Power (pain) point

There’s nothing wrong with using visuals in your presentation, but you must remember that you’re the star, not the slide show.

From PowerPoint and Keynote to Prezi and boards, visuals are an important element of almost every AEC interview. Done well, they exemplify that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Done poorly and another saying comes to mind: “Death by PowerPoint.”

Here are seven tips to make sure your visuals help, not hurt:

  1. Build content, then visuals. To save time, teams often start with an existing deck and material they already have. Often this causes a team to lose the connection with the client to which they are presenting. Develop the content first, then the visuals to support it.
  2. You’re the star. Teams often build an amazing PowerPoint deck and then spend the bulk of the interview going through it slide by slide. The problem is that the client isn’t hiring your deck. They’re hiring you – and not to build a PowerPoint deck. Your visual aid needs to do work you can’t do yourself. That powerful graphic that shows time saved thanks to your unique pre-construction estimating process? Thumbs up. The three bullet points you cut and pasted from your marketing brochure about how great your firm is? Thumbs down.
  3. Avoid the splat! The single biggest mistake we at Johnston Training Group see when helping teams prepare for interviews is that a slide comes up without any kind of introduction. Now the panel is trying to figure out what the slide is while you’re explaining it to them. The result? They get neither. Here’s an example of a how to avoid the splat: (No slide yet) “Now I’m going to show you how we saved $100,000 on a recent project.” (Click – an image of an estimating process comes up and you pause.) “The factors that are analyzed on this slide are…”
  4. Tag in. Tag out. Think of your visual like a tag team partner. Only one of you should be in the spotlight at a time. Once you introduce your visual, tag out by pausing for about three seconds to give the panel a chance to look and digest. Then tag in and bring the audience’s attention back to you and move forward. If you are changing subjects, click to a transition slide so the audience knows that the visual doesn’t apply to what you’re saying.
  5. Cut it out. While this tip is well-known, we still see presenters using their slides as notes, even going so far as to read wordy slides to the selection panel – often while facing the screen. Since you’re already doing the talking, words on a slide often don’t pass the “Is this visual doing something I can’t do myself?” test. Cut the words and speak to the panel – it will mean much more coming from you rather than being read from a slide.
  6. Board to death. Pity the lonely board, sitting on an easel as the interview flies by, often completely forgotten. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Boards are a great way to start a conversation. Pull them off their easel and place them on the table between you and a selection panel. Now you’re free to mark up the board as you’re describing a project or answering a question. Boards are a great way to spontaneously explore an idea – especially during Q&A.
  7. Be prepared. We’ve all been the victim of technical difficulties, but often the problem is of our own making. Scouting out the room and equipment where you’ll be presenting beforehand will ensure a smooth setup and flawless delivery.

Use these seven tips and your visual aids will serve you well at your next interview, conference, or other event.

Scott Johnston is a principal strategist and facilitator at Johnston Training Group. He can be reached at scott@jtgroup.com

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