Facing an interview can be tough enough, but having to give a presentation before you begin can terrify even robust candidates.
First of all, let’s be clear why employers do this. With a good supply of candidates, employers want to get more out of the hiring process, but the reason they ask for a presentation is to get a real sense of whether you can communicate and influence.
Learn from the classic mistakes people make in presentations. Too many candidates misunderstand (and over-complicate) the task. They try to cram 50 ideas or 15 slides into eight minutes, hoping that something will stick. Or they overstuff PowerPoint slides with long sentences – and then read them all out. Limit yourself to four punchy bullet points per slide, and state your best lines out loud rather than on screen.
In reality, interviewers pay far more attention to your personal impact than the content of your presentation. They are asking themselves: ‘How would this person look and sound in front of the workforce/board/public?’
Presentations have the power to intensify first impressions, so pay attention not just to your script but to the way you stand, move, speak. A defining judgment about you is made within the opening seconds so start with a crisp sound bite. ‘I’m here to talk about…’, is so much better than ‘I wonder if this laptop is working.’
The end of your presentation will be remembered most, so craft it well.
Finishing with a strong statement or a good open question allows the interview itself to start on a high note. Learn the first and last two sentences of your presentation by heart – so you know exactly how you will begin and end.
Average candidates have a vague game plan based around topics. Plan and rehearse the actual words, then cut out about 25 per cent of your material to make things flow easily rather than sounding rushed. Making eye contact with your audience is a crucial way of connecting with them, so reading from a script is to be avoided. Try using symbols or cartoons to help you remember your key points.
Whatever the topic, a presentation is really about what you will deliver.
Focus on three critical themes: analysis – your understanding of the organisation’s issues; connections – linking what the organisation needs to your experience; and suggested actions, which should be clear recommendations (small, quick wins are easier to sell than huge changes).
Nerves getting in the way? The good news is that performance anxiety lessens the more you do something. Your brain starts to recognise contexts and says, ‘This feels OK. I have been here before.’
This seems to work just as well with visualised scenarios as actual performances, so spend some time imagining yourself doing well in a presentation and thinking through the positive language you will use in it.
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John Lees is the author of How To Get A Job You’ll Love (McGraw-Hill).
For free career tips and details of his workshops, see www.johnleescareers.com