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Delivering An Effective Presentation in an Interview

Many job seekers are asked to make a presentation as a part of their interview process.
  -  If they deliver an effective presentation to the interview team, they’ll likely move on to the next step of the interview process.
  -  If they deliver a great presentation they may find themselves being made an offer for the coveted position.

Making a presentation is a fairly standard part of many organizations’ interview process.  While the first round of one-to-one interviews allows the firm to begin to judge a candidate’s knowledge, skill, and experience levels, as well as gauge interpersonal skills and assess if the interviewee may be a good fit for the organizational culture, a candidate’s delivery of a presentation allows the interviewers to probe deeper:
    ●    Presentations allow the interviewers to see a candidate perform under pressure. 
    ●    It gives them a different view of the job seeker’s:  Communication abilities, knowledge and expertise levels (as they field questions), and ability to inform and persuade. 
    ●    It gives interviewers some insight into how a candidate might prepare for an assignment, their commitment when given an assignment, and their work style:
        - Did the job seeker wing it? 
        - Or, did they do their homework and genuinely prepare for this event?

In other words, a presentation can make or break a job seeker’s candidacy for a position. 

I recently sat through a presentation in which the presenter made every mistake in the book . . . the “effective presentations” book! A new director of a non-profit organization was invited to make a presentation to members of another organization for the purpose of introducing herself, and informing them of the focus the work would take under her direction.  She had potential donors and supporters in the room. 

This presentation presented the new director with an opportunity to begin to form a positive relationship with the attendees and present a positive impression of her competency and fitness for the job.  Unfortunately, her presentation did just the opposite.  In other words, she blew it!

What should have been an informative, relationship-building presentation turned into an annoying 40 minutes in which I could neither hear what the presenter was saying, since she talked mostly to the screen, nor understand her mumbled delivery when she finally did face the audience.  I could not read the too small type on her cluttered power point slides.  I sat there amazed; this could have been a spoof on “how NOT to make a presentation!”

Out of sheer boredom, I started making a list of the mistakes the presenter was making, as follows below:
  1. She talked to the screen.  Then, when the program host’s asked her to address the audience, it was touch and go as she lost her place and her composure.
  2. She spoke in a high-pitched, weak voice, with what used to be described as “valley girl” intonation, i.e. raising her pitch at the end of sentences.
  3. She mumbled, running words together.
  4.  She mispronounced names of people she discussed in her presentation, along with some key terms.  The program host helped her out with correct pronunciations.
  5. She was confounded by some of her slides, indicating a lack of familiarity with her material.
  6. She used a lot of “fill-in” words repetitively: “um, like, you know, ” decreasing the  confidence of the audience even further.
  7. During the Q & A (and I’m amazed there was one), she answered questions without repeating them, thereby speaking only to those in the audience who were seated near the questioner and who heard the question; the rest of us had no idea what the question was.
  8. She mis-read the group both in terms of expertise and interest level.  It was a pretty knowledgeable audience, making it obvious that she had failed to do her homework.
  9. She did not respect her time-frame, failing to recognize the host’s cues that it was time to wrap it up.
  10. She failed to do her research and failed to practice her presentation.  My conclusion, but seems fairly obvious, right?

All in all, the preceding 10 mistakes made by the director provide a pretty good list of "Things to Avoid Doing When Delivering A Presentation!"

As I watched this presentation unfold, I sat there amazed.  As a former trainer of a workshop on how to deliver an effective presentation, this reminded me a film I used to show in training class.  It was a spoof on WHAT NOT TO DO!  Only, unfortunately, this was no spoof. 

Now, as a job seeker, you may find yourself being asked to make a presentation as part of your job search interview process.  The difference between a job seeker and the woman whose presentation I have just critiqued is a big one.  While down the road, she may be able to repair the damage she did with some hard work and some time, the critical difference for the job seeker is you may only get one opportunity to present to your interviewers.  So, you want to make the most of this opportunity so that it gets you to the next step of the process or better yet, the job offer!

How to Deliver an Effective Presentation
The first step is to start at the beginning and understand the medium of the presentation itself. 

A presentation is a standard practice in business today.  Chances are you will be called upon frequently throughout your career to make presentations.  This method of material delivery offers an impact, an efficiency, and opportunity for 2-way communication that a written report, a film or video tape, a webinar, a lecture, or other methods may lack.  Done well, it’s an effective method of communication, one of the leadership and management competencies that can be career enhancing. 

