How to prepare an interview presentation

 

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment

Interview presentations are often used as part of the recruitment selection process particularly to differentiate candidates applying for senior roles. They are most commonly used at the later stages of a recruitment process when the field has been narrowed and the interviewers are looking to make a final decision. The presentation topic might be about you and what you will bring to the role, a particular issue the client faces or the future of that industry or marketplace. Getting your “pitch” right in this situation is not always easy but can be an excellent way for you to set yourself apart. It can be a daunting experience for many but with some thought and preparation you can ensure you present yourself in the best possible way.

Below is some guidance that may help you in your preparation.

Understanding the brief – You can be the best presenter in the world but if you do not fully understand the brief and aren’t clear on the expectations the interviewers have, then you are potentially setting yourself up to fail. If you are using a recruiter, make sure they are able to give you the required information. If they cannot answer your questions then make sure they seek guidance from the client. If you are dealing directly with the client then I would suggest you make a list of questions to ask so that you only have to talk to them once. Going back constantly with lots of questions will not reflect well on your ability to plan. It is crucial that you repeatedly check that your presentation answers the presentation topic.

Questions to consider

  • How long should the presentation last?
  • Who will be present at the presentation?
  • What is the expected format?
  • How clear is the presentation title – do you need to clarify?

Know your audience – it is absolutely imperative that you find out exactly who is going to be at the presentation. With multiple individuals you need to consider the different agendas they may have and their level of knowledge and expertise to ensure that you pitch your content at the appropriate level. It can be difficult to cater for individuals from different functions, however try to establish the key decision makers and ensure you tailor your presentation appropriately.

Points to consider

  • Think about how you can ensure all angles are covered i.e. if you have both Line Managers and HR present how can you ensure that your presentation appeals.
  • Your presentation may also be to individuals of varying seniority – make sure you get the correct level of detail but draw this together taking consideration of the strategic elements
  • Research the individuals online, there will be a wealth of information on LinkedIn and Twitter that will give you a taste of individual preferences.If you want to get a little more complicated search media interviews or try a ‘boolean’ search for PDF documents.

Timing – it is really important that you know in advance how long your interview presentation should last or be expected to last. Trying to cram in too much information into a short period of time is one of the most common mistakes. I recently had a candidate who sent me his 20 minute presentation which included 35 PowerPoint slides! Getting this element right is critical to your success.

Points to consider:

  • It is difficult to provide a definitive guide as it will depend on the presentation but as a broad guideline you are likely to need a minimum of 3- 5 minutes per slide.
  • Less is more – ensure that the slide just provides highlights and is not crammed with text. In fact it could be just a picture or even one word – it is about using different ways to get the message across.

Substance over style – Beware of high tech imagery and animations (unless of course you are going for a role in IT!) Being serious though, lots of imagery can be distracting for your audience and may dilute the messages you are trying get across. For most roles, the interviewers are much more likely to be interested in the content of your presentation (which is an opportunity to display your knowledge and experience) than it is about style. That said, you must ensure that your presentation is interesting. Try and break up the slides a little so that you don’t have slide after slide of heavy text. If the organisation is considering a number of candidates and the interviewers are sitting through a number of presentations, think about how can you make sure your presentation is memorable?

Points to consider:

  • Work within your comfort zone – if you are comfortable with using animations etc. that is great but if not, be wary and ensure you are comfortable with the format you have chosen.
  • Try and break up slides of text using picture, diagrams or images. Using single words and images can be a powerful way of reinforcing your message.
  • Make sure you check and check again for spelling mistakes.

Message – You need to identify the primary message you want to deliver. This will determine the structure that you follow and needs to be clear and consistent throughout your presentation. Another common fault is the temptation to cram each slide with information in order to help the audience remember all the key points. Using the presentation as an autocue is a sure way to switch the audience off. In short you should have a strong introduction and a memorable ending. Think about what it s that you want your audience to take away from your presentation.

