If you have been invited to an assessment centre, you might find that you will be asked to give a presentation. Usually you’ll be given information about how long the presentation should be and, in most cases, you will also be given a topic to present on. If you are not given a topic in advance, don’t panic – this simply means that you will be told on the day, in which case, the presentation will be testing your skills under time pressure, rather than looking for perfect delivery. All candidates will have been given the same instructions, so you’ll all be in the same position!
Common topics for presentations include issues or challenges facing the organisation you are applying to, a particular innovation or form of technology which might shape the future development of the organisation, how to sell a particular product or service or, if you are applying for a position in the civil service, it could be about a recent political, economic or social issue which is of relevance to the position you are applying for. This is also a way that recruiters can assess your commercial awareness i.e. your understanding of the organisation and the broader challenges and opportunities it faces.
In the main, however, the choice of topic is not as important as the way you present on it. Employers use presentations as a means of testing a candidate’s ability to relate information clearly, succinctly, and in a well-structured manner. They’ll also be looking at your body language, your enthusiasm, and, in some cases, your use of appropriate technical and/or professional language.
If you’ve been given a topic to prepare in advance, employers will be looking at your research abilities – how much can you find out about a topic in the time you’ve been given, and how well have you understood it? This doesn’t mean that you should cram as much information into your presentation as possible, but you do need to show that you’ve grasped the main aspects of the topic. You may also be asked to provide a slide presentation to accompany your talk (usually with a maximum limit on the number of slides). If so, then be sure to use the slides well, including relevant accompanying information but without cramming each slide with lots of text. As with your main talk, the slides should be clear and well-organised.
Make sure that your presentation has a clear beginning (introduction), middle (key points) and end (conclusion). To ensure that you don’t run over the time you’ve been given, it’s perfectly acceptable to use prompt cards. This can also help with nerves – but be sure not to rely on them too much. Looking down at your cards too often will hinder the connection you’re supposed to be making with your audience.
You may be asked some questions after your presentation: these will probably be requests for clarification or elaboration on certain parts of your presentation. So long as you have a decent understanding of what you’re talking about, you should be fine. Remember – they’re not trying to catch you out here, but are just testing your ability to think on your feet.
A few final points, which can be applied to all presentations: don’t turn your back to your audience, make as much eye contact as possible, sound enthusiastic and – also importantly – smile! You may feel anxious, but remember that your audience wants you to do well.