How to Ace Your Assessment Centre Presentation

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The gradsingapore Team
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If the thought of speaking in front of a mixed group of candidates and assessors fills you with dread, follow our ground rules for a perfect presentation.

Let’s face it: presentations are almost unavoidable once you join the working world. New idea that you think can benefit your company? Sure, present it to your colleagues and the management board! Need to update your clients about certain sections of the project? Out comes the projector and whiteboard.

It’s clear, then, why recruiters include presentations as part of the assessment centre activities – whether as an individual or a team effort. You can’t exactly melt away the anxiety you may feel at having to give a talk, but you can definitely do certain things to prepare yourself!

Before you start working on your presentation, find out the following:

  • What to present: Will you be given a set topic, a list of subjects to choose from, or is it a free-for-all? If you have a free choice, opt for a topic that you know about and can present with confidence.
  • How much time you have: How much time are you given to speak, and does it include room for Q&As after you’re done?
  • What’s available: What kinds of facilities or visual aids (flipcharts, whiteboards, laptop, internet access, etc.) are available for your use? Find out so that you can prepare the appropriate materials.
  • Who’s listening: Who will your audience include? Knowing who you’re presenting to helps you decide on aspects like your tone, the type of jokes that you can crack, and what to focus your presentation on.

And your subject today is...

Depending on recruiters, presentation formats at graduate assessment centres can vary greatly. Some may decide to surprise you with impromptu presentations, where you have to choose your presentation topic from a list of pre-selected titles. You will typically be given only five to ten minutes to present, with an additional five minutes to prepare.

Alternatively, recruiters may also provide you with a topic prior to the actual assessment day so that you can prepare in advance. While this does give you time to prepare and practise, it also means that recruiters will have higher expectations as well.

One common choice of topic could be your thesis or final year project, but there are also instances where candidates are asked to present on a case study.

If you’re allowed to choose your own topic, go for something that you’re familiar with and confident about instead of something that sounds impressive but is less familiar. Try to pick a topic that is general enough that your audience will not be left out, but exclusive enough that it expresses your preferences and personality.

For instance, if you’re a frequent volunteer at animal shelters, presenting on animal cruelty and appealing to the company’s CSR culture might be a good bet.

The basics of preparing good presentations

1. Every presentation needs a structure
Having a clearly-structured presentation can be a useful outline or reminder as you speak, but did you know that a good structure is helpful to your audience too? Having a clear structure helps your audience know how far into the talk they are, as well as what to expect next.

Mark your presentation with a clear beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning should be headed by a friendly welcome and an introduction to your topic. Start by outlining what you intend to cover, so that your audience can keep track of the presentation.

For the middle, structure your content according to the amount of time that you have. If you’re only given five minutes to present, do not go beyond three points. Use your time to argue your points more comprehensively instead of doing a touch-and-go.

With 10 minutes, you may have leeway to include more details and narrative, but try to stick to just three main points, nonetheless.

The end of your presentation should be nothing more than a summary of your thoughts and arguments. Cap that off with an opportunity to ask questions, then thank your audience for their time and attention.

2. Be ruthless with your content
When preparing your presentation, avoid the temptation to include all the information you’ve gathered (because hey, they’re all relevant, and I sound smarter too)!

Recall the last time you listened to a talk/lecture where the speaker had too much information to share. Chances are, you probably already tuned out even before the speaker was halfway through their presentation.

Avoid becoming one of those speakers by keeping your presentation to the essentials. Elaborate where necessary, but try to keep most of your presentation in bite-sized points so that it’ll be easy to digest. This may call for a lot of content-slashing, but it will be worth your while.

Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Fellow, also recommends the “10-20-30 Rule” for presentations. Your slides should not exceed 10 slides, run no longer than 20 minutes, and have no text smaller than 30-point font.

Adjust this in relation to the time limit given to you. If you are only permitted to present for 10 minutes, then you know that you will have to slash your slides down to five slides or less.

3. Watch your non-verbal cues
Presentations aren’t just about verbal communication. Most of your message is transmitted through non-verbal cues. Here are some tips on how to manage yours:

  • A friendly smile is vital! It doesn’t just help you relax, but also makes you look more appealing to your audience.
  • Slow your speech down! Some candidates have a tendency to speed up as they talk – mainly due to nerves. If you feel yourself speaking too fast, pause, take a breath, and re-adjust your pace. Consciously stretching your vowels a little as you speak helps, too.
  • Vary the tone of your voice to express excitement and enthusiasm. This will keep your speech from degenerating into an emotionless monotone. 
  • Remember to project your voice appropriately. Don’t speak so softly that no one can hear you, but don’t start yelling too loudly either. Moderation is key!
  • Watch your hand gestures and posture as you speak. Check yourself for compulsive gestures such as running fingers through your hair, licking your lips, or shifting your weight from side to side. Do your best not to fidget, and keep your posture straight.
  • Make sure you maintain eye contact with your audience. Don’t stare solely at one person, though – adjust your gaze periodically to include everyone on the panel.

4. Don't start until you’re ready
Many candidates get pressured into starting the moment they step up to the podium, without checking to see if everyone – including themselves – is ready. Instead of jumping the gun, take some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

Take deep breaths, and look around to check if everyone is seated and ready for you to begin. Use that moment to get used to the feeling of standing in front of your audience. Once everyone looks ready, then you can begin. Don’t let your nerves dictate when you should start.

5. Master your visual aids
You may be asked to produce PowerPoint slides to accompany your presentations. Here are a few points to take note of when you’re using visual aids:

  • Keep your visual aids visual – that means less text. A clear heading is a must, and stick to just three to five bullet points per slide. Use simple, easy-to-understand charts, graphs, or diagrams, and use a simple yet professional design theme.
  • Remember that you are the star of the show, not your slides. Use visual aids only to clarify what you are saying, not as a tool to keep your audience distracted from you.
  • Never read from your slides or talk to your visual aids. This is very easy to do if you get nervous, so be sure to face your audience at all times.

6. Practice is essential for a good presentation
As much as you dislike it, don’t skimp on practice – especially if you’ve been informed of your subject beforehand. 

  • Get someone to watch your practice sessions if possible. They may be able to point out some things that you can’t see yourself.
  • Speak out loud instead of rehearsing quietly in your mind. This will help you get used to the timing and pace. How fast and how loud should you speak? What hand gestures should you make to emphasise a particular point?
  • Think about the type of questions that your audience might ask, and consider how you can best answer those. If you’ve invited an observer to watch you practise, have them ask questions too as part of the rehearsal.
  • Do a full-dress rehearsal so that you get used to feeling of presenting while suited up. It’s a good opportunity to fix up any flaws in your outfit, too!