How to present well at an interview

Been asked to present at your next interview? These top tips will help you ace it.

Not all interviews revolve around the typical one-on-one questioning process. Increasingly, candidates are asked to give a presentation, whether it’s on a topic of their choosing, a project they’ve run successfully, or a response to a hypothetical business brief.

The rising popularity of this interview technique is down to the fact that a presentation gives the interviewer a deeper insight into how you’re likely to perform at the company. And while it may sound daunting, a presentation is the perfect opportunity to showcase how well you know the company, wow the interviewer with your communication skills, and demonstrate your ability to react well under pressure.

Whether you’ve been asked to give a long or short presentation, read on for our comprehensive guide to presenting in an interview. We’ll take a look at what employers are looking for, how you can prepare, a check-list for the morning, and top tips for taking questions.

What do employers look for from a presentation?

When it comes to presenting, the interviewer will be looking for a 360 degree set of skills – this is not just an opportunity to get creative with a PowerPoint! The key attributes they’ll be looking for in your presentation are:

-        Your ability to understand the brief

-        Your knowledge of the subject

-        Your ability to think laterally, and creatively

-        Your communication skills

-        Your ability to engage the audience

How to prepare for a presentation

-        Do your research

Once you’re given the brief for your presentation, it’s time to get thinking. No matter what the task at hand, the first step lies in researching the company, and the wider industry context, so that you can start thinking your ideas through. Ideation can be a difficult process, so think about the method that works best for you. This might be brainstorming with your friends, collating all of your research visually, or creating a decision tree. If you’ve been given objectives, ensure that you think about your approach within the context of those – you may be asked how you’re assessing the success of your campaign against them.

-        Add a spark of creativity

While your idea might hit all the objectives, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only person partaking in this next interview stage, and need to stand out from the crowd. Adding your own creative spin to the brief can demonstrate not only your creativity but your personality too.

Top tip: While going above and beyond will show how much the job means to you, it’s important to strike the right balance. Think about what your interviewer will want to see, while avoiding any gimmicks.

-        Ensure you have a structure

Once you have the idea, you need to determine the structure and length of your presentation. You should follow a simple structure, where you introduce, explain, assess and conclude. For example:

1. Introduce the topic; wider industry context, and what the challenge is

2. Focus on the why – why is it important that the business solves this problem?

3. Explain how you would address the key challenge

4. Assess how the business can practically make this happen

5. Conclude with what the desired outcome of this project would be

You’ll likely be given a time – typically between five and 30 minutes – which will help you determine how much detail to go into on each section.

Top tip: If you’re stretched for time, don’t spend too long introducing the brief they’ve set you, focus more time on your ideas. If you have a longer presentation, you can devote more time to explore each slide with the necessary time required.

-        Stimulate your audience with visuals

Only you know how many slides you need, but as a ball park figure, you’ll typically spend around 1.5 to 3 minutes on each one. The key is to make them as visual as possible – you’re not really presenting if you’re reading from a screen!

Try to add verbal queues to the slides, by giving titles to each slide that prompt your memory. It’s a good idea to think about producing hand-outs too, as this will help to make the presentation more interactive and will give the interviewer something to remember you by once the presentation is through.

-        Communication is key

Next, you need to work on your delivery. Don’t write a script down, just have simple notes that jog your memory if required. Try to keep a conversational tone – this will help to relax you and create a more comfortable atmosphere in the room. Practice in front of a friend, and ask them to call you out on any points that don’t make sense. They’ll be able to pick up on verbal ticks too, such as ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘sort of’.

-        Don’t forget to engage

Remember to leave time at the end of each point for questions, you want to ensure that everyone is following and that you’re prepared to go into further specifics throughout the presentation, rather than at the end.

On the day – the checklist

First of all, make sure there are no technical issues – it’s worth emailing the HR team or interviewer to understand exactly what you need, but if you forget to do this in advance, make sure you have:

-        A laptop with the presentation saved

-        Cables to connect to a big screen

-        A memory stick with the presentation

-        A pen and notepad – just in case you need to follow-up on anything

How to stay relaxed during the presentation

Once you’re in the office, it can be easy to feel nervous. Remember that nerves are a good thing! To help calm you down, visualise success, eat a balanced breakfast, take on some exercise, and practise breathing techniques. We’ve rounded up our top tips for staying calm in an interview here.

Once you’re mid-interview, don’t worry about going on a tangent, or forgetting something. It happens to everyone and isn’t as catastrophic as you might think. The key is in how you react to those situations mid-presentation. If you go off on a tangent, recognise that you’re digressing and use a bridging statement such as ‘But back to my main point’, which can help you get back on track. If you have a mind blank, keep brief notes next to you which you can use to jog your memory. Avoid rehearsing a script, and instead know your general points and ideas inside out so that you can easily find your flow again.

Taking questions at the end

The interviewer will undoubtedly ask you questions at the end of your interview, so it’s a good idea to prepare answers for the questions that are likely to come up. While the questions will be specific to the idea you are presenting, the following questions could be asked:

> Explain the thought process behind this project and how you arrived at this idea
> How would you put this idea into practise?
> How would you evaluate the success of this project?
> How would you manage this campaign?

If they do ask you anything factual that you’re unsure on, try and answer it as best as you can, but acknowledge that you don’t have the full answer to hand right now. You can then follow up with your response following the interview. You can also try bridging statements such as ‘The important issue here is…’, but use these wisely – you don’t want to appear to be shirking the answers!

Finally, once you’re finished, write down all the areas that went well, and what you could have perfected. Follow up with the interviewer too, thank them for the opportunity and mention that you’d welcome any feedback. It’s all useful, whether you’re unsuccessful and want to refine your technique for another interview, or you get the job and will be presenting at the company for years to come!

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