18th April 1997 at 01:00
A poorly prepared presentation is a good way of scuppering your job prospects. David Bell identifies some pitfalls to avoid.

More and more candidates for senior school posts are having to prepare a formal presentation for governors. This is an important part of the patchwork of activities which make up the modern selection process.

On the surface, making a 10-minute presentation appears simple. Yet, it is remarkable how many candidates blow their chances by making a poor presentation. And recovering from such a disaster is well nigh impossible.

So how do you get it right?

Start with the basics. If your presentation is supposed to be for 10 minutes, make sure that you do not overrun. There is nothing more embarrassing, and nothing likely to make you look more incompetent, than to be cut off in mid-sentence by the chairman. And do not compound the error by asking for another minute to wind up. That just appears arrogant. Most selectors will make arrangements to give you a signal when you have a minute left. Do not ignore it.

As for handling the theme of the presentation, this is where the difficult decisions have to be made. Most selectors will give a fairly broad theme, such as raising achievement, im-proving attendance, or developing the curriculum at a particular key stage. Even if they do not ask you to relate the subject directly to their school, it is worth doing so.

Do your homework anyway. It may be that the decision to ask candidates to talk about post-16 issues is related to previous discussions of the governing body. Very few governing bodies are going to pass up the opportunity to hear a range of views on a subject that they have been debating or are due to debate in the future. So putting your presentation into context will always create a favourable impression.

But being given a general theme presents its own dangers. The most obvious is that you will attempt to cover every conceivable aspect of the subject. Remember that hundreds of books and articles are published each year on a subject such as school improvement. Attempting to summarise this in 10 minutes is a bit like watching the theatre company which presents the entire works of Shakespeare in less than an hour: entertaining and amusing, but hardly informative.

So, when preparing your presentation, decide on the three or four key points that you want to make. It allows you to focus your thinking and manage your time. It also gives the governors something to hang on to, in contrast to the many other presentations which will undoubtedly overdose on factual information.

The next difficult decision concerns preparation of the presentation. Should you write the text out in longhand and read from the "script"? Or should you work from a set of cards which outline the key points you wish to make? This is partly a matter of style and confidence. The danger of having too much written down is that you become tied to the text, and the presentation becomes wooden and stilted. Equally, the tendency to waffle is much greater when you are relying on bullet points and memory.

However awkward it seems, you do need to stand in front of a mirror or a critical (but supportive) friend who will give you feedback on what you have done. Practice is essential, and do not forget that when you are under pressure and doing it for real, you are likely to talk more quickly.

And, finally, there is that vexed question of the visual aids. Should you use the white boardflip chartoverhead projector and so on?

Whatever you decide, keep it simple. Ten slides in 10 minutes is way over the top. Equally certain to create a negative impression is the candidate who says, "I know you cannot read this, but I thought I'd show you it anyway." Also, and this is not a technophobe speaking, the more complicated it is, the more likely it is to go wrong.

None of this means that you can afford to put up slides that are handwritten and look as if they have been used 10 times before. Work on the principle that your presentation is going to focus on two or three key points. Therefore, any supporting visual material should be simple as well. If necessary, get yourself a book on how to do presentations and learn the rules, particularly the "don'ts", such as don't talk to the screen, don't put your text on slides and expect people to read it, and so on.

Finally, do not forget that you have an audience in front of you. Establish eye contact and make sure you smile and generate a sense of warmth. For, without that, would anyone really want to appoint you?

David Bell is chief education officer of Newcastle City Council.

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