WORKING STRATEGIES: Tips for doing a presentation during an interview

Amy Lindgren

So let’s see…job interviewing scares most people silly and public speaking is reputed to terrify folks more than being in an airplane crash. I know! Let’s put them together and see if we can induce cardiac arrest in candidates looking for work.

That’s probably not what employers are thinking when they require a presentation during the interview, but it might as well be. When I get calls from job seekers who are facing this double whammy, the anxiety wafting through the phone lines is almost palpable.

This is one of those situations where the only way out is through. Other than removing yourself from consideration for the job, you can’t really escape the obligation to present once the request has been made.

Luckily, you’re not likely to be terrible at it. Or, if you are, you probably won’t be the worst they’ve ever seen. Heck, you might even be good. You won’t know unless you try, so here are some tips to help you do your best.

1. Make friends with the interview coordinator. Whoever is making the arrangements for the interview process is the person you want to befriend. You’re going to need a bunch of extra details, and you’ll be thinking of them in bits and pieces. If you can call or email someone other than the interviewers, you won’t be wearing out your welcome before the meeting even starts.

2. Get more details. Speaking of bits and pieces, here are some of the things you’ll need to know: How long should the presentation be? Who will be in the audience? Topic? Should you save time for questions? If you’re on friendly terms with your handler, try for more information, such as whether candidates usually use PowerPoint or other tools, and how much these presentations count in the final decision.

3. Ask about the technical setup. Speaking of PowerPoint…if you’re planning on using a presentation software or other tools, you’ll need even more info: Should you bring a laptop, or just a flash drive? How about sound systems – will a microphone be necessary? Handheld or lapel? And last, but never, ever least: Who can you call if the technology fails?

4. Start counting backwards. Now that you know what the parameters will be, it’s time to let the truth sink in: You have to prepare for a presentation and a job interview simultaneously. Cue the flop sweat. Just kidding – this is totally plannable, which means it’s survivable. You just need to divide your time in half, and then stick to the schedule.

Here’s how that might look. Suppose your big meeting is set for 10 days from now. That means you have five days to prepare the presentation and another five days to prepare for the interview. If you’re wondering which to do first, go with the presentation. You don’t want to be up the night before trying to get your PowerPoint to come back online.

Now you just need to segment your time into activities. Suppose your previous commitments mean you can spare 15 hours preparing the presentation over those five days. As a rough estimate, plan on spending three hours outlining, four hours researching and writing, four hours on creating either a PowerPoint or a handout, and the final four hours practicing and making your notecards.

5. Don’t shortchange the interview for the presentation. What if you don’t feel ready after your five days are up? Too bad. The worst thing you could do is sacrifice your interview prep in the interest of moving text around on a PowerPoint slide – which is exactly what anxious people do when they have an extra day to do it in.

At the end of the fifth day, you should switch gears to thinking about what the interviewers might ask, what you’re going to wear, the whole nine yards. Then you can practice the presentation once more on the day before your meeting, just to keep things fresh.

6. Wear comfortable shoes. While you may be tempted to go with killer heels or spit-polished dress shoes, only make that choice if you would normally walk a mile in that footwear. Because that’s what your feet will feel like after standing in one place for 45 minutes waving around a PowerPoint clicker.

7. Sleep. Sleep. The best thing you can do after all this preparation is get a good night’s sleep. And then get another one when it’s all over, because you’re probably going to be exhausted. But it will be worth the pain and trouble, because you’ll do a great job. Go get ’em, Tiger!

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul.