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Graduate job candidate gives confident presentation

Deliver a presentation that's worthy of a graduate job

If the thought of speaking in front of a mixed group of candidates and assessors fills you with dread, follow our ground rules for a perfect presentation.

The presentation is, without doubt, the chief cause of anxiety for most candidates attending a graduate assessment centre. It might be a solo effort or you might join others in a group presentation; either way you'll need to be prepared.

Before we look at structure, confident speaking and dealing with visual aids, the biggest tip we can give you is to find out as much as you can about what's required before the day. To give yourself the best chance, find out the following:

  • the subject you will be talking on: if you have a free choice, select something you know about and can talk about confidently.
  • the length of the presentation and whether this includes time for questions.
  • the facilities and visual aids available: flipchart, presentation software, laptop, internet access, etc.
  • who you will be speaking to and their level of knowledge and expertise. This will help you pitch your talk at the right level.

And your specialist subject is...

Presentations at graduate assessment days can take different forms. You could be asked to prepare a five-minute presentation on the day: you may get to select a topic from a list, which could include introducing yourself, talking about a hobby, interest or achievement, or presenting on a topical industry issue or current affair. Alternatively, you may be asked to do a longer presentation that you prepare in advance. A typical subject could be your degree project, but you may be asked to work on a case study that includes a presentation element.

If you have a free choice, choose a subject you know or understand well. Don't go for something you are less familiar with because you think it will be more impressive. It is better to present confidently on a simple topic with which you feel comfortable.

The basics for preparing good presentations

1. Every presentation needs a structure
On the day you'll be nervous and your mind might go blank. Giving your presentation a good structure will make you feel secure, and a structure is helpful to the audience too. It helps them know where they are and what's to come.

Give your presentation a beginning, middle and an end. At the beginning, welcome your audience and set the scene: let your audience know what you will cover. If you have five-minutes your middle section will take about three of them. That's enough for two or three main points. Don't try to cram in too much detail: a few points, well made is best. The end should be a summary of what you have covered and achieved. Invite questions from the audience and when that's finished, thank them for their attention.

2. Be ruthless with the content
Inevitably, planning a presentation will involve you collecting too much information. Remember what it feels like to listen to a speaker. Too much information and you begin to switch off. Prune your talk to the essentials. You might want to break it into three memorable points you want your audience to take away with them. If you have too much information it's also much harder to keep to time.

3. How you come across is very important
Most of the message of your talk will be transmitted non-verbally.

  • A welcoming smile is good for both you and the audience.
  • Less experienced presenters have a tendency to speed up as they talk: try to speak clearly and at a measured pace. If you feel yourself start to rush, pause and get yourself back on track.
  • Try to vary the tone of your voice so that you don't sound like a drone.
  • Think about how and if you will move during your presentation. Keep hand gestures smooth, try not to fidget and keep your head up so that you don't talk to the floor.
  • Try to engage with your whole audience by presenting to everyone on the panel.

4. Don't start until you are ready
If you're nervous, your body will scream at you to begin and get it over with. What tends to happen next is that you start when neither you nor the audience is ready. Take your time. Before you say anything, pause, take a couple of calm, deep breaths and look around the audience. When they are settled and ready, you can begin.

5. Master the visual aids
You may be invited to use a flipchart or PowerPoint slides to support your presentation. There are certain things to bear in mind when using visual aids:

  • They must be visual: don't put too much written information on a PowerPoint slide or flipchart: a clear heading and a couple of bullet points is plenty. Try to use simple diagrams, charts or graphs to illustrate your points. Keep the design style straightforward and professional.
  • They must be a support and not a crutch: only use visual aids to clarify what you are saying. You want the audience to concentrate on you.
  • Don't talk to visual aids: when you feel nervous, this is very easy to do! Talk to the audience and not to the flipchart or screen.

6. Practice is essential for a good presentation
Practising a presentation is really cringe-worthy, but you must do it... and there are no excuses not to if you are given advance notice of your subject.

  • Practice your presentation out loud, so that you are comfortable speaking from memory with only the need for the brief prompts on screen or on index cards.
  • Practise your presentation out loud so that you feel comfortable with the timing and speaking at a measured pace (it is a cardinal sin to miss time a presentation and run over).
  • Practise your presentation out loud so that you feel comfortable projecting your voice. Talk to an imaginary audience so that you also practise looking around.
  • Try to anticipate the type of questions you might get from your audience and think about how you will respond to these.
  • Do a final dress rehearsal the day before so that you are happy that everything works well together.
  • More tips on how to practise for presentations.