Points to consider

  • Delivering a great presentation is all about structure. You need an engaging opening giving an overview of your presentation. Consider how you can capture the hearts and minds of the interviewers. A memorable close is also crucial.
  • Use occasional anecdotes to build rapport with the interviewers and reinforce part of your message.
  • Point –reason – example – point – use this simple structure to provide convincing and reasoned points.

Format – again this is an area you should seek to clarify in advance of your meeting. The setting, the number of people attending and their expectations are all factors that may affect how formal or informal your presentation should be. This can range from using a projector in a board room (in which case you may be expected to take along your laptop or perhaps a memory stick with your presentation on) through to a printed hand-out to one person in a small interview room (and of course everything in between).

Points to consider

  • Don’t just go for the easy option involving the least work. The client will be looking at the effort and energy you have put into the presentation as a sign of your commitment and interest in the role.
  • Also take multiple printed copies of the presentation.
  • Email a copy of the presentation to the recruiter in advance to allow for any technical glitches!

Keep it authentic – I recently had a client give feedback on a candidate’s presentation saying that it was one of the best she had ever seen in terms of style and content. However, she felt it was a little too slick and perhaps a standard format that had been used in other interviews. It is crucial that the presentation is written for the interview and not a ‘cut and paste!’

Points to consider:

  • There are a number of techniques to make it personal and authentic. The use of stories and examples ensure relevance to the interviewers can all help in this regard. It is particularly important if the presentation is about you rather than being about the company you wish to join.
  • Include your own photos, particularly if you are presenting for a Retail position.

Practice and practice again – the most effective presentations are those that are delivered without the need to read word for word. Presentations are definitely an area where time invested pays off. Lack of preparation will definitely hamper your performance. It is important that you run through your presentation out loud. Ideally this would be in front of a friend or even videoing yourself to ensure that you can critique your performance.

Points to consider:

  • If you only run through your presentation once then you are highly unlikely to deliver a great presentation.
  • Time yourself when practicing to ensure you are within the time frames given.
  • Don’t memorise your presentation word for word – being too slick makes it less engaging. However you must know the content inside out – using cue cards will mean you are looking down at the cards and not engaging with the interviewers.

Presenting style – this is a widely written about subject. Just remember to present with confidence, energy and enthusiasm. Take your time – one of the most common errors is rushing. My personal view is to always stand; I think it allows you to inject more energy and command of the room.

Points to consider:

  • If you are offered a glass of water then accept it as you may need to drink part way through your presentation.
  • Breathing techniques can used to control presentation nerves. Try not to speak too quickly and allow yourself to breath naturally. Just imagine it as a conversation with one of the interviewers.
  • Try and move around during your presentation to engage and interact with the interviewers – although you should avoid pacing.
  • Modulate the tone, pitch, and speed of your speech. Do not speak in a monotone. Vary the pitch and speed of your voice for emphasis and effect. Use appropriate pauses. Rather than using filler words such as “uh,” for example, simply pause before moving on to the next idea or point.
  • Make sure you try and show passion and energy in what you are delivering.

Questions – it is easy to forget sometimes in all the planning and preparation that you will be asked some questions at the end. Try and think what questions you would have if you had just heard your presentation and prepare your answers accordingly.

Points to consider:

  • The questions are likely to be focused on your recommendations, your analysis and observations. They are likely to probe how you have come to those conclusions so you need to be prepared to discuss this in detail.
  • If the presentation is about you and how you would perform in the role then be prepared to provide examples if asked.

 

Hopefully some of the guidance above provides some simple but effective tips to delivering a great presentation. Most of the advice above is common sense but despite this we see all too often great candidates forgetting some of these golden rules and falling in the ‘Death by PowerPoint’ trap.

I do accept that some people find presenting much easier and natural than others but unfortunately it continues to be a well used tool in selecting candidates.

With time effort and preparation you can hopefully ensure you deliver a convincing and stylish presentation.

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