps you can take to develop and perfect your delivery. Firstly, ensure you know what you want to say against each bullet point and make notes if necessary. It is a great idea to practice running through your slides as many times as possible using (tolerant and not too indulgent) family or friends as an audience. Very importantly, you should time the presentation and ensure you are strictly adhering to any time constraints.
It is always a good idea to take along handouts in the form of prints of your slides. This shows preparation and can be a useful tool when giving the presentation. Do ensure you take along enough copies so each member of the audience receives one.
Finally, make sure you forward a copy of the finalised presentation to the Recruiter (or the hiring manager if you are applying directly) in plenty of time before your interview. It can then be virus-vetted and set up ready for your arrival. Always take along a backup copy on memory stick and ensure it is available in the Cloud somewhere (e.g. on OneDrive) as a back-up. On one occasion a candidate of ours received plaudits for using her handouts to give a presentation when the entire computer network went down just as her first slide was displayed!
You are fully prepared; your slides are a virtue of textbook presentation prompts; you are fully rehearsed and your presentation is set up on the company computer ready to go. The rest is very much up to you and your individual style. However, the following are a few tips and ideas which may be worth considering:
- At the start of the presentation, address the audience directly, introducing yourself and your subject and thanking them for the opportunity.
- A good idea, if there are time constraints, is to say something along the lines “as I am limited on time today I will be happy to take your questions following the completion of my presentation”. This immediately puts you in control and will hopefully mean you will not be interrupted and so can finish on time. To keep an eye on the time you could place your watch in an easily visible position or use a mobile clock app with a stopwatch function (alarm off).
- If, as suggested, you are providing handouts, you could add “please feel free to take notes. However, I will be handing out copies of my slides at the end of my presentation”. Again, this gives you the control and it also shows you are prepared and assertive. Never distribute the handouts before the presentation, as people will start looking at the slides ahead of you showing them on the big screen.
- When delivering your presentation, face the audience and be enthusiastic, make eye contact, smile, gesture for emphasis, utilise silent pauses for effect, and relax. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets, fiddling with any objects, looking out of the window, reading from your notes and simply reading the wording on your slides aloud. If it is your style, and you feel suitably confident, you can invite audience participation. If you plan for this, stick to asking closed questions, so as to avoid an outbreak of discussion within the audience.
- Finally, enjoy it. You know your subject, you are fully rehearsed and in control, and this is your chance to shine!
AFTER THE PRESENTATION
Your presentation should come to a natural and timely conclusion, with you thanking the audience for their time and attention, then inviting questions while passing around your handouts. Be prepared and try to anticipate potential questions based on what you have presented. Very often the presentation will be at the start of a meeting and used as the catalyst for an ongoing discussion / interview. If there are no resultant questions, take this as a positive sign that you have covered your subject thoroughly. Following questions (or if there are none) thank the audience again, sit down and relinquish control to the interviewers.
FINALLY, BE YOURSELF AND ENJOY THE OPPORTUNITY. THOUGH YOU SHOULD NOT NEED IT, GOOD LUCK!
For further details, please visit www.nextphaserecruitment.com or call the friendly recruitment team at Next Phase on 01403 216216