So, a presentation is simply a method of communication, that when done well involves an interaction between the speaker/presenter and the audience.  Here are some key points:
  • It is not a lecture.  
  • While part of the presenter’s objective may be to inform, the presenter is also generally seeking to gain information from the audience via the interaction or reaction, and possibly persuade them to take some action.  
  • It focuses on analyzing and understanding each audience so that the delivery is directed to that unique group.  
  • It allows greater opportunity for success, because as the presenter reads the audience, the presenter can iterate key points in different media. 

That’s it.  Simple enough, right?  Yet this poor, unfortunate director is certainly not alone in flubbing her presentation.  She has lots of company.  Many folks fear just the idea of making a presentation and get queasy thinking about it.  Why?

Public Speaking . . .  The Number 1 Fear!
Studies have consistently shown public speaking to be people’s #1 Fear, ahead of snakes and death! 

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it this way:
“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death.  Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
When asked to make a presentation, common reactions are anxiety, apprehension, and nervous jitters.  Some folks get physically ill.  Why do most folks dread them?

The answer seems to lie in the fact that there is risk involved  – risk for you, your ideas, and your goal, which for job seekers is ultimately getting the job offer.  As an employee, the risk expands to include your boss, your department, and possibly your entire organization.  For a business owner, the risk can involve actually staying in business.  As you stand there facing an audience, you know they will judge you and your performance. 

There’s a lot at stake.  Viewed in this way, it is not surprising that a common reaction is fear.  In fact, this may be the first step to making an excellent presentation:  Recognizing that the reaction is entirely normal.  So, take advantage of the extra energy the reaction provides as you plan to deliver your presentation.

Second, recognize the presentation for what it is:  An opportunity for you to achieve your desired result.  Success will lie in understanding the medium, and learning how to prepare for the event.

Understand the Medium
There are many reasons to present:
    Inform or instruct
    Persuade or sell
    Make recommendations and gain acceptance
    Arouse interest
    Inspire or initiate action
    Evaluate, interpret, or clarify
    Set the stage for further action
    Gather ideas and explore them

Your purpose may be one of the reasons listed above or a combination of several.  But generally, the reasons to present fall into 3 main categories:
  • To Inform 
    • Interviewers will frequently ask job seeking candidates to make a presentation that 1) provides information on a topic, (2) explains a subject, or (3) instructs or gives direction. 
  • To Persuade, Motivate, or Sell 
    • As a job seeker, a presentation delivered to the interviewing selection team gives you the opportunity to identify a need and propose the solution for the need: YOU.  Whether your assignment has been to develop an informative presentation, or a persuasive one, your objective is develop your presentation in such a way that (1) shows or supports “the need for an employee with your skills, knowledge, and abilities” and (2) also shows (persuades) how your skills, knowledgeable, and abilities are a solution to fill the need. 
  • To Entertain 
    • We’ll leave this type of presentation to the Jerry Seinfields!  In business, it’s doubtful you are going to be asked to deliver a presentation solely to entertain.  The value of this type of presentation lies in coupling some entertaining elements with the two other types.  A few entertaining points often puts the audience at ease, shows confidence, and can allow you to reinforce a point.   

Preparing to Present
Mark Twain said: 
    “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”

He was not kidding.  Behind what appears to be a flawlessly delivered presentation lies hours and hours of preparation.  “It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time,” wrote Wayne Burgraff, an 18th century American philosopher.  While this number may seem shocking, when you analyze it, it’s about right.  Counting up the time you spend thinking about your presentation, toying with ideas, focusing it, talking to people, researching, writing, and practicing, the hours add up.

■  Why Am I Making This Presentation:  The Objective
“During the first few minutes of your presentation, your job is to assure the audience members that you are not going to waste their time and attention,” states Dale Ludwig, author and presenter.  That requires beginning at the beginning, with an objective.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” is a quote adapted from Alice and Wonderland.   In other words, if you are unclear about your objective for your presentation, your chances for accomplishing your goal are lessened. 

Effective planning, stating an objective and developing a plan to reach it, keeps you on course.  Poor planning often sees a presenter grabbing an old presentation they made, adapting it, and thinking they have done the job.  It reminds me of job seekers who make the mistake of finding an old resume, updating it a bit, and then sending it out to everyone and anyone.  Both result in misdirection and mistakes. 

