A while ago I bumped into a former MBA student who’d just had a job interview. He said the interview had gone well, partly because he paid attention to body language, eye contact, and speaking speed—things he’d learned in a course I teach on business presentation.
That experience—he got the job—shows how the skills that matter when delivering a presentation also matter in a job interview. Both are about persuasion, and there are seven ways presentation skills can help you nail your next interview.
Understand your audience
The audience’s needs and concerns should drive a presentation. Success lies in knowing these and finding the overlap between their needs and your call to action (more on this in a bit).
In an interview, that means being able to articulate the overlap between the job and your qualifications by understanding your audience. Go beyond researching the company, by also researching the people who will interview you. Look them up on LinkedIn, check out their Twitter feeds, see what they are talking about online. Try to guess what kind of questions they might ask and prepare answers.
Remember that you’re interviewing with people who want to make sure that they let the right person in the front door. Impress them and engage with them by tailoring your story line—and the stories you tell—to them and what they care about.
Tell the story of you
An effective presentation starts with thinking about its overall structure and creating a story line to guide the audience towards your goal. In an interview, your interviewers are your audience.
Sit down and think about your past work experience, passions, and interests. How has that brought you to where you are now? Find common elements that run through your past, personally and professionally, noting key milestones and crucible experiences.
Tie all that together to create a consistent story line that connects the dots between your past and a future with your new company. You now have a story line that shows why you’re the ideal candidate.
Create a call to action
We end presentations with a call to action (CTA). It’s what we want our audience to think, feel, or do after the last PowerPoint slide. Your CTA in a job interview boils down to “Hire me!” but you must explain why and tie it back to your story line.
Create your CTA as an elevator pitch about you. Summarize your story line, in 30 seconds or less, to show why they should hire you. Just as a presenter should always control the narrative and make their CTA the last thing the audience hears, end your interview with your CTA.
Use storytelling to make your résumé come to life
During an interview, you’ll be asked to give examples of your past work experience. This is where storytelling makes all the difference.
We naturally respond to stories. We feel more empathy for the storyteller, feel more trust in them, and remember stories better than words or images. We show more authenticity when telling personal stories, which makes us more believable and trustworthy. Impactful presenters tell stories, as do successful job candidates.
Turn successes you’ve noted on your résumé or in the story of you, into short three-act stories. Set up the situation, define the problem, and show a happy ending where the main character of the story—you—overcame challenges. Prepare a story of a failure and what you learned, in case you get asked the dreaded “tell us about a time you failed” interview question.
Make those bullet points on your résumé come alive through storytelling.
Rehearse your interview
Effective presentations have been well-rehearsed, and the same goes for interviews. Get a friend or colleague to run a mock interview by asking you common interview questions, and ones that you’re likely to be asked based on understanding your audience. Practice what you’ll say so you make any mistakes when you rehearse, not during the interview.
Practice introducing yourself, storytelling, and delivering your CTA. All of that will reduce any nervousness, make you look confident and prepared, and so get you ready for the big day.
Watch your body language
Now you’ve made it to the interview, which begins the moment the interviewers lay eyes on you. Even before you open your mouth, they are sizing you up by your posture, eye contact, and overall demeanor. Interviewers may make up their minds about a candidate within as little as seven seconds of meeting them. In a presentation, the audience also judges you before you begin speaking or have shown the first PowerPoint slide. In both situations, you must control your body language so that what your audience sees is confidence, poise, and positivity.
When first meeting your interviewers, stand up straight, throw your shoulders back, and approach them with a smile and a warm greeting. Look confident and make that critical first impression.
Continue to show good posture when you are seated during the interview. Keep your hands on the table, and if you’re anxious, clasp them together to avoid any nervous shakes or touching your face, a common sign of nervousness. Make eye contact, nod, and lean forward when the interviewers say something interesting. Show you are engaged.
Watch the body language of your interviewers, too. Are they showing interest—or a lack—in what you are saying? Adjust your performance based on the signals they give off.
Control your voice
Presenters and public speakers need to have clear, strong, confident voices, and so do you when facing your interviewers.
Drink water before the interview, because your voice may dry out from speaking or from nerves. Your interviewers don’t want to hear you croaking your way through the interview.
Watch your speaking speed. You want your interviewers to be able to understand your answers to their questions and have time to make notes, so make sure to pause periodically. Vary your speaking speed, tone, and pitch to emphasize keywords, like numbers or data that show past successes.
Presentations are dreaded almost as much as job interviews, but excelling at both is necessary for professional success. By seeing the connections between the two, you can approach your next presentation with more enthusiasm. By doing more presentations, and by then getting better at presentation skills, you can approach your next interview with more confidence and that extra edge over the competition.