Presentation tips for assessment day success

Oh no. Oh yes! Dim the lights, drum roll please... it's time for your presentation! As part of your assessment day marathon, it's highly likely that you (yes, you!) will be asked to give a presentation to your assessors - and sometimes the other candidates too.

The prospect of having to do a presentation can feel like torture, but never fear - by the time we've finished with you, you'll be performing in the ring like a show pony (though The Gateway does not condone cruelty to animals).

All in the preparation

So let's get down to business. It's typical for you to be asked to prepare for this part of the day in advance - which, incidentally, is one reason among many for scrutinising that pack of information your potential future employer will send you very carefully indeed.

The Gateway once heard of one candidate who failed to do so and had to cobble together their five minute showpiece on the train on the morning of the big day. You do not want this person to be you. Just like a virtuoso trapeze performance or a dazzling tumbling act, your presentation may end up looking easy and smooth when you give it, but will in fact be the product of careful and extensive preparation.

Where does this preparation start? First step - choose your topic. You may be given some parameters, but often you'll have a free hand - recruiters are generally more interested in the how than the what of what you say.

So how do you pick? The golden rules are: don't be too obvious or boring (nothing about your employer unless specifically asked, please), choose something that interests you (otherwise how can you interest your audience?) and don't be too ambitious as it's surprising how little you can say in five minutes - "My trip to Mount Etna" is good, "The rise and fall of the Roman Empire" is not.

As you've picked something that interests you and you're keeping the focus tight, the next step - research and fact-finding - should be the easy bit. In fact, the challenge is likely to be limiting your information rather than extending it. But do spend some time checking your key nuggets of wisdom and filling in any gaps.

Then structure your information. Put it into a logical order and ruthlessly purge out anything irrelevant or uninteresting. Don't be afraid of repetition. In fact, it's a good thing - plan to tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you've told them. (Phew!)

Dress rehearsal

Once you have your information sorted, here comes the most important bit - performance (ta da!).

Your assessors will be scrutinising your demeanour, body language and rapport with your audience, so put as much or more time into getting this right as into finding your material.

For example, it's crucial that, while you may plan your presentation in longhand, you should never end up reading from a script - condense your points as soon as you can into bullets or key words and work from these to ensure that your talk comes across as natural and confident.

Then practice! Gather your family and friends around you and show off your tricks - you may feel stupid, but remember: if you can't perform in front of your nearest and dearest, how are you going to be able to do so in front of other candidates and assessors?


And so, finally, the big moment is here. It's the corporate equivalent of a sparkly leotard and a rope dangling from the ceiling - you're in your best suit and that flip chart awaits you.

Take a deep breath and walk slowly but purposefully to the front. Don't feel rushed.

Remember that, although it may not feel like it, you have a sympathetic audience - few people enjoy giving presentations and no-one likes to see someone struggle in front of them, so they're all willing you to do well. And if you are getting some hostile vibes, picture everyone in their underwear - it may be unconventional, but it works every time for us!

When you're feeling calm and cool - start! That wasn't so bad, was it! Take things slowly and stick to your plan.

Remember to breathe and to make eye contact (though with more than one or two people unless you want to get arrested). Keep an eye on the clock and don't be afraid to drop sections if there's not enough time to cover them or if you think they won't work on the audience.

Don't get fazed by laughter (when you're being deliberately funny, we hope), unexpected interruptions, or midway-through questions (we recommend you politely defer these until the end).

When you do get to the question stage (and you should always have a question stage), don't worry if no-one asks anything initially - have something up your sleeve along the lines of "People always wonder...." or "Someone once asked me if..." and you'll find that doing so gives people time to gather their thoughts.

And finally...

You're loving it up there now, aren't you! But as you're flying through the air with the greatest of ease, remember that there are other people to present too! End clearly with a final flourish or flip, and dust that chalk off your hands. You did it! (Cue applause).