A Wikimania 2010 presenter

A Wikimania 2010 presenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Presentations in Interview- Can you talk the talk?


In my time as a senior recruiter I have sat through no small number of presentations. Many of them left me cold. I wondered if the people giving them really understood the purpose of the exercise i.e. to test in this way is the candidate’s ability to represent and sell an organisation, (and in the process themselves). To test their ability to inspire an audience with confidence. To test  an ability to  persuade and to demonstrate the ability to marshal thoughts and structure something that sounds really impressive. Showcasing. Convincing. Persuading. Getting the message across.  So sitting, as some candidates I have listened to, in front of a flip chart with some very small handwriting, wiggling across a single piece of paper does not really do a great deal to impress. Mumbling in a down beat fashion or shuffling pages of A4 on the desk really does not cut it.

Interestingly I have heard some pretty low quality presentations from some quite influential people. I don’t quite understand that. I was stunned at how poor the man from the World Bank was when I sat through a 30 minute lecture. I don’t think he even realised that we were English, his vocabulary was still addressing a transatlantic audience. (we don’t say effectuate do we?) How is it that people who have climbed to positions of power, expertise and authority just don’t know how to present? I wonder if some of it is that they just don’t really have to. When I think about how people in the workplace actually present ideas, they rarely do so ‘cold’. Usually they have prepared the ground. Often they will have prepared a report, circulated before the meeting. Commonly they will sit in the meeting and assume that the audience has read and understood the report, so their comments will be to ‘speak to a report’ rather than present an idea, persuade people, or demonstrate an ability to enthuse an audience.

I also wonder if few people attend any training on presentations or public speaking. Speaking to an audience is one of the most common phobias there is. Why would you volunteer to go on a course to do something that literally frightens you? Sufferers feel that all eyes are upon them – “the spotlight effect” – their acute self-awareness makes it very difficult for them to focus on what is going on around them, to remember their speech, or to read from notes.  Their mind goes blank or foggy. Their distress is further fuelled by their efforts to hide or mask their discomfort which may become apparent through blushing, facial immobility, sweating, shaking, twitching, or an inability to speak normally or coherently. And in an interview situation where getting the job depends on success it is all much worse.

So what should the candidates have to do when faced with the task…. ‘you have ten minutes to give us a presentation on…’?

  1. An understanding of the audience, what they already know, what language they speak and what they want to hear about. I guess the man from the World Bank had never met a social housing tenant, I think he was an academic. His presentation, although very important, did not set the room alight. Effective presenters know who their audience are and how the message needs to be delivered.
  2. Effective presenters stand and command the room. Presenting is a display activity. Standing indicates confidence and control. It enables a small amount of movement, a little pacing, wider hand gestures; a greater ability to get up close to the audience. Standing enables you to inject more energy into your presentation. If you think of some of the great orators that you have heard, they did not sit behind a desk and mutter.
  3. Clear diction and adequate volume. One of the great bonuses of standing is the way that it will enable you to breathe deeply and speak on the outbreath. This will give your voice depth and volume. (but if you have a microphone you need to be careful not to over project)
  4. Measured delivery, presenters need to relax, speak slowly and use all the techniques of pace and rhythm to ensure that there is clarity and emphasis. Presenters need to recognise the ability of the audience to absorb and give them appropriate time to do so.
  5. Good visual aids, if you have to make your presentation ‘on the day’, and are given a flip chart, tuck a ruler and pencil in your pocket. Make your visual aids, helpful, clean and neat. Use them for the emphasis, they should give not for the narrative. If you are given a topic in advance and are using PowerPoint, use it sensibly, again it is not the narrative it is the emphasis.
  6. Structure, a presentation needs a clear beginning, middle and end. It needs an overview and a conclusion. And keep to time, nothing annoys a panel more and tells them that you have not planned and rehearsed.
  7. Message, if a presentation is testing oral persuasiveness then there needs to be a very clear message or argument with facts and evidence to support it. Ask yourself, what is the thing that I want my audience to walk away remembering? You also need great content. You need content tailored to the audience and answering the questions they want answering.  Speak with conviction, if you don’t believe your message, who else will?
  8. A smile, a sign that you are pleased to be there. Sometimes a touch of humour can help you build rapport with the audience,  but how much you can use this will depend on the situation. But your smile needs to be on the mouth and in your eyes and your eyes need to meet theirs.


Yes, I have sat through many hours of very poor presentations and many other hours of very good ones. To be memorable you need, great, relevant content delivered with conviction and style.

English: A flip chart in a conference room. Sv...

English: A flip chart in a conference room. Svenska: Ett blädderblock i ett konferensrum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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