For a job seeker, failing to have a clear objective for their presentation can result in missing the boat and losing the job.  So, if you are asked to deliver a presentation by the interviewing team:
  • Ask questions to learn how much time you are allowed, who will be there, and what audio visual equipment is available to you.
  • Ask where you will be making the presentation and if you can see it.
  • Clarify what the team expects to see and hear.
  • Identify the criteria upon which you’ll be judged.

Put your objective in writing and be specific. 
This:    To corroborate and assure the interviewing director and staff of the need for a new program to streamline product delivery to the customer, and to demonstrate (persuade) how my experience, skills, and knowledge make me the ideal candidate for the job.

Is better than

This:    To talk about my experience, skills, and knowledge to the interviewing team.

■  Who Is Going To be There:  The Audience
Learn in advance who you will be presenting to.  Don’t assume it will be just the people with whom you’ve interviewed.  Companies often invite additional people to the presentation so that you will have a bigger audience and they will have more opinions of your performance.

So ask questions when you are given the assignment of making a presentation:
  • Ask for a list of attendees and their titles.
  • Get their biographies.  View their profiles on the company website, Linked In, and other social media.  Google them.
  • Ask if it would be permissible and appropriate to talk to some in advance.  (Good strategy for gaining buy-in too)

■  What am I going to Say:  The Content
Your objective will provide the focus for your content.  But, that leads to the question of what information you should provide.  Ask the following questions:
  • What do they know already (about me, my background, my abilities, etc.)
  • What do they want to know (may iterate key information to support your cause)?
  • What do they need to know (in order to conclude that I am the ideal candidate)?
  • What don’t they need to know (jobs can be lost in minutia)?
  • What shouldn’t I talk about (sensitive or extraneous information)?

■  How Will I Organize My Presentation: The Format
You will want to organize your presentation to suit your material, as well as to consider the needs and expectations of your audience.  If your task is to present information about a process or procedure, a step-by-step, or chronological approach, may be best.  If you are building to a conclusion, you may present a point, lead to another point, and build to a conclusion.  It may be that you start with your main premise or key point, and then design your presentation to support your premise, a pyramid approach.  It all depends on you - your objective and situation.

Finally, consider organizing your content via an outline.  It will keep you on track and in accord with your objective.  A traditional format is to:

    1.    Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em  – Your Introduction

    2.    Tell ‘em – Your Content

    3.    Tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em  – Your Conclusion

 ■  How Will I Learn My Presentation:  The Practice
The way to learn your presentation is to practice, practice, practice. S
  1. Some presenters make the mistake of attempting to memorize their presentation.  The problems are two-fold: It increases anxiety.  The fear of  “What if I forget it?” can only add to the nervous jitters.
  2. Unlike a speech, a presentation is a 2-way communication.  Audience members may interject with questions or comments about information you haven’t gotten to yet.  “What do you do?” if you’ve memorized things in another order.  Learning your presentation allows you to go with the flow.
So, practicing with notes in hand, and PowerPoint slides as visual aids, is a better way to learn your presentation.
Here are some tips for effective practice:
  • Practice aloud.  Don’t just read over your presentation.  What you wrote may sound better in a different order when said aloud.  It also affects timing.
  • Practice with your notes, and your visual aids.  Notes are allowable and useful in keeping you on track during your presentation, as are your PowerPoint slides, flip charts, handouts, and demonstration props.
  • Practice your intonation, zeroing in on points you want to emphasize.
  • Practice pausing at key points of your delivery.  A pause can be a very effective tool to make a point, or to give the impression that you are giving thought to an attendee’s question or comment . . . which you may very well be. 
  • Practice taking questions (or comments), repeating the question before you answer it.
  • Practice in a similar setting that is as close to the type of setting in which you will be making your presentation.  And, see if you can commandeer a live audience of friends or family.
  • Practice multiple, multiple, multiple times, until you know that you know that you know your presentation.
Delivering an Effective Presentation
The aforementioned Dale Ludwig had a final comment: 
"We should just stop calling these things presentations altogether. Everyone gets hung up on that word. Wouldn’t it be easier to just call them conversations? That’s really what they are.”
The more that you as the presenter can envision yourself as simply having a conversation with each of the members of your audience, the more likely you will be to deliver an impactful, sincere, relevant presentation that is on-target and persuasive.  With good planning, effective research, and practice sessions, most presenters find they feel more confident, enthusiastic, and in control.  And, if you feel that way, so will your audience!

Presentations are great opportunities to deliver your message . . . your way.  So, if you are asked to deliver a presentation by the interviewing team, you now have the knowledge of how to go about it and tools you can use.  Enjoy your presentation and get that job offer!


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