A common practice in interviewing for senior roles is to require candidates to make a presentation, with the hiring organization issuing instructions on time limit and subject. While this may seem like a daunting experience, it can actually be good for your candidacy, if you prepare.
Presenting puts you in the driver’s seat and allows you to demonstrate sides of you that may not be as evident in a traditional interview situation. The presentation may also precede a business discussion on some of the key issues raised during the presentation. Unlike many interview situations where you don’t know what the format will be, here, you have the advantage of being able to prepare.
Here are some tips to make the most of the opportunity:
Answer the Question: In most cases, you will be given a specific question to answer or challenge to address and a 10-15 minute time frame in which to do it. My most important advice is to answer the question. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how many slides and minutes most people put into introductions, background information and other relevant, but not critical content. Do not skimp on recommendations and how you intend to solve the problem, or pursue the opportunity.
Challenge Yourself: Now that you have a draft, where are you most likely to be challenged? Presentations often require you to make a recommendation on a course of action. A common pitfall is the “how” part. How will your recommendation be implemented? How much will it cost? By when? What does the organization get out of your recommendation?
Supplemental Material: Do not go over on time and do stick to the subject they have asked you to address. However, unless specifically forbidden to do so, you might want to add a hand-out or two to supplement your presentation. Process-flow charts, a summary spreadsheet, or a drill-down on a specific topic may help push you over the top.
Visual: You can significantly elevate your message with a visual representation of information rather than the same old bulleted slides. Timelines, data breakdowns, or segmentation ideas are often best handled visually, rather than in text.
Defend, but don’t Argue: You may get asked some difficult follow-up questions. They may be legitimate clarifying questions about content, or an attempt to see how you handle yourself. You should attempt to defend your recommendations, ideally with objective measures. However, sometimes you will find yourself with the wrong recommendation, the wrong answer, or not in agreement with the people conducting the interview. You have to read the situation and decide when to back off. Do not try to win an argument in an interview. Instead, find a way for both sides to win. “You make an excellent point. My recommendation is an example of an approach we could take. However, we would need to get some hard data first before making a final conclusion.”
On Stage: It goes without saying that you are on stage and need to conduct yourself accordingly. Know your presentation and timing. Make eye contact with your audience. Pause between important points. Use presentation slides to support your text, rather than read from the slides. Do your best to speak without cue cards. Find out ahead of time what the audio-visual situation is going to be. Be comfortable enough with your subject so that you can seamlessly handle interruptions, or required changes in direction based on audience feedback.
In other words, it really isn’t that different from any professional presentation. Know your content. Back-up your recommendations. And, be prepared.