Friday, January 19, 2018

Pitching, interviewing & proposal presenting: some things to consider

I was asked to give a quick talk to some MA students yesterday about presentation skills/interviews, etc. I came up with this list. It's added to the blog for future reference and in case anyone else might find it useful!


1.  Read the funding call/brief and look at the criteria – VERY IMPORTANT. Show you understand the purpose and intent of the call. There is no harm getting in touch with the funder/commissioner in advance to ask questions or clarify points – it shows that you are taking the work seriously and are preparing (but – don’t ask stupid questions where the answers are already in the brief/call).

2. Do your homework – who is on the panel, what are they interested in, what is their work about, what do you think they will be interested in discussing?  And how is the organisation/institution that you are applying to organised? Make sure you have some idea about who you are likely to be talking to.

3. But – equally, don’t make too many assumptions and be careful about stereotyping/making suppositions!

4. Some situations can be deceptively informal (equally, there may be much more going on in formal interview than is immediately apparent).  

5. Give a bad candidate a rope long enough and s/he will hang herself’. Whilst not attractive, what might this metaphor say about an interviewing process?

6. Seek advice from someone who has been through a similar process before. What can they tell you about the type of event/expectations of the funder/commissioner/employer/conference audience?

7. “Professionalism”. What does that mean? (*hint – not necessarily Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice). Credibility, capability, competence. 

8. Keep to time. How long do you have to talk? Under no circumstances go over your allotted time. It’s really annoying.

9. Introduce yourselves clearly but don’t take too long – focus on the project/work/roles, not personalities/biographies. The panel can always ask questions and/or look at your CV later.

10. Slides. How many? How long for each? Interesting images? The curse of powerpoint….

11.  IF using powerpoint, keep your typography/layout clean, simple, easy to navigate. And don't just read out the slides. 

12. IF using powerpoint, make sure you’ve emailed a copy of the presentation in advance (which means that you can’t change it on the train). And bring a backup copy on a USB drive. Another really annoying (and occasionally revealing) thing is watching someone fiddle around loading up a presentation for five minutes after it’s due to start.

13. Can you summarise your idea in 30 seconds or less? Try to create a snappy title/’elevator pitch’ that will clearly encapsulate your proposition and make people want to know more.

14. REHEARSE. Plan who will say what, when. Be clear about how you will deal with questions if presenting as a group. Who is responsible for what?  You are a team – behave like one (think about what the characteristics of a good team are…)

15.  Avoid gimmicks and tricks. Humour is fine up to a point, but treat the opportunity with the seriousness it deserves.

16. Even if you don’t get the commission, the pitch is still an opportunity. Networks/relationship building – being ‘in the room’ matters. You build a reputation and get to know people that way.

17.  The fact that you are there means that your work is under consideration/has value. Don’t forget that amidst all the flash people/show offs.

18.  Never underestimate the quiet people. Equally, the noisiest/most visible people may also not be entirely what they seem. In fact, nothing is entirely as it seems, under any circumstances. Perhaps the best approach is to stay aware, observant and reflective.

19. Be careful about giving away your best ideas for free. Who do you trust, and why do you trust them? But – don’t hide your light under a bushel – if you have a contribution to make, make it!

20. “90% of success is turning up on time” (Woody Allen). Have you ever tried interviewing someone who has arrived late (or nearly late)? It rarely goes well. One of the most important characteristics in any job is reliability. Erratic geniuses do well in films but can be a pain in the neck to work with in real life. Reliability matters. The panel will want to find out that you can do what you say you can, and will want to be assured that you can execute the project on time/on budget. 

21. If you don't know the answer, say so. If you don’t understand the question, say so.  But at least attempt to answer, and show that you are reflective and flexible enough to think through an issue on the spot.

22. Your digital/online profile matters. It is highly likely that the people interviewing you will be using the internet to find out more about your work/who you are.

23.  How to cope with nerves? Well, it helps if you are well organised and know your material – and you know that you are well organised/prepared and know your material.

24. Sleep/rest matters. It would be a good idea not to be up until 3 in the morning over the previous night. 

25.   …..? What would you add to this list?

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