Career Snapshot - Presentations
A presentation can form part of your interview process or assessment centre. Topics could be preassigned in advance or given on the day. They are common in graduate and internship recruitment and in application for MSc or PhD studies.
Start with the short video Career Snapshot: Presentations which gives an overview of how best to prepare and tips for delivery. Presentations allow an employer to assess your communication skills and how you convey a topic, story or concept.
What to expect
Presentations are often used as part of selection processes for internships, jobs or further study. They allow recruiters to assess your oral communication, presentation skills and public-speaking abilities. Typically, your presentation will last for five to ten minutes with assessors asking questions afterwards. Broadly speaking, assessors will want to see if you can communicate ideas clearly and effectively.
You may be given your topic in advance, or it could be assigned on the day. It’s also possible that you may have a group presentation as part of an assessment centre where you will need work with other candidates to plan and deliver the presentation. Whatever the situation, make sure you follow the instructions and advice given by the assessors on the content, timing, structure, and available technology.
Topics can vary greatly but could include:
- something about you, such as a hobby or an interest that you’re passionate about
- a research project, or your dissertation
- a business problem the company is facing
- the fundamentals of a technical aspect required for the role applied for
The key to delivering a successful presentation is to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. It is important to think about the format and content of your presentation, the logistics of the event, and rehearse your delivery.
Before you begin making plans make sure you have the following information:
- The length of the talk – this will help you plan the amount of content you can include
- The audience and equipment – this will help plan the level of detail and the format
Once you have an overview of the requirements you can start to plan the content. You may find it helpful to consider the following when developing the outline:
- Think about the audience and their level of understanding on the subject.
- Don’t overload with too much detail but make your talk interesting by including data and examples to illustrate the points that you are trying to make.
- Keep it simple and aim for three or four big ideas in a five-minute talk.
- Structure your presentation by firstly giving the audience an outline of the content, then deliver the content and conclude by restating, very briefly, the key points.
- Concentrate on clear communication rather than overloading your audience with mass detail and be prepared to answer supplementary questions.
Flipcharts, handouts or PowerPoint can greatly enhance your presentation if used appropriately. They should illustrate and highlight key points rather than repeat what you are saying:
- Think carefully about font size, layout, colour and images.
- Try to avoid the temptation to overcrowd slides with text or animations as this can distract the audience from your input.
- Use brief bullet points as these are easier for the audience to read than long sentences and you want your audience to be listening to you, not reading copious notes.
- Do not read from the slides as this becomes boring and repetitive for the audience, instead, you should talk around your slides and give more detail.
- A storyboard can help develop your slides and ensure that the narrative builds as you progress through the presentation.
- Check spelling carefully.
- Save digital presentations with an appropriate file name so it’s easy to identify when you come to present it and check if it should be sent to your assessors in advance or brought on a memory stick.
- Finally prepare for the unexpected – it’s a good idea to have a few copies of your material printed just in case there is a problem with the computer. You can always use the paper copies as handouts for the audience.
Rehearsal & Delivery
Preparation is the key to success:
- Rehearse your presentation several times to make sure that it fits within the time limit. There can be a tendency to try to say too much and you must not overrun.
- Do not try to memorise your presentation word-by-word or read it from a script. Instead be familiar with your content and use cue cards to remind you of key points. This will make the flow of delivery appear more natural.
- Talking your presentation out aloud in rehearsal, practising in front of the mirror, recording yourself or asking a trusted friend to watch and provide feedback.
- The night before the presentation make sure you get a good rest as this will help you concentrate better which will also help with handling tension and nerves.
Presentation is a performance:
- When you’re ready to start check the audience is also ready then take a deep breath, smile, and begin by introducing yourself and your presentation topic. This will help calm your nerves and give a strong start point.
- It’s good to remember that you’re presenting to your audience not at them so try to look at them and show enthusiasm.
- Try to stand reasonably still and don’t fiddle or fidget with clothing or jewellery as it distracts your audience.
- Be mindful of the rate at which you speak – don’t gabble, but don’t speak too slowly either.
- Conclude the presentation by restating the main points then thank the audience and invite any questions.
- It’s common to take questions after your presentation. These may dig a little deeper into the topic or explore your thought process when constructing the presentation.
- To answer these well it’s a good idea to thank the questioner for their question and repeat it to help clarify what’s being asked. You can then pitch your answer and check back to the questioner that they’re satisfied with your response.
- If you don’t have an answer you can comment that it’s a great question and something that you’d need to look into further.
Presenting via video conference
You may be asked to deliver your presentation over video conference software like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams.
The same principles apply as with face-to-face delivery, with some additional points to consider:
- check your audience can see your slides.
- Check your audience can see and hear you.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the technology in advance, and check the College blog post Looking better on video calls by Thomas Angus, College Photographer and Image Manager for advice on how to present yourself well during video calls.
To find out about different types of presentation you might face, as well as advice on how to prepare, please watch Career Essentials - Presentations developed by the Careers Service.
A good way to develop your skill set, and watch some successful presenters, is by watching these short talks and courses:
- Presentation TED Talk –useful starting point for developing effective presentation skills.
- Demonstrating team cohesion (linkedin.com) - important if you are delivering group presentations
- Creating and giving business presentations (LinkedIn) - this has a business focus but gives good advice that can be applied in other areas.
There are also some useful links for further reading below: