If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough

Albert Einstein

picture of absent-minded professor

As part of an extended interview/selection centre you may be asked to give a short presentation. Usually you choose the topic from a list which may include your hobbies, a recent holiday, a current affairs topic or one of your achievements, or sometimes you may be asked to make a presentation on a case study you have previously done as part of the extended interview. The purpose is not to test your subject knowledge, but to see how well you can speak in public. Typically you will be asked to talk for five minutes, and will be given 20 or 30 minutes beforehand to prepare.



Presentation skills


Tips from Kent students making presentations at interviews

  • Smile, make eye contact - the usual things. DON'T PANIC!
  • Take a hard copy of your presentation (printed-out) – they were impressed by this and it was a good idea as the laptop crashed anyway.
  • Before attending the assessment centre, details of a presentation which was to be delivered were sent to candidates. The subject of the presentation was very open-ended. Many chose to use PowerPoint, others on OHP. The presentation was given to one assessor: not in front of other candidates.
  • I was asked in advance to prepare a presentation entitled 'How can your degree contribute to the future prosperity of Thames Water?'. This was then presented to a panel of 6. They also asked several questions at the end of the presentation.
  • I practised the presentation a lot. I read aloud with slides as I would present it, until I was happy with it. After each “dress rehearsal” I would normally find something I needed to change. I ran through the whole presentation several times. When practising, use your notes and change slides as you would when you really present it. Make sure you practise your presentation as you will give it; Stand up, speak to the “room”, change slide etc.
    I bought 3 “clip files”, one to hold my notes, and I printed out the slides for the selectors and put these in their own files. One selector used his copy to make notes during the presentation. I printed out a copy of my CV and my online application, to take with me (I read them when I was waiting in car and reception), I'm glad I did this as the selector had copies and referred to them when he asked questions
    The selector said presentation was “good”; I must have done a lot of research and asked where I got all my information (company website, Wikipedia and Google).
  • Prepare thoroughly and ask the Careers Service to help you out because they are very helpful.

Have a beginning, middle and an end. Use short sentences.



The Middle should outline your argument or develop your story


The above has been neatly summarised as "Tell them what you will tell them (introduction), tell them (development), tell them what you told them (conclusion)"

In preparing your talk, first jot down any interesting points you want to include in your talk, put these in a logical sequence, then try to find an interesting title, and a good introduction and ending.

For a 15 minute presentation on "Why you are the right person for the company's graduate recruitment programme" the following might work:


See also our video on making a presentation at an assessment centre (you need a Kent login to view this)

Presentations employers have asked Kent students to make at selection centres


The ten most common mistakes in public speaking

According to Terry Gault the most common mistakes are:

• Using small scale movements and gestures
• Speaking with low energy
• Playing it safe
• Not preparing enough
• Not practicing enough
• Preparing too much material
• Rushing
• Data centric presentations
• Avoiding vulnerability
• Taking themselves way too seriously

For more about this see 10 Most Common Rookie Mistakes in Public Speaking



Death by PowerPoint

You may be allowed to use an overhead projector(OHP), data projector, or flip chart as part of your talk, If you think that you might like to use one, then it's wise to try to practice on one beforehand so you know what you are doing!


Less is more!

The best speakers .... grip an audience by telling a story and showing some slides to support that.

Meinald Thielsch

I'm going to make a long speech because I've not had time to prepare a short one.

Winston Churchill

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending .... and to have the two as close together as possible.

As my confidence as a presenter has gown over the years, I've also found I rely less on props. My early presentations were jammed full of slides as I was afraid that I would run out of content, and invariably I talked far too quickly to get though all the slides. I was talking AT my audiences, not TO them. Now I've learned to have as few slides as possible, to slow down, to question the audience and involve them in discussion: to treat them as individuals rather than objects to be afraid of. Surprisingly, the most successful presentations I have made have been when the technology has failed. If for some reason the projector hasn't worked, you are thrown back to basics and forced to communicate directly with the audience, to interact with them and set up a dialogue without the barrier of PowerPoint. It takes more courage, but is ultimately more successful.



This has been used by the Careers and Employability Service in Presentation Skills Workshops. It may give you some idea on the areas assessors may be marking you on in an assessed presentation.

When giving feedback, try to be constructive and specific e.g. don't say "That wasn't a very good presentation'', say "I think you need to raise your voice next time as I couldn't hear you very well''. Be tactful and encouraging: remember that this might be the person's first attempt at speaking in public!


  • Use of hands - too much/too little?
  • Smiling?
  • Eye contact with audience none/some of audience/everyone?
  • Standing still/ moving around/ standing up straight or slouching?
  • Position in relation to audience?
  • Mannerisms - shrugs etc?
  • Did they appear confident? Make a positive impact?


  • Quiet/Loud/Clear/Muffled?
  • Slow or fast speech?
  • Monotonous or varying voice?
  • Use of humour?


  • Well structured and following a logical sequence?
  • Did it have an introduction and conclusion?
  • Was it well prepared?
  • Did they finish within time limit?
  • Was the talk too simple or too complex and jargon-filled?
  • Was it interesting?
  • Was the speaker enthusiastic, serious, confident?
  • Were notes used? Were they read out, or just used for key points?
  • Were questions asked or invited? If so were they handled well?
  • Did they interact with and involve the audience?


  • Was a flip chart, PowerPoint or other props used?
  • Were they used well? Did they add to the talk?


Advanced Presentation Tips: the art of Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the skill of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively.

Tricolon: the use of three part sentences.

This technique allows you to hammer home your points in a memorable way. Here are some famous examples.

Use of Contrast

The contrast between the positive and the negative emphasises and reinforces your point.

This can sometimes involve the use of antimetabole: the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in changed order:

Or it can be a more basic use of contrast

Combined use of tricolon and contrast

The final item is contrasted with those before it

Short phrases can make for more effective delivery


A short and amusing story that the audience can related to can help to release tension and help both you and the audience to relax. It's best if these either are true stories or have more than a grain of truth in them

Use of Imagery can add descriptive power to your presentation

Similes and metaphors are the main vehicles for the use of imagery


To see how many of these devices can be combined together see Max Atinson's excellent analysis of John F Kennedy's Inaugural Speech at
Alliteration involves the use of the same sound at the beginning of a series of words


An appropriate quote can give a strong start to a presentation, and make a point for discussion:

Tone of voice

Lowering the tone of your voice at the end of statements makes you sound more authoritative and in control (Churchill did this in his speeches, whereas if your pitch goes up at the end of sentences it makes you sound as if you are unsure of yourself.

If you are representing a group use WE instead of I.

It will carry more weight.


Public Speaking Clubs



Back to the Skills Menu