So, you’ve made it through the first round of interviews and have been invited back to present to the hiring panel; a standard interview format for senior-level roles where you demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, both in the subject area and in delivering presentations. This insight is designed to guide you through what you should include, what to avoid, and what to expect when presenting to high-level executives in an interview setting.
If you are vying for a senior executive role, it is critical to be able to accurately and effectively present information and pitch ideas. The executive presentation is your chance to demonstrate your skills, but without appropriate preparation, it can also be your downfall. Executive presentations can be a nerve-wracking experience, but by following these tips, you will be well prepared and confident in your delivery, giving you a competitive edge.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
First things first, clarify whether the presentation permits visual aids (e.g. sides). Though this insight is intended to guide you through designing and delivering slideshow-based presentations, much of the advice is transferable to oral presentations too. If you are permitted to use visual aids, confirm the format they are to be presented in (e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint) and the facilities available (e.g. projector).
It is essential that you choose a mode of presentation that you can operate with ease. You can make the ideas flow better by keeping the work in a platform or programme that guides the entire process, from preparation to presentation. Failing that, Google Slides is a free web-based alternative.
Finally, know that the interview panel is going to be critiquing both the design and content of your executive presentation, so unless you have no choice, don’t leave your preparation until the night before. If you genuinely want the position, you must put in the time and effort to produce an informative and well-designed presentation that will help differentiate you from the competition. Ideally, you will put several hours of work into your presentation, have it proofread by a friend or supportive colleague, and then review it again having spent some time away doing something else (at least 3 hours). This gives you the chance to reread your presentation with fresh eyes, helping you spot any typos or inconsistencies while helping you judge flow.
Research the interview panel
As you are preparing your executive presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
- What topics are currently hot or particularly attractive in the industry?
- How much does the interview panel know about my choice of topic?
- Will any of my opinions, recommendations or views be unpalatable?
Devote some time to researching the individuals who will comprise the interview panel. If you are not sure, seek clarification from the person arranging your interview. Once you know who the interviewers are, look them up on LinkedIn. What is their role? Recent accomplishments? You can also Google the individuals to see whether they have contributed to any media articles, press releases or hosted any events which could be indicative of their expertise. By getting to know your audience, you should be able to tailor your presentation to be of interest to them.
Knowing who is on the interview panel can help you predict what questions you could face during the Q&A session so you can prepare potential answers to these questions accordingly.
Keep it simple
When it comes to structuring your presentation, use the time-honoured structure outlined below:
- Introduction outlining what your presentation is about and the key themes covered.
- History, including the origins of the topic and the key milestones which shaped it.
- Benefits that arise from your topic, both current and projected.
- Drawbacks, both known and anticipated and how they can be mitigated.
- Best practice guidance, including how to achieve it and relevant case studies.
- Future, outlining trends and prediction for its evolution or demise.
- Conclusion with specific recommendations and introducing Q&A’s.
- Q&A session to respond to questions raised by the interview panel.
Always Aim for 20% of your presentation slides to be thought-provoking and challenging, and the remaining 80% to be insightful or informative. This is called the 80:20 rule.
Unless otherwise stated, you should aim for your presentation to last approximately 10 minutes, though always clarify with the hiring authority. Should your presentation finish early, then it can be assumed that there was not sufficient depth to your argument. Finish outside of the allotted time frame, and the hiring panel will question your preparation and delivery or even cut your short.
Don’t threat about the number of slides. Instead, apply the rule that each slide should represent one message or theme conveyed in 3-5 points. Like a billboard, each slide should be digestible at a glance, so use as many slides as you need to clearly and concisely communicate your message throughout your presentations. You present details, the slide provides the outline.
Finally, ensure you research your topic and cite the sources used in shaping your argument. Use only credible sources; your work and the work of your colleagues and seniors are expected to go beyond simple opinions sourced from the internet. Peer-reviewed articles, publications from subject matter experts or articles from industry media outlets are an excellent place to start.
Keep it on brand
Here are a few design tips and tricks you can use to make an attractive, concise presentation:
- Design a simple and elegantly styled template.
- Use 2 or 3 dominant colours throughout the design.
- Keep to the same font and format throughout.
Adding the company logo to the top right or bottom right corner of each slide can be a nice touch and demonstrates professionalism. Likewise, when choosing colours, use the company website as your guide, noting the colours used for titles, headings etc. and replicating this in your design. The Colorzilla Chrome extension can help you pinpoint the colours used on an organisations website.
Finally, print the slideshow to circulate to each member of the hiring panel. If you need to convey lots of technical information, give the key facts in your presentation and prepare supporting documentation with additional information which references each slide. We would also strongly urge you to back up your work, either on a USB stick, on cloud storage such as Google Drive.
It is vital to be pumped and ready for the presentation on the day. Do whatever you must to put yourself in the right frame of mind, whether that be an early morning jog to release tension, a relaxing bath or even a Continental breakfast. Give yourself what you need to be at your best, but whatever you do, give yourself time. Time to get to the interview without fluster.
Now practice. By practising what you are going to say, you will be better prepared and less nervous. As an absolute minimum, you should be able to recall the order of the slides and the main points they contain without needing to reference them. This level of preparation pays dividends; by knowing your slides, you can give your audience 100% of your attention. You will also find that, in doing so, you have a higher probability of delivering your presentation within your allocated time slot as well as making it flow naturally; a win-win scenario.
As you stand up to deliver your presentation, bear in mind your audience. Senior executives are renowned for being a tough crowd. They are time poor, have full schedules and desire facts fast. They can be quite impatient or abrupt in their quest to obtain the information they seek, picking holes in your logic or requesting that you skip slides to satisfy their hunger for facts. Whatever the situation, always have supportive data to hand should you need it to expand upon a point further. Bear in mind that if you do, you may also need to skip slides to stay on schedule.
The key is to remain calm, alert and flexible. Although you are presenting information, it is helpful to think of this as a two-way conversation. Stay professional and maintain eye contact. This has the added benefit of allowing you to gauge the body language of the executives, which can help you decide whether to move on to the next point or elaborate further on the current one.
Finally, bear-in-mind that body language says more than words, so make an effort to avoid over animating your hands or feet. Remember, you are merely trying to share information. The interview panel is human too and that they are well aware that you are probably feeling a bit on edge. Just breathe and enjoy your moment as best you can. It is your time to shine.
After the executive presentation
Congratulations, you got through in one piece, but there are still a few things you can do not to improve your odds of success.
At the end of your presentation, request the email addresses of the interview panel so that you can email your presentation. You can use this email as an opportunity to:
- Thank them for their time.
- Highlight one/two key points from the conversation.
- Reiterate your interest in the role/organisation.
- Emphasise your skills and competencies.
- Clarify any points you did not answer sufficiently.
You should wait to receive feedback on your presentation and the outcome of the interview. However, if you haven’t heard anything back after a week, it’s appropriate to follow up by email. In the meantime, continue with your executive job search and read our insight: Post-interview Etiquette: A Guide for Senior Managers and Executives in the Life Sciences.
For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.