Public speaking: two words which can chill the blood of otherwise brave and enterprising people.


But however you feel about standing up in front of a group and talking, the ability to do so in a cogent, informative and persuasive way is a skill of huge value in your career. That’s exactly why more and more employers ask applicants to give a short PowerPoint presentation as part of their recruitment process.

And if the whole thing makes you cringe, the good news is that it’s natural to be nervous before giving a presentation. Your audience will be aware of that, and they won’t be expecting Simon Singh (he already has a job). And once you understand the basic principles, you won’t go too far wrong. So what are the golden rules?

Have a clear structure
Make sure your presentation has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning should introduce the subject of the presentation clearly, and the end should drive home your conclusions.

Keep it simple
In a job interview, there may well be non-specialists in the subject of your presentation, so be wary of technical language, and gloss any acronyms. Also, don’t overcrowd your slides. More than 30 words per slide is too much, so go back and edit your ideas.

Master the technology
Make sure any glitches are ironed out with a thorough practice run. Spelling or grammatical errors are also taboo.

Stay on time
If they ask for a 15-minute presentation, make sure your presentation lasts no longer. Your aim should be to leave them wanting more.

Keep it personal
They want to feel you are talking to them, so look them in the eye, use friendly, relaxed body language, and whatever you do, don’t read out a script.

Use humour, but not too much
The odd quip is great, but bear in mind that they’re looking for an informative presentation, not stand-up comedy. Don’t make jokes against yourself. Comments like “sorry if this is boring!” or “are you still awake at the back?” are unprofessional and embarrassing.

Pace yourself
Your audience may well have a question-and-answer session, or indeed a whole interview planned for after the presentation, so make sure you have some energy in reserve.

End on a high note
Don’t just fade away. Even a slide saying “Thank you” is better than nothing.

These are simple rules, but the art of presentations is hard to master. So practice, practice, practice – in front of a friend if possible – and each presentation you give will be better than the last.

last edited: October 01, 2012

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