Every conversation is a presentation, and no conversation has higher stakes than a job interview. To succeed, you need to convince a potential employer you are the right person for the job.
Over the past year, I have been coaching people in the art of the effective job interview – with a 100% success rate so far. This is probably due to the fact that so many aspects of presenting yourself to a future employer rely on presenting and public speaking skills – my areas of expertise.
Here are some tips essential to effective presenting that can be applied to the job interview.
Put yourself in the shoes of the your audience
Look at every question from the employer’s perspective and do your homework. This means doing a detailed research of the company and what their needs are both today and in the future. With this information, you can explain your assessment of their challenges and opportunities and why you can help them meet them.
For example, when asked why are you interested in the job, you could reply:
“I’ve had twelve years in customer service positions, with four years managing the whole department. Your position clearly demands a strong service component in areas where I have expertise.”
Highlight the benefits to the audience
What is in it for them? This is very important to spell out when presenting and indeed training, but especially so in a job interview. They are hiring you to meet a new challenge or solve a problem. You need to show them you are the ideal solution.
Often the first question in a job interview is along the lines of present yourself/tell us about yourself or what do you do?
You need to mention what you do but also highlight the value it brings to them.
If I were to do this for my business to a prospective client working for an international organisation, I would say:
“I am a former BBC journalist, UN spokeswoman and head of media at WWF International,(features) with more than 15 years as a trainer helping international organisations communicate more effectively (benefits). This means I can advise you on how to better influence policy decisions on X in Y country (added value).
This technique can also be used at a networking event when you have to present yourself and your business. In this instance, you may want to create interest and provide a potential hook by saying something intriguing to encourage them to ask more. It is known as an elevator pitch in that you should be able to deliver it to your dream prospect that you bump into by the time the elevator has gone from the top to ground floor.
Back up your assertions with proof points
In an interview you will often be asked about why you are the right person for the job. Here you need to identify what makes you stand out from the competition.
The easiest way to do this is to make a point and then give an example.
“I have an excellent track record in helping manufacturing companies make a profit. My team looks to see where they can cut costs or increase their margins. With a typical client, we can boost their profits by 7% in the first year. With one car manufacturer we worked with a couple of years ago we recommended a lot of changes and their first-year profit went up by 15%.”
These types of answers need to be prepared before but delivered as if this is the first time you have said them. Strange as it may seem, this means you need to practice delivering them in front of the mirror or even better film yourself on your smart phone. You also have to make sure that your tone and body language give a positive impression.
In future blogs, I shall share how to use the right non-verbal communication, apply storytelling techniques and handle some of the trickier questions that you may be asked in a job interview.
Those who know me would say that I am not one for hyperbole. However the speakers I coached at the UN TEDx PlacedesNationsWomen event in December completely hit the target.
I coached 8 of the 11 speakers at the event, celebrating women’s empowerment.
The speakers had great content and delivery, and kept the audience engaged from start to finish.
Yet, it proved to be a lot of work for all those involved with many lessons learnt. So for those who are planning to organise a TEDx, give a talk or want to become a more impactful public speaker, here are 5 do’s and 5 don’ts from coaching and observing speakers.
- Select a speaker fluent in the language of the talk. You have to memorise your TEDx talk, which means it helps to be absolutely fluent in the language. This will also ensure you sound natural and conversational when you deliver it. And a good memory is key!
- Have an inspiring personal story to tell. You have to put yourself in the story for it to resonate with the audience. Many professionals shy away from the personal, preferring to speak about “it” rather than “I”. But this is not a TEDx talk. You have to be prepared to open up in your talk, share your experiences, opinions and values.
- Leave behind your professional presenting style. You are no longer an academic, activist or lawyer, you are now a storyteller. You are not there to share your knowledge, but to persuade the audience your idea has merit. This means getting rid of unnecessary detail. You need to set the context, and what is most important are the individual stories you tell to illustrate your points and the narrative arc of the talk.
- Match your words to your voice and body language. You have to make sure that these three channels of communication are aligned. You need to guide the audience so they understand immediately the emotions (joy, sadness, compassion) you want them to feel. And to do this you have to modulate your speed, pitch and tone. The pause, for example, will let the emotion you want to convey hover in the air so that the audience has time to absorb it.
- Structure with clear signposts. You need to help your audience with short declarative sentences, which tell them where you are going. For example, this is my story of empowerment; I was in denial; or myths and taboos lead to stigma and harmful practices.
- Don’t write your talk to be read. Write your talk to be spoken. This means adding some short sentences as this will aid delivery and give the talk rhythm. Don’t weave your ideas subtly from one paragraph to another – talks have to be understood at first hearing, not second reading!
- Don’t write your talk too early. Talks take time to evolve. The talk you initially write may be too neutral. As you increase your understanding of what is a powerful TEDx talk, you will realise that it is an organic process as you gain greater confidence in your storytelling abilities.
- Don‘t write your talk at the last minute. You need time to absorb the talk, practice it by saying it out loud so that it becomes part of you. If you leave it late, then you are likely to fall into a deadly TEDx trap of not quite mastering your talk. If you recite it, the audience will feel that you are talking at them rather than to them.
- Don’t manipulate the audience. If you ask people to take an immediate action, make sure it is for the right reason and a coherent part of your talk. If it is a forced action, people are confused at best and manipulated at worst.
- Don’t look to be good, but to be yourself. Audiences have a sixth sense. They immediately spot those with fake smiles, tone and body language. They know when, behind the rhetorical flourishes, there is no substance. They don’t mind if you trip over your words, or even go blank, as long as you remain true to yourself, leave your ego behind and put yourself at the service of the audience.
Next month I shall share with you some of the highlights of the talks to illustrate some of the public speaking techniques that work and we practice in my coaching and training sessions.
I was at a conference recently where during the Q and A session, the moderator failed to stop a woman from sharing her life experience as a refugee with the audience. Interesting, as it was how she ended up in Oxford from Myanmar, it was not relevant to the subject of the panel.
As the audience became restless with many rolling their eyes, the moderator did try to interrupt and ask for her question. She said she had no question but thought the audience should know about what she went through!
This made me think of how important it is as a moderator or as a presenter that you handle effectively the Q and A session.
Below are some tips based on my experience as a moderator and presenter who trains in both disciplines.
The audience member, who doesn’t ask a question, but makes a comment.
- Make it clear before you take a question that you want a question not comments.
- Take a leaf out of the book of Christiane Amanpour, the doyenne of CNN, when she moderated a panel at the UN in Geneva.
It is a technique that I find usually works but sometimes as Christiane discovered, it fails to deter the persistent. If this happens to you, you must wait for the person to draw breathe and politely interrupt for the sake of the audience and the panel members, as Christiane does here.
However, you may find, as I did, that certain audience members believe they should have been on the panel and therefore want to share their experience. This is fine as long as the organisers let you know beforehand that someone wants to intervene with a comment.
Handling the audience member who rambles
This happened to me during one of the first panels I moderated. The culprit was sitting right in my line of view so I went to him first. He made no sense as he started to read long passages from a text. I looked at the panellists to see if they understood, but found they were just as nonplussed.
I asked him to get to the point, but he continued to ramble. As the audience began to stir in their seats, I politely told him that we would answer his question in the break.
- Don’t wait until the audience become impatient before asking the questioner to clarify. If they don’t, tell them the panellists will answer their question after the event.
- Ask the organisers beforehand if there is anyone in the audience who is likely to make comments, or speeches. In this case, the person in question was a serial offender and had previously been asked to leave by security when he kept on talking without getting to the point!
Handling the audience member whose English is not understandable
This is my weak point. I speak French and German and am well aware how difficult it is to ask a question in public in a foreign language. I can be too indulgent and try and help the person too much to make their point.
- Seek clarification once, paraphrasing and checking back with them that you have understood.
- If this fails, ask if anyone in the audience can translate the question for the panel.
- Ask the organisers beforehand to provide simultaneous translation if they think the audience will benefit.
Handling the hostile questioner
In my experience this is more of an issue for the presenter/panellist than the moderator. However, the technique is similar.
- Listen actively – try to understand what they are really saying/mean and feel.
- As the moderator, you should understand and acknowledge their concern. As the presenter/panellist, you could reformulate the question positively and answer with what you know or believe. You can also involve the audience and ask their view.
- Closure – check back as the presenter/panellist or in some cases as the moderator that you have answered their question or addressed their concern.
Often people are nervous about the Q and A session, but if you take control you will earn the respect of your audience, panel and the organisers, not least because you have kept the event on time and on track.
If you would like more tips on handling the Q and A session as a panel moderator or when giving a presentation, do attend one of my moderating or presenting trainings.