If you have succeeded in getting to final interview for a professional job in Higher Education, the chances are that you will be asked to deliver a short presentation to the panel. You will usually be given a specific topic to prepare: typically this might be to address a current issue and make recommendations on how you would tackle this issue in the post. For teaching positions, you may be asked to deliver a class to an invited audience or to the panel.
The panel is usually judging:
- The quality of your ideas
- The clarity of your thinking – for example, if you are able to take a strategic perspective
- Your verbal communications skills, especially your ability to influence and engage your audience.
- Your organisation skills: how well you prepare beforehand and manage your time within the presentation
- Your formal presentation skills where this is a key part of the job.
Quite a tall order in 5 or 10 minutes!
Here are our top tips for how to prepare effectively and deliver a presentation with impact.
1. Have a Clear Message
Work out what you want to say in two or three sentences before elaborating your ideas. In order to make an impact, you need to have clear recommendations, backed up by convincing arguments.
2. Structure your Presentation
Make sure the structure of your presentation is clear. You need:
- A short introduction explaining what the presentation is about and what you are going to cover.
- Clear sections or themes within the presentation (there might be one slide per theme), ensuring your argument has a logical structure
- A summary of your arguments
- A clear conclusion with specific recommendations, identifying the resources required to deliver them.
3. Less Is More
It is better to keep your presentation succinct and allow the audience to ask follow-up questions at the end rather than rushing through a mound of information. It is especially important that any slides you use are visually clear and not text-heavy. Restrict slides to 3 or 4 for a 5-minute presentation, and 6 or 7 for a 10-minute presentation.
Remember, you don’t have to put all your points onto your slides – it is fine to put some top-line points on a slide but then elaborate on them verbally. If your presentation requires more detail, this can be given as a supporting hard copy handout.
4. Manage your Time
It is important that your presentation lasts the amount of time you have been given – too short and you can appear a lightweight candidate; too long and you seem poorly organised – and you may be cut off halfway through. It is always a good idea to have a timed run-through of your finished presentation but this is not always foolproof (nerves often lead people to speed up). Give yourself some flexibility by having an extra slide or two up your sleeve to add in if you are running ahead of time and/ or decide in advance on a slide which you will be able to skip if you are running over.
5. Do Your Research
Make sure you have researched your topic thoroughly. Find out how the institution or department have handled this issue in the past. Research what their competitor institutions are doing in this field. And have some relevant facts and figures to illustrate key trends at your fingertips – this can enhance your credibility and show impressive levels of preparation.
6. Know your Audience
Before writing your presentation, consider your panel members. What are their job responsibilities, priorities, professional backgrounds and interests? You can find out a lot through online research on sites such as LinkedIn, or ask others who work for and with those individuals. Think about your presentation from their individual perspective and consider what aspects of the topic will most interest them. Give some thought to any internal politics between members of the panel and how you might deal with these diplomatically.
7. Predict Follow Up Questions
Go through your presentation and work out what questions the panel might ask, especially given their job roles and personal perspectives. Make sure you have an answer ready for these questions. Typical follow-up questions might include: Why are you recommending x option and not y? What resources would be required to implement this? How would you go about getting a sign on to your recommendations with key stakeholders? What are the risks of this plan of action and how would you minimise them? How do your recommendations fit with the institution’s wider activities and strategies?
8. Test It Out
It is a good idea to run through your ideas for the presentation with colleagues who are well informed about the topic before you finalise the content. Gathering views can help you discover if there is something obvious you have neglected to mention and to ensure your ideas are well understood by others. Ask your colleagues to test you with follow up questions and see how well prepared you are.
9. Take Back Up
Always make sure you have a Plan B if the technology is not working or a vital piece of equipment is not available. If you are delivering a powerpoint presentation, email it to yourself as well as taking it on a stick just in case. It can also be helpful to print off some hard copies in case there are problems with the projector. You may wish to take a small clock in case the room doesn’t have one, and you don’t wish to keep checking your watch.
10. Build Rapport
The more familiar you are with your material and the more thorough your research, the more confident you will feel. The best way to engage your audience is to maintain strong eye contact; avoid looking at the screen or reading notes. Use keywords on a card as prompts rather than memorising sentences as a ‘speech’ as this will appear more natural. Remember to smile and to pause at key points. Address panel members by name when answering their questions. Remember to take your time and enjoy it! It’s not often you get to be the centre of attention and are able to put your views directly to senior members of staff.