11 tips for preparing a presentation as part of a job interview

More and more companies are asking for candidates to demonstrate their presentation skills, particularly for higher-level posts, or posts that will involve giving presentations on a regular basis. If you find yourself in a similar position, here are some tips that may help you.

Most of these tips can be applied to any type of presentation, but today we’re focussing specifically on presentations that are part of a job interview.

In some cases, candidates are given the material to present, though you might also be asked to use your own.

Here are my tips – do you have any to add? If so, let me know in the comments.

  1. If you’re using your own material, make sure you have checked it, or ask someone else to check it. Spelling mistakes or incorrect information on slides can be distracting, and you don’t want people to stop listening to you because they’re focussing on something that’s wrong with your slide.
  2. Don’t put all of your information on the slide. If the audience can read everything they need to know themselves, you’re not adding value by being there. Keep it to simple bullet points and key information – your job is to tell them what they need to know.
  3. If it isn’t your material, make sure you understand it. Do some research if you don’t understand something. Don’t be caught out because you didn’t do your research properly.
  4. Make notes, but don’t rely on them. It’s not a test of how well you can read from your notes. If you’re looking down all the time, you won’t be able to look at the interview panel, and also your voice won’t carry well.
  5. Know your audience, or at least the roles that your audience will be playing. Is it a presentation to introduce the company to people who have never heard of it? Are you being asked to demonstrate your specific knowledge of a project or issue to people who understand it well? Are you being asked to simplify a complex idea? Knowing this will shape the level of detail you give, how much you need to explain, and the level at which you pitch the presentation.
  6. Know how long the presentation should be, and try to stick to it. You’re likely to talk faster when you’re there, because most of us feel a bit nervous and want to get the presentation over with. Time yourself at home, so you know whether you have enough or too much material.
  7. Think about the type of questions you might be asked during or after the presentation, and how you would answer them. You can’t anticipate everything, but it’s good to be prepared.
  8. Try to be memorable – in a good way. If there are multiple people giving similar presentations, how will you make yours stand out? Is there a story, a memorable statistic, or a unique way of thinking about the issue that others won’t have come up with?
  9. Keep people engaged – how you do it is up to you, but think about things such as being interactive, being clear about what you want people to do at the end, and why the presentation is relevant to them.
  10. Your voice is important too –your great content will have no impact if you sound bored/your voice is too quiet/you are speaking too quickly.
  11. Try to smile. I don’t mean you should deliver the whole presentation with a grin like a Cheshire cat, but as well as looking more friendly and approachable, a smile can often be heard in your voice too. It’s easy to have a serious face for serious subjects, but as well as making you look more friendly, a smile can actually help you too. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which in turn can make you feel happier or reduce stress levels

So, do you have any more tips to add to this list?

Find out more

If you’d like more information about preparing for a job interview, you can visit my presentation training page.

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Preparing to give presentations–answering questions

People can spend a lot of time preparing their presentations, but often they don’t plan for what might happen in a question and answer session at the end.

It’s true that not all presentations are followed by a question and answer session, but if yours will be, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about the kind of questions that might come up, and how you would answer them.

First let’s look at the reasons why people ask questions after presentations.it could be because they:

  1. Want to find out further information about a particular point.
  2. Didn’t understand something.
  3. Didn’t agree with something and want to challenge you.
  4. Want to clarify what you said – to be sure that they understood it correctly.

You can never know exactly what questions will be asked, and you might do a load of preparation, only to find there are no questions at the end, but it’s good if you think about these things beforehand so that you are prepared:

1. Related issues

You may be able to talk about your topic all day long, but think about any related points that are likely to come up, and make sure you feel comfortable talking about them too. This might mean doing a bit of research. Has anything related to your topic been in the news lately? What additional information have people wanted to know when you’ve talked about this subject before?

I usually do this exercise when I’m teaching adult learners of English, but it’s not just about the language we use. Do you generally feel confident talking about not only your subject, but related topics and questions that may come up?

Don’t spend too long on this, but it’s worth thinking about any facts you might like to take in with you in your notes, just in case you need them.

2. Will the exercise be accessible to people who find it hard to speak in public?

Depending on the size of the group, people may be reluctant to speak in front of everyone else – could you provide a way for them to submit questions in writing/tweet questions/type them in a chat box if you are using video conferencing software?

3. Only answer the question

Today I was sent to a website that had over 2000 links on it an took an eternity to load. I gave up. It’s fine to add detail, but try to give succinct answers to questions. Talking more doesn’t always prove you know your stuff –sometimes adding too much detail can be counterproductive because people lose interest.

Also, whether the question was not very clear or you just didn’t hear the speaker because of the acoustics in a large room, you may need to clarify the question if you didn’t understand it, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. It’s better to check the question than to answer the wrong question!

