Make your first line a memorable one

12th May 2006 at 01:00
On the day: Swing things in your favour with sharp presentational skills

As you plan your escape from the staffroom to the protection of your own office, remember to factor in those 15 minutes when the executioners - sorry, recruitment panel - settle down to hear your views on "how personalisation can impact on key stage 3 standards".

The presentation is now a standing fixture for recruiting posts from deputy head of department upwards - but are you prepared for the ordeal?

The good news is that a career in the classroom has already given you the basic skills you need to impress the panel: engaging an audience and effective structuring. But you cannot rely on these alone to wow your audience, according to Liz Banks, managing director of Skillstudio Ltd, and a former performing arts teacher. "You use very similar skills in the delivery of a presentation as you use in the classroom all day long, but it is how you react to the formality of an interview, how you control the nerves, that will make the difference," says Ms Banks, who was head of department at a comprehensive in Biggin Hill, Kent, before setting up her company to train people in communication skills, vocal impact, body language awareness and interview skills.

Nerves can do strange things to your mind and body, but there is a trick to help control them: breathing. "While waiting to be called, sit and breathe more deeply than you would normally. In through the nose and out as slowly as possible through the mouth," says Ms Banks. "This will stop the nerves from taking over by slowing down your thoughts and controlling the tension.

You should also fully stretch out your hands and shake them out, which can help release a lot of hidden tension."

Once you are standing in front of the panel, Ms Banks recommends that you deliver a memorised first line, which will put a stamp of strength on your 15 minutes. "So many people start with 'well', 'so' or even 'urmm', but you need a good strong opening to catch the attention."

Some lucky candidates may be given a week or so to prepare their presentations, but most will have only a couple of hours to gather their thoughts into a coherent whole. There are two schools of thought on which of the two systems is the most effective. Some governors want to judge candidates who have had time to reflect on a topic, and worry that an on-the-spot presentation could favour the "fur coat and no knickers"

candidate. Others, such as George Herbert, chief adviser to Trafford's schools, have a preference for a no-notice, think-on-your-feet presentation. "You can really tell how people think, and their real experience, when they have no time to research answers."

But the real issue according to Mr Herbert, who helps governors to formulate the presentation title, is whether it addresses the unique circumstances of the school. "Governors need to know that candidates have done their research and know the issues prior to the interview, and can address the school's particular issues or needs. If they have done that, the presentation question should not come as a surprise."

However long you have to prepare, the strategy is basically the same and will sound vaguely familiar: plan a beginning, middle and end, which will turn a 15-minute presentation into three more manageable, five-minute chunks, says Ms Banks. "Prepare prompt cards with the main headings for each part, which you can subdivide into an introduction, expansion and recap. Openings and endings are where your audience's concentration peaks and give a natural rhythm to your presentation."

Good technique will get you far, but to really shine, Ms Banks and Mr Herbert agree, you have to make sure a little bit of you is in the presentation. "Anecdotes and personal experience will give life and emotion to your talk, and balance the dry factual side. But make sure they are directly relevant," says Ms Banks.

Finally, from Trafford comes the advice: "Governors need someone who can slip into the school ethos, who look as if they want to be in that particular school at that time. They are looking for vision; something beyond the standard National Professional Qualification for Headship answer. But most of all, governors want someone who believes in something, is passionate about it. Your presentation needs to reflect that."



* Address the title

* Research to ensure your presentation is directly relevant to the school you hope to join

* Make eye contact with every member of the panel

* Speak and breathe slowly

* Use a three-part structure


* Distracting 'PowerPoint' effects

* Reading directly from a script

* Telling jokes

* Long lists

* Fiddling with your hair your face your papersanything

* Wearing outlandish clothes that deflect attention from your message

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