Presentations

Presentations are an increasingly popular element of the candidate selection process. The experience that you gain throughout your time at university will enable you to develop your presenting skills. However, whilst course presentations are used for demonstrating and sharing your knowledge, presentations as part of a selection process are likely to be used as a medium to assess other things as well.

Why might you be asked to do a presentation?

  • To assess your knowledge
  • To assess your communication (and specifically, your presentation) skills
  • To see how you perform under pressure
  • To assess your ability to research, plan and prepare
  • To measure your motivation

It is therefore important that you are not only secure in the knowledge that you need to share but that you are able to present that information in a professional and confident manner. Careful preparation and planning, coupled with a large helping of practice, will enable you to become more confident and thus more able to give your best on the day.

Preparation

In order to prepare and deliver an effective presentation you will need to know:

  • The subject you have to present - You are likely to be given a presentation title or brief. Ensure that you adhere to this and keep on topic throughout the presentation.
  • How long your presentation should be - Accurate timing is essential. It will demonstrate that you have prepared effectively and are mindful of your audience.
  • And who you will be presenting to - What is their background? What level of detail or explanation is needed? What are their expectations of your presentation?

What you need to plan:

If you plan to use PowerPoint, don’t confuse planning your presentation with writing the PowerPoint. You should always plan your content first and only then consider producing your slideshow to support your presentation.

Content

Make sure you understand the requirements of your presentation brief and then ensure that you meet those requirements. Your content must be relevant. This may involve significant research about a company or a topic related to your application; or it might be about you - for example: “why do you want this job?” Some presentations might involve a case study or scenario which you have to work through and then deliver your analysis and recommendations.

Whatever the situation, you need to be clear about your key messages and facts and be able to back them up with evidence. Make sure that you have an appropriate amount of material to fill the allocated time.

Structure

Just as you would structure an essay, you need to ensure that your presentation has an introduction, a middle and an end (conclusion). Broadly speaking: “Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them and then tell them what you have told them!”

  • Introduction - Introduce yourself and then outline what your presentation aims to cover. Remember that you will be judged not only on how you meet their brief but by the extent to which you meet your promises. The idea is to capture interest at the start and then carry your audience through to your conclusion.
  • Middle -This is where you share your key messages. Don’t overload your audience with too much information. Keep your key points to a manageable quantity - they are not going to remember everything you say so make sure that you emphasise the essential information. Illustrate your key points with examples and evidence. Use visuals to emphasise your points – this may be key words or pictures. Do not be tempted to present text-heavy slides - your audience with be too busy trying to read the slides rather than focusing on what you are saying.
  • Conclusion- Revisit your key messages. Briefly summarise your presentation and offer the opportunity to ask questions.

“Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.”
Dorothy Sarnoff American operatic soprano, musical theatre actress, and self-help guru

How to organise and present your content

When preparing your presentation it is worth bearing in mind how people receive and register information:

  • The Rule of Three - Organising your key points in groups of 3 can be powerful as it is easier to process and retain information presented in this way. Identify the 3 key messages that you want your audience to take away with them at the end of your presentation.  You could try asking yourself “What?”, “Why?” and “How?” and use this to structure your argument.
  • You could try to limit yourself to three key points on a slide.
  • Use of contrast – highlight the preferred outcome and contrast it with the alternative  
  • Make sure that your presentation has a clear flow. If your introduction is accurate, your audience should understand the direction of travel and is more likely to be engaged.

Using PowerPoint

  • Less is more - don’t be guilty of death by PowerPoint i.e. too many slides and too much detail. This is a sure fire way to disengage your audience. Remember the rule of three, but sometimes a single word on the screen or an image can be all that is needed.
  • ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. Sometimes using a picture can create more of an impact and your words will provide the context and detail. It has been shown that when using slides the text delivers 7% of the received information, a visual component delivers 55% and the voice delivers the remaining 38%.
  • Don’t be tempted to use lots of jazzy transitions – they can be too distracting and may be perceived as unprofessional.
  • Be aware of font size and style (never use Comics Sans for example) as well as text and background colour. Some people with visual impairments may have difficulty perceiving certain colours on some coloured backgrounds.

