You’ve advanced through an initial interview (or several), and now you’ve been asked to give a presentation. Congratulations! Let’s look at how to make an interview presentation stand out and impress the hiring committee.
Prepare to be calm and confident.
If you have any nervousness about public speaking, deal with that first. My post about overcoming interview anxiety is highly relevant to presentations. Also, most of the suggestions that follow will help you feel more confident, because you’ll be more prepared.
Throw out most of the big words and jargon, and don’t recite in a monotone. You know how you speak when you’re explaining something to a friend? Think about talking that way when you give a presentation.
Meet your audience where they are.
When the interview is scheduled, ask the recruiter for the names and titles or roles of the people you’ll be presenting to, so you can get an idea of their interests and expertise. You don’t want to talk down to a group of experts, nor to baffle a group with terminology that’s over their heads. Research the interviewers via LinkedIn and the company website.
Make it interactive.
Most candidates give one-way presentations at interviews, so you’ll stand out if you get the audience involved. One way to do this is to invite questions at one or more points. Ask an open-ended question. To encourage participation, don’t ask “Do you have any questions?” but instead, “What questions do you have (about something specific)?” Ask it with a smile and eye contact to show that you genuinely want to hear their thoughts.
You can also ask for the audience’s ideas. Just don’t put them on the spot with difficult or controversial questions. Aim to make them comfortable.
Audience participation does add a wild card to the situation, so if you don’t have experience facilitating groups, keep it simple. You might involve them at only one point, and in a limited way. For example, you could say, “I’d like to have a few people tell me one word each that describes a major challenge in Internet security today.” If nobody speaks up, wait a few more seconds. If they’re still mum, prompt them. “So, you may be thinking, AI, ransomware and Internet of Things…”
On the other hand, if someone talks too much, wait ‘til they take a breath, then continue your presentation with, “Yes, thanks! And …” To ensure they feel heard, refer to something they just said.
Use slides the right way.
It’s tempting to use slides as a script, but it’s also a great way to bore your audience. Keep written verbiage to a minimum, using brief phrases and colorful images to call out key points that you expand upon verbally. Advanced features like animation can be helpful in moderation, as long as they support what you’re communicating and don’t distract from it.
Okay, just being prepared might not stand out, but it’s crucial. Make sure you’re clear on how you’ll use your equipment (and the company’s, if necessary). Practice your presentation in advance—preferably in front of someone else who can give you feedback. Time it, but don’t be so sure it will take the same amount of time on interview day. Have a plan for adjusting the length on the spot if you need to.
Instead of a boring start like “I’m Terry Lee and my presentation is about sales enablement,” try something more intriguing. “How can sales teams achieve a culture of collaborative competition? I’m Terry Lee and today I’m going to share three ideas I’ve found effective.”
Or start with a story, perhaps with a little humor. “I’m Terry Lee and I’d like to tell you a story about how I turned XYZ Inc.’s most unhappy client into one of its most valuable–and how it involved gnomes.”
A good ending leaves an energized feeling in the room. Here are several possibilities:
Complete something, or answer something that you left open at the beginning—like why you mentioned gnomes.
Summarize what you’ve presented, adding a little humor or a memorable quote.
End with a call to action and an inspiring vision that gibes with the company’s goals. “I’d love to join your team. Let’s work together to make Product X the market leader within two years.”
Make it clear that you’ve ended, so your audience isn’t sitting there waiting for more. A smile and a “Thank you!” is a good way to signal that you’ve finished.
In this post I’ve assumed that the presentation is required. You can also offer to present visuals or a portfolio during a conventional interview. In that case, read this.
Now you know how to make your interview presentation stand out. Remember, the time and effort you spend preparing will not only help you succeed in this interview. You’ll also be building presentation skills that can pay off for years to come.