Ask the Expert: How to make a winning presentation

Posted by jasoneconomides

Today we have an interview with presentations expert Beth Harvey, who I often send clients to for a presentation masterclasses. Here is what Beth had to say about what to do and what not to do to make a winning presentation in interview.


Eco Business Academy: Hi Beth, thanks for sparing some of your valuable time to share some pearls of wisdom with our readers. Why don’t you start by telling everyone how you became to be the ‘presentations guru’ and why this has become such a passion of yours?

Beth: My first ever presentation as a management trainee, longer ago than is appropriate to share, was probably the most terrifying experience I had ever had. But I persevered, and eventually learned to love it, so much so that I ended up training and presenting for a living. It’s a passion for me because I firmly believe that presentations are just conversations with groups of people and don’t have to be huge ordeals – and I’d rather other people reached that conclusion earlier in their careers than I did! Consequently, I really enjoy working with people of all ages, levels of seniority and backgrounds to help them enjoy their presentations, regardless of subject matter.

EBA: Fascinating! Okay, to get everyone started, perhaps you can tell us a couple of stories. One of a particularly great presentation, and one of a badly prepared presentation. What made them so good or so bad?

Beth: A professor of positive psychology at a conference delivered the best presentation I have seen recently. The worst was a results presentation to City analysts. What was fascinating for me was that although the content in the latter was (arguably) better composed, the presenters approached their audience as “the enemy”. In the first one, the whole session felt like a conversation with a very large group of friends. What both sessions reinforced for me was the importance of treating your audience, and their views, with respect.

EBA: thanks. Can you give us a top 5 Do’s and Don’ts to help job?hunters ace their presentations. What fonts, sizes, colours usually?work best? Should one put pictures or even sounds and moving pictures?in presentations?

Beth: Not sure about a top five either way, but there are definitely some golden rules that apply!

Prepare your presentation before you do your slides. Some of the worst presentations are written straight onto PowerPoint, and it shows – mainly because the author has just “brain dumped” whatever came into their head, and then tried to present it. Get your key messages straight first. What do you want the audience to remember?

Remember that a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t replace what you’re saying, so your presentation materials need to support, rather than replace, your content. It’s almost impossible to build a relationship with your audience if they’re trying to read a complicated slide before you move on to the next one. So a good rule of thumb to use is:

• No more than five bullets per slide?• No more than five words per bullet

It’s also helpful to take a minimalist approach to your materials – less is definitely more. No-one wants to endure Death by PowerPoint! Ten slides for a ten minute presentation is, in my opinion, at least six too many. You’ll struggle to get through them. If the organisation you are presenting to likes to use detailed or complicated materials, provide further, more detailed slides as handouts after the presentation, and cover the “headlines” in your allotted presentation time.

For interview presentations, try and use a font size and colour which are the same as, or similar to, the ones used by the organisation you want to join. You can usually pick these up from their websites. The subliminal message is “We are on the same wavelength!”

EBA: Ah, yes, matching – I can just hear the NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) practitioners out there resonating with that one!

Beth: Pictures are helpful, and often illustrate a point far better than words. Moving graphics and sounds can work but again, need to be appropriate and useful and support your key messages, rather than an exercise in demonstrating your IT skills. If you’re in any way worried about how they will work, best to avoid them.

So the questions to ask yourself are:?“Do my materials reinforce my main messages?”?“Are they appropriate to the culture of the organisation I am presenting to?”?“Am I confident that I can get it all to work properly on the day?”

A final tip – always take printed copies of your slides in case the laptop or projector fails you on the day. Having a contingency plan in place makes all the difference.

EBA: are there any good websites where we can pick up more?presentation tips or templates?

Personally, I’m not sure that templates are the answer – if you want to see them used comically to great effect, visit and see how Lincoln would have coped with modern technology… has lots of great tips and ideas, particularly for nervous presenters.

EBA: So far we have mainly talked about the electronic side of?presenting, you know, how to put together the materials. How about?the physical aspect of presenting. How should one deliver the? presentation? Does one stand up, and if so where? I know when I stand up and present I tend to walk around a little bit, and I try to engage my audience as much as possible with questions. I think that if one is in a situation where the recipients are sitting down, it’s better?to remain in the same plane or at the same level – as it helps maintain that all important rapport. What are your thoughts on this?

Beth: I agree with you, Jason, and I think that the culture of the firm is important here too. Don’t forget that national culture also has an impact on presentation approach, so if you’re presenting abroad, do your research on this. Check out the expectations of the audience in advance if you can. Do they expect a formal approach, where you stand up and they sit down? Can you ask people to interact, or will questions be kept until the end? Or is the organization or association the kind of place where everyone sits down and has a chat? Ask the person who is organising the engagement as many questions as you feel you can – about the people attending, what style the organisation prefers, and even the room itself. Preparation really does count here. The more information you have in advance, the more confident you’ll feel about your approach – leaving you free to concentrate on the content.

One final thought. Presentations are rarely the first stage in a selection process; the organisation has usually decided that you have something to offer before they ask you to prepare something like this. So remember – this is your opportunity to share your wisdom with a wider audience, and prove conclusively that you are the person for the job. Have fun, and good luck!

EBA: Thanks Beth for all of your advice, I know that Eco Business Academy readers will have found some fantastic tips here.

Add a Comment