4. Are there any contentious issues?

Are there people in your audience who are likely to disagree with any of your points, or request further information before they believe you? If so, think about how you would deal with this.

5. Could people want extra facts and figures?

If they do, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ll provide them later, particularly if it’s information that you don’t have to hand, but if you can anticipate any questions about data that people may ask, you can be well-prepared and have the information with you, even if you don’t choose to include that level of detail in your presentation.

6. You don’t have to answer every question

If someone keeps asking questions, and nobody else can get a word in, you don’t have to let them monopolise the talking time. Similarly, if someone wants to take you down a rabbit hole, with a discussion that is too specific and of little interest to everyone else, it’s fine to say that you will come back to the other person after the presentation. Rather than being rude, this shows that you value everyone’s time and don’t want to take it up with something that is not useful to them. If someone asks something that is too personal or completely irrelevant, you are not obliged to answer that either!

7. What is the audience most likely to be interested in?

It may be a generic presentation, but how much do you know about your audience? Are there particular parts of the presentation that are likely to be more relevant to them and generate questions? What will you do if there are too many questions for the time available? Is there some other way that participants can contact you?

8. What to do if you don’t know the answer

I think it’s often the case that people worry about not knowing the answer. If you don’t know the answer, it’s better to be honest and offer to respond later, delegate to someone else who may know, or say that you don’t have that information than to try and wing it, or give information that could later be proved to be incorrect. Nobody can be expected to know everything.

However, this isn’t an excuse for bad preparation – if you don’t know your subject area, it will reflect badly on you!

9. Spending too long on a particular topic

If the whole room wants to go deeper on a specific point, it might be a good idea. However, if it’s only one or two people, you need to be mindful of the time available and check whether there were any other questions or comments.

10. Written information

People process information in different ways. Consider whether you want to give a hand-out or a copy of the slides after the presentation. Then participants don’t need to take notes or check facts and figures, and if you’ve already covered something, you can explain that the details are in the hand-out.

11. What if there are no questions?

This isn’t always a bad thing. It could just mean that the attendees have understood everything. You may want to give them a way of asking questions if they think of one later (email/Twitter etc), but having no questions to answer isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might just mean that your presentation ends a bit earlier, or you could prepare a bit of extra information, or a deeper explanation about something on your slides that you could give to fill the time.

Sometimes being spontaneous is more difficult than preparing for the presentation itself, but hopefully these tips will give you something to think about and help you prepare.

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Presenting to an audience that you can’t see – webinars, podcasts and live broadcasts

In the past, giving presentations was all about standing at the front of a room and delivering your content to people who were in the same room as you.

Now, technology has made it possible for us to deliver different kinds of presentations. Sometimes the audience is not in the same place as you. Sometimes they are watching or listening to your talk long after you delivered it.

Whether you’re preparing content to be consumed later, such as a podcast or a Youtube video, or you’re broadcasting live as part of a webinar or Facebook live broadcast, it’s a different experience to being in the same place as your audience.

For some people, this takes away some of the stress associated with presenting – you don’t see the sea of faces looking at you and you are often sitting in familiar, less formal surroundings, which in turn can make you feel confident. I love chatting to my audience from the comfort of my office because these familiar surroundings give me confidence.

However, there are a few things to consider.

1. Are you speaking to an individual or a group?

This is the first advice that I was given when I created my first podcast episode. I used phrases like “hi everyone” and “if any of you want to know more”. This doesn’t actually bother me when I’m listening to podcasts, but unless you are trying to build a community, the chances are that the listener is on their own and they may never come in to contact with the other listeners. I don’t want to say that there is a right or wrong way to do this, but just think about whether you want to address a group, such as a group of colleagues, or to make things more personal and speak as though you are talking directly to your listener.

2. Talking to yourself in an empty room

I actually like talking to myself in an empty room. It doesn’t bother me! I don’t mind public speaking in front of a large group either, but I don’t feel strange about talking aloud with nobody there. Maybe that’s what happens when you spend years talking to pets and knowing that they probably aren’t going to give you an answer.

Some people find the empty room distracting because there is nobody there listening to you and you can’t get the usual feedback such as an encouraging smile or a nod.

Sometimes the problem is that people are not used to hearing their own voice. If you find this to be true, try delivering your presentation aloud to your dog or cat, or imagine that a good friend or supportive colleague is there with you and you are talking just to them.

