To truly understand what it takes to be successful at the presentation exercise at an assessment centre, you need to understand WHY it is included in the day. This should then enable you to understand what to focus on when trying to give the best presentation you can.
Firstly, the basics. There are a number of ways that a presentation exercise can be included in an assessment centre. It can be an individual presentation that you prepare in advance, an individual presentation that you prepare on the day, or a presentation that you prepare and deliver as a group, or a presentation that you prepare as a group and deliver individually using the same material. But no matter what option you face, most of the fundamentals remain the same.
Most people acknowledge that presentation skills can be 'taught'. Most of you will go through some sort of Presentation Skills training on your graduate programme, or shortly thereafter. So why assess you on something they are going to teach you later on?!
Why? Reason Number 1: Put you under pressure
At least 75% of the population hate giving presentations. The remaining 25% probably used to hate it once, but are so used to doing it now that they actually enjoy it. Thus, including a presentation as part of the day is an almost guaranteed way to make you feel extra nervous, put you under time pressure and see whether you crack.
To pass this part of the test: Hold your nerve. Much easier said than done, but take a couple of deep breaths before you go in to the room; tell yourself "I CAN do this", think positive. Final tip - smile pleasantly at your audience before you start. This says "I'm ready, I'm confident, I can put on a brave face when I'm under pressure - I can hold it together".
Why? Reason Number 2: Can you analyse information?
Most of the time you will be provided with far more information than you need for the presentation exercise. Or you will be preparing on a topic where you are being asked to come up with the information - which can often have the same result. So what you are being tested on is the ability to pull out the key points of information for delivery.
To pass this part of the test: Most presentations should take broadly the same outline. Objectives/Agenda/Intro (depending on the topic); 2-3 slides with the key messages; and a summary/conclusion/next steps slide. Make sure you include the key messages; sometimes in the rush to get everything out, grads can forget a major point and that alone can be enough to fail the exercise. Don't try to get too much on your slides. If you need to, make detailed notes on separate paper to take in with you, but don't try to include everything on the slides.
Why? Reason Number 3: Can you empathise your audience?
This part of the presentation is key and in my experience, overlooked by at least 60% of graduates in the rush to get their presentation ready and delivered. Many companies have the audience - which could be one or more people - play a role. Somewhere in your brief it will say "You are presenting to the M.D./the Sales team/the Project Manager...etc etc". You must pitch your presentation to that audience and not just generically present back the information that you've been given.
To pass this test: Before you even begin to think about slides/flipcharts, take a moment to think about what is important to that person or team. Can you empathise with them? Your presentation could potentially take a number of forms e.g. if it's a P.M., you'll want to focus on the plan, the risks/issues, the budget, reporting, etc. If it's a M.D. sponsoring the project, you'll talk more about the deliverables, the implementation and the changes that will result to the business.
The main point I want you to note with the above 3 reasons is they are nothing to do with presenting in itself.
Some other points to keep in mind when presenting:
- First impressions count as always - make a strong start
- Introduce yourself and welcome when you begin
- Don't read from the slides, 'talk to' the information on them, but phrase it differently.
- Take care of your body-language - don't sway from side to side or move your weight from one foot to the other
- Decide if you want to take questions throughout or at the end, and say that up front to your audience (keeping in mind who the 'are' and what is appropriate for them)
- Close with a strong summary and thank you
When considering your presentation exercise, think about the whole exercise - the preparation, the presenting of yourself, the smile, the opening, the closing, the slides. Don't get too pre-occupied with the 5-10mins where you are actually talking. If you get all the other stuff right, you will feel more confident and this will result in better presentation content and delivery.
All you need to do is convince them that you have the potential to be a good presenter - make them want to invest in you. So do the best you can but don't despair if it doesn't go well - it is relatively unusual for a whole decision on a graduate to be dependent on their presentation skills. Don't fall into the trap of letting a "bad" presentation exercise affect you for the rest of the day... move onto the next exercise without giving it a second thought.