Planning the delivery of your presentation

  • Timing. Respect your audience and keep to the timescale you have been given. If your presentation is being assessed, then your ability to manage time will be under scrutiny. Your audience is there for a purpose. Not filling the allocated time will mean you are wasting their time. If you run over, you are likely to be impacting on their schedule and may inconvenience them and others. Be polite.
  • Engage your audience early. Start off with something which is going to make an impact. This will set the tone of your presentation and will give your audience an idea of what to expect. This could be (but doesn’t have to be) for example:  a question, a meaningful quote, a key statistic or an impactful image.
  • Use your voice effectively
    • Volume - ensure that you can be heard by your entire audience – if you normally speak quietly, practice projecting your voice and ask for help if you need to. Emphasise words that have significance.
    • Pitch - Ask a question and see how your pitch changes, compare that to when you make a statement. Use this knowledge.  Not varying your pitch can be…..well…..monotonous. You do not want to send your audience to sleep!
    • Pace and rhythm - Be aware of speaking too quickly (hard for your audience to process information) or too slowly (stilted). It is OK to pause for emphasis or to allow your audience to process some significant information. Vary the rhythm of your voice to maintain interest.
    • Non-verbal body language - Don’t be a statue…..or a wild wanderer…..or a penguin (with your arms glued to your sides making little hand movements). Do not face the screen and read your slides, nor read your notes, head down, ignoring your audience!

It is OK to move and this can emphasise a point when done correctly. It is OK to use your hands and arms in moderation. You absolutely should make eye contact with your audience (and not just the person on the front row who is smiling encouragingly, but the WHOLE audience). And smile. Encourage them. Take them with you on this journey. Make them believe in you. How you come across to your audience is as important as what you say. 

  • Make sure that you are not a distraction. Dress appropriately to the occasion. If you look professional you are more likely to be perceived as professional. But dress comfortably – don’t be tempted to wear a brand new outfit that has not been tested in the field. You want to feel comfortable but know that you look the part.

 “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Carl W. Buechner Presbyterian minister born in 1926

Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to bringing all of the above together on the big day is to practice, and then practice a bit more…..

  • Check the timings – if it’s too long cut content. If it’s too short, why? Are you speaking too fast? Is your content too sparse?
  • Test it out on someone you trust to be honest with you. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Is it engaging? Are you engaging?
  • Does your PowerPoint presentation work? Check the transitions.
  • If you make changes to your presentation, do you need to adjust your notes?
  • As you gain familiarity with your presentation, can you reduce your notes?

Overcoming Nerves

Most people who deliver presentations will experience nerves of some sort. Being nervous can concentrate the mind and spur you on to deliver your best. The trick is to not let your nerves impact negatively on your performance. There are various things you can do to ensure that your nerves work for you.

  • Let’s say it again – Practice. If you know you can do it you are more likely to deliver on the day. You will build your confidence because you will be familiar with the content and there will be less room for error.
  • Breathe.  We can get ourselves into a negative cycle. Nerves lead to self-doubt, maybe remembering a previous occasion when a presentation went wrong.  Your mind fills in the gaps and responds as if you were back in that situation again. Your heart rate increases and you start breathing more rapidly. You can interrupt the cycle by:
    • Focussing on the excellent practice presentations you have delivered – there is no reason why you are not going to deliver this time - for real.  You can do it.
    • Consciously focussing on reducing your breathing rate. Take long deep breaths through your nose – aiming to fill your lower chest and not just the upper part of your chest and then breathe out slowly through your mouth. This will interrupt the physiological response to your nerves.
    • If you know you are inclined to get nervous, practice this regularly before your presentation so that you can control your breathing when you need to.
    • Own your space and practise ‘Power Poses’. See Amy Cuddy’s YouTube TED Talk – Fake it ‘til you make it

On the day

  • Dress to impress
  • If using PowerPoint, make sure that you have your presentation with you or that you have emailed it to the organisation beforehand if that is what they have asked you to do.
  • Arrive at your venue with enough time to get organised before your presentation is due to start.
  • Once at your venue, ‘Check the Tech’ and check the presentation environment.
  • Re-familiarise yourself with your ‘script’.
  • Check that you have any resources that you will need.
  • Calm yourself – see above.

Finally, Good Luck! If you do all of the above you will be much more likely to be successful on the day. Believe in yourself and go for it!