If it’s live, it can be even more off-putting if you can see that nobody is watching your channel, or not many people have signed in to the webinar. But remember, your content can be reused – Facebook live videos can stay on your Facebook page for people to watch at a later date, webinar recordings can be made available as a replay or on your site, so don’t waste the first 10 minutes saying “I wonder if everyone can see and hear me?” I’ve stopped watching replays or videos because of this – it was boring! Log onto the broadcast with another device if you want to know how well you can be seen, but try to focus on the content, rather than how many people are there at the beginning of the presentation. If you are going to repurpose the content, consider chopping the beginning if it won’t be relevant later.

People have a tendency to pop in and out of live broadcasts and webinars in a way that they don’t in real life, so try not to focus on that.

3. Make sure you get audience feedback

You can’t see if you’re audience is nodding along in agreement, looking confused or staring into space. Therefore, make sure that you have a way for them to interact with you and ask any questions. This needs to be managed in a different way than in a face-to-face setting. Even if you don’t want questions during the presentation, you can ask people to put them in the chat and come to them at the end. If it’s likely to be a busy chat, it’s sometimes helpful to ask someone to help you manage it and pull out the relevant questions. They can also help to manage anyone who is being disruptive in the chat so that you can focus on giving your presentation.

As well as showing a willingness to answer comments, this is also a good way to make sure that people are following along with what you are saying because you can’t gauge the mood in the room without some kind of feedback from the participants.

If it’s not live, make sure that you have some way for people to contact you with any questions or comments. This could either be an email address, or you can direct them to your social media, or a comment form on the show notes page of your podcast.

4. Think about your speed and delivery

I was used to giving plenty of face-to-face presentations, but I remember when I did my first online one. I practised a couple of times beforehand. Each time it took me 45 minutes. On the day, the same live presentation took 35 minutes. I didn’t realise I was rushing, but I must have been.

We don’t do it on purpose, but speaking too quickly is not fair to our audience because it often makes it harder for them to understand what is being said. If people don’t understand, they will lose interest, which is a wasted opportunity. Even though you might be offering a lot of value, if people can’t understand you because you’re speaking too quickly, they won’t get the benefit.

5. Additional materials

It’s a good idea to consider whether you want to offer anything else in terms of visual presentation or reference materials for afterwards. If it’s a webinar, you can put your slides on the screen or share your screen to give a demonstration. If it’s audio, you can offer a download of a factsheet on your show notes page. If it’s a Facebook live or some other kind of live broadcast, you can direct people to some further information on your website.

6. Make sure your surroundings aren’t distracting

If you’re not in the same room as your audience, you don’t need to worry about making them comfortable, but you do need to think about where you will be recording. When you’re live, sometimes things happen that are out of your control, but try to minimise this by being in a quiet place, making those around you aware that you are broadcasting, making sure the lighting is ok for visual broadcasts, and making sure there is nothing in your room that will be a noisy distraction to your listeners – even if you have got used to a ticking clock or a noisy fan, these things can become annoying for your listeners. Don’t play music in the background unless you own the copyright to it. Even if you do – consider whether your listeners may find it distracting.

If it’s not live, think about whether, or how much you want to edit.

7. Be smart about repurposing content

If you’ve created some fantastic content, there’s no reason why you can’t repurpose it for other channels. The content from your webinar can become a stand-alone ebook. The information from your podcast can be used for a blog post – often your podcast and blog audiences are not the same people. Key points from your talk can become tweets.

However, this has to be done with care because the different ways of giving information and the different social networks have their own requirements and audience expectations. People soon lose interest if they get the feeling that you have just dumped something from another platform. Does anyone actually like those reposts from Instagram on Twitter where the text gets chopped off halfway through?

I’ve seen someone post a live interview as a podcast, and it worked really well. It was a smart way to get a group of people together to share their thoughts on a topic. I’ve also seen someone post a live video as a podcast and it was terrible because they were stopping every 5 seconds to say “hi” to people who had just joined the broadcast. Podcast listeners who weren’t there don’t care about that.

I’ve seen people posting automated electronic transcripts of podcasts as blog posts and I found it really hard to read because none of the filler words or half-finished sentences had been taken out. I really wanted to tidy it up to make the reader experience better. I offer a service to turn audio and video content into text for blog posts, ebooks or newsletters if this is something that would interest you.

What about you?

So, sharing information when you can’t see a room full of people in front of you definitely has its advantages, and there are ways to give your content a much longer lifespan. Still, it’s important to be aware of your audience and their needs, particularly if you can only see them as names in a list of participants, or if people will be watching and listening long after you’ve finished giving your talk.

Which way of presenting do you enjoy most? Would you rather be with your audience, or on your own? Do you like the chance to start again with pre-recorded content, or do you enjoy the spontaneity of going live?

Get in touch

If you’d like to contact me or sign up for the monthly EwK Services newsletter, which will also contain links to new blog posts, please use this contact form: