Job Seekers: Include a Solid Cover Letter to Have a Bigger Impact

“Please send your résumé and a cover letter.”

Ugh.

There it is. The dreaded second ask. Here you were hoping that you could get away with just sending a résumé, and now you have to scrape together a cover letter … and you hate cover letters.

Sound familiar? Because I hear it often.

I haven’t met too many people who actually enjoy writing cover letters, and I can understand why. However, a cover letter can serve as a great opportunity to stand out from other applicants if you choose to take advantage of writing an effective one.

So, how do you make one effective?

Keep it really simple; two-thirds to three-quarters of a page max. Whoever gets your cover letter will not want to read a long letter but will more likely than not read a concise and compelling one.

The first two items on the page are your address and the date. Place those in the upper left-hand corner followed by a space and then the hiring manager’s name and job title (if you can find it) followed by the company’s address; just like with any formal business letter.

The first paragraph (which is one sentence long) states who you are and why you are writing to them. This can be in response to a specific job posted or because you simply have an interest in the company even if there is no job posted. Yes, you can (and should) do that if you’re really interested in a particular company.

Next paragraph (which is separated by a space), two or three lines about the company and any recent news you’ve uncovered in your research. For example, a congrats on their new product line that you’ve seen in your local store or maybe a recent acquisition that you read about.

Then, two or three lines on what you think the pain points are for the hiring manager. They all have them, especially when they are looking to fill roles. Get out in front of it and make a guess based on the job description. If you can tie it back to the previous paragraph, great; if not, that’s okay. In either case, you’ll likely either be right on the money or really close with your assumptions.

For example, “Given the recent acquisition of XYZ Inc. and its vast assortment of products, I have to imagine there is a need to not only integrate the products into your company’s larger portfolio, but also to develop and execute a cohesive marketing strategy to build awareness of this new-look product line.”

Next, illustrate a personal business achievement of yours that has some parallels to the pain point you just mentioned in the previous paragraph.

When I say illustrate, I mean tell a (very brief) specific story of how you achieved or accomplished something that made your current or previous role better in some way. It’s so much more interesting for the reader and also allows you to infuse a little personality into these typically dry letters.

Finally, express your interest in wanting to learn more about the role and the company.

End it.

That’s it. Interesting and to the point. You are putting a majority of the focus on the hiring manager and not yourself. Most job seekers do just the opposite; they just talk about themselves and their skill sets.

Don’t do that.

A hiring manager is not going to take the time to piece your experience together to determine if you could possibly be a good fit. He or she will do the easier thing instead and move onto the next résumé.

Do the work and SHOW them that you’re worth speaking to about the role.

Okay, I got all that, but these still take time and I’m busy. Can’t I just use a generic cover letter instead?

HR professionals and hiring managers can sniff out generic cover letters in two seconds. It’s a wasted opportunity and, more importantly, could actually make your first impression a negative one.

Take the time to do a little research about a company to show your interest and then make the majority of the cover letter about the company and the hiring manager.

This approach will help you stand out from dozens (if not hundreds) of other applicants.

How Far Back Do I Need to Go on My Résumé?

The reality is, there are no “rules” when it comes to résumés; and this is a great thing. Clients always tell me that they want to stand out. Well, the only way to stand out is to write your résumé differently than everyone else.

The point of a résumé is to help you land an interview. That’s it. It therefore needs to highlight achievements and accomplishments. Also, it does not need to be a full list of every position that you've held over your career.

It is neither necessary nor required to go back to the very beginning of your work history on a résumé. In fact, in some cases, it can actually be detrimental. For example, I work with clients of all different ages. Many job seekers in their 50s are very concerned about ageism, which sadly, is a real issue in many companies. An interviewer is not allowed to ask someone how old they are and a job seeker has no obligation to disclose that information on their résumé. A job-seeker’s first or second job 25 or 30 years ago is not relevant to the job they are seeking in 2018. Yes, that job helped form them into the professional they are today, but that does not mean that it still belongs on a résumé.

Additionally, if you are at least 10 years removed from college, take your graduation dates off of your résumé and your LinkedIn profile. A degree is a degree; the date is irrelevant.

As a general guide, if you have been working for 10 years or less, keep your résumé to one-page max. For all others (with the exception of academic CVs, etc.), keep your résumé to two-pages max. I've worked on plenty of résumés and this can be quickly accomplished by either eliminating weaker bullet points within a position or by simply eliminating older jobs from your past.

Your résumé is your marketing document, not a legal document. It should be accurate but also simply relevant to what you have accomplished and how those accomplishments can best serve you in your next opportunity.

For more information on writing an effective résumé, please visit my résumé page here.

jeffmagnusonconsulting.com

Easily Bring Confidence to Any Job Interview

There are various tactics that you can use to reduce your nerves and bring confidence to job interviews. I want to focus on two in this article.

The most important tactic is to change your mindset about the interview itself.

So many job seekers put a tremendous amount of pressure on themselves for interviews, and rightfully so. Many interviews are conducted with the candidate having no insights into the personalities of the people he or she will be meeting with or what questions he or she will receive. Everything about that is unnerving.

The main thing that you can do is to realize that interviews are a two-way street. You are interviewing the company as much as the company is interviewing you. So many candidates give their power away by assuming that a company has all the control in these situations.

They do not.

Let’s take a moment to look at job openings from a company’s perspective.

Companies hire based on their needs, not their wants. Every legitimate job opening needs to be discussed and approved beforehand as new hires are a significant expense for a company. Once a position is approved, the company then has the task of finding the right candidate.

Companies typically get a ton of résumés to sift through but that does not mean that the right candidate is included in the stack. Furthermore, finding new employees can be stressful for companies and especially the hiring managers; particularly if they are desperate for help.

If a hiring manager’s team is already stretched thin, a larger attrition risk could be a possibility if the personnel openings are not addressed promptly. If that should happen, then the department could be at risk as very few managers will want to have to both rebuild and retrain a brand new team while also trying to move the business forward. Finally, if a company does not act relatively quickly once a headcount is approved, then there is a risk of that allotted headcount being withdrawn because of a frozen or cut budget.

Therefore, if you approach interviews with the understanding that a company does not hold all of the cards in the meeting, because of its own needs and potential risks, then you can be more confident and therefore more relaxed.

Also, interviews are just discussions and nothing more. You have to be impressed with the company just like they need and want to be impressed with you.

The second main thing is to prepare. This may seem painfully obvious but there are candidates out there who do not take the time to learn about the company and its competitors. If the company is public, read their annual report and their 10-K to learn about the highlights as well as the main issues facing the company. Additionally, have a set of answers for standard interview questions that you will very likely get. Showing that you did your homework will go a long way, especially if you feel like you stumbled or gave a weak answer to a question. In the end, the more prepared candidate will stand out.

By changing your mindset and taking the time to learn about a company, you will be able to relax, be confident, and even enjoy the interview process.

And remember, if you don’t like what you’re hearing about the role or the company, or if an interviewer is unprofessional in any way, then you can simply say thanks, but no thanks…and look elsewhere.

You have more power than you realize.

 

How to Make Your Résumé Stand Out

The #1 request I get from clients is that they want their résumés to stand out from the crowd. I've read tons of résumés as both a hiring manager and as a consultant. Many résumés do tend to sound the same and this can make a hiring manager's job of finding the best candidate a very difficult task.

According to various articles, most hiring managers and recruiters spend less than a minute (in some cases, only a few seconds) reviewing a résumé. While this is unfortunate, considering how much value both they and job seekers place on this document, knowing this information illustrates why it’s critically important for your résumé to stand out enough for someone to want to read it for more than simply a few seconds.

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I. Before updating your résumé, consider these points:

A. The end goal of the résumé is to get the interview, not the job. The résumé needs to be written so that people WANT to get to know YOU better. You still need to interview before a hiring decision is made, therefore don’t worry about loading up your résumé with unnecessary details (more on that below).

B. Hiring managers and HR folks are busy people (and typically get a stack of résumés to review at one time); therefore, your résumé needs to be clear, compelling, and easy to follow – whether someone is skimming the document quickly or reading it through more carefully.

C. The résumé needs a 3-4 sentence Summary at the top that clearly communicates who you are, why you're awesome, and what you’re looking to do next. Do not assume that a hiring manager (or anyone else) is going to take the time to piece together your experience to determine if you’re a good fit for a role. You've already determined that the role you're interested in could be a good fit. Use this section (and a cover letter, part D.) to make it easy for the hiring manager to see it too.

D. In addition to the Summary, a job and company specific cover letter can go a long way. I know most of you dread the thought of writing these things, but this is yet another way to stand out because so many job seekers do not take full advantage of these cover letters. These letters are especially important for people who want to branch out into something new or different from their current roles.

E. Realize that simply sending your résumés only through on-line portals is pretty much an exercise in futility. I know it’s easy but your name literally just sits in a queue with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of other names. Also, regarding the recruiting software that some companies use, it's all but impossible to really know what those bots are "looking" for. Instead, find the hiring manager on LinkedIn and mail your résumé directly to him or her. Give yourself a chance by having the decision maker (not a computer) see your résumé.

Note: You can do this last part whether there is a specific job posted or not.

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II. Below are some issues that impact many résumés today and what you can do to fix them.

Issue: A heavy focus on keywords: Again, many job seekers are either trying to guess what the recruiting software that many companies use as initial filters are looking for and/or are simply restating the job description in their own résumés. Keep in mind that if you and several other candidates are simply rewriting the job description, then guess what? All of those résumés will sound very similar and you will actually be doing yourself a disservice.

Solution: Use keywords sparingly. If you see that several different job descriptions for similar jobs keep stating certain words, then sprinkle some of those in, otherwise focus on YOUR information using YOUR voice.

 

Issue: Similar, tired, overused terms: Phrases like "results driven", "solutions oriented", etc., are meaningless. Those phrases can apply to literally ANY job function in ANY industry.

Solution: Talk about your accomplishments and BE SPECIFIC. What solutions did you come up with? What were the results of the big project that you led? Did you help exceed the company’s sales targets in some way? Paint a picture for the reader by telling short stories.

 

Issue: Listing tasks instead of achievements: I know the day-to-day is important however your résumé is, most likely, the first interaction that an organization or an individual will have with you. You can talk about the day-to-day tasks during an interview. Leave it off your résumé.

Solution: The résumé needs to be a highlight reel of what you have accomplished in your career. These don't have to be monumental, company-changing projects, but if you made the company better in some way, talk about it!

 

Issue: Writing only sentence fragments that begin with verbs: I was originally taught to write a résumé this way and so were you. The problem is that nowhere else in the English language do we speak, read, or write this way. Therefore, why are we writing these important documents in such a choppy way?

Solution: Write your résumé in normal sentences. Use "I" and "We" and "the" and don't be afraid that you're adding too much clutter (or personality!). You're not. If you eliminate the meaningless words and information (listed above), the full sentences will fit perfectly and the whole document will read so much easier.

 

Issue: The résumé is visually exhausting: Embrace the white space. EVERYONE has an initial reaction when they open a book or look at any other type of document for the first time. If the page is loaded with copy from end to end and top to bottom, and it looks like it's going to be a slog to get through, you're already at a disadvantage. Alternatively, too much white space and the résumé could come off as weak.

Solution: Find the balance. As a test, show your résumé to some friends and simply ask them for their initial reactions before they even read a word. Their reactions will tell you if you have a balance. Generally speaking, if you've been working for less than 10 years, your résumé really should be one-page max. Otherwise, try and keep it to 1.5-2 pages max. Bear in mind that you don’t need to list jobs that are no longer applicable.

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So, there you have it. This list is certainly not exhaustive but it's a start. A résumé (and a cover letter) are platforms to tell YOUR story in a compelling and relevant way to hiring managers who are looking to fill positions.

Try an approach that most job seekers are not doing and make your résumé and personality stand out to get the interview for the job that you want.

jeffmagnusonconsulting.com

Current First-Year MBA Students: Yes, You Can Still Change Careers

Before we get into this topic, let me address one thing. Anytime is really the best time to switch careers, whether you’re in business school or not. However, this post is specifically for those folks who are in their first-year of business school. I was in your position 8 years ago and want to pass along some insights that can potentially help you navigate an uncertain road ahead.

For those of you who started in your first year of business school thinking that you’d pursue Career Path ABC and are now rethinking whether Career Path ABC is REALLY what you want – AND/OR – if you’re definitely sure that Career Path ABC is not what you want but you’re wondering if it’s too late to switch careers since 25% of business school is already completed; I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late to switch.

There is a lot of work that you’ll need to do as well as some short-term concessions that you MAY need to make and accept in order to pull this transition off, however.

Before we get into this further, let’s discuss why switching career paths would even be considered ‘late’. It has to do with the structure of many business schools and the timing of company representatives who come onto campus to visit. Many, if not all, initial company visits take place in the fall semester and if you didn’t meet them initially (like I didn’t), then you’re potentially at a slight disadvantage when it comes to competing for the upcoming summer internships.

But all is not lost. Not even close.

The good news is that you most likely have a couple of more weeks to organize yourself and refocus your efforts before school starts up again in mid-January.

If changing career paths is something that you’re considering, you’ll need to make this a priority for your second semester and have a plan.

Below are some tips on how to make the switch, based on my personal experiences from a few years ago.

1. Go to your school’s career center

Immediately. Let the person in charge of the section for your NEW career direction know your situation. In fact, if they are already back in school while you’re still on break, set up time to speak to them before you get back to school. Simply ask them what you need to do in order for them to best help you. For example, your résumé will very likely need a refresh.

Your career center will absolutely be a great resource for you but really, the best people who can help you are current second-year students so…

2. Set up time to speak with several second-year students

Take the guess work out of the transition and talk to second years. There are plenty of them who will be happy to help you. Who knows, maybe one, two, or several of them have also decided to switch when they were first-year students and can therefore help you navigate the road ahead.

3. Filter all new information and listen to YOU

Getting advice and talking to friends and others about your decision is a great idea but just be ready for a flood of opinions. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, their advice will be valuable but don’t let someone try and talk you out of anything. We’re talking about your professional future here. This is not some trivial decision. Weed out the speculative opinions and most of all, trust your gut with everything. It’s your best guide.

4. Make a company list and try to set up informational calls and/or meet ups.

If you didn’t get a chance to speak to company representatives at the career fair or during company presentations, don’t sweat it. Try and find someone who is on the ‘recruiting team’ for the school and see if he or she is willing to speak to you. If they are, make sure that you are prepared with your story and solid questions. Keep the call to 30 minutes max and take a ton of notes.

More importantly, don’t limit yourself to just the companies who visited your school. Reach out to other companies that you have an interest in. What’s the worst that will happen? They don’t return your email? So what. There are plenty of companies out there looking for motivated business school students.

5. Think longer term because the short-term may not be so smooth

I had to take an internship a year after I completed my MBA in order to switch careers to marketing (You can read about that in this article). This is what I mean by concessions. Your friends may be on the ‘standard’ track where they have internships lined up that may lead directly to full-time offers. Great! This isn’t about them. It’s about YOU, so stay focused on what YOU want out of your professional life and realize that switching now may simply mean that your career path will look a little different than someone else’s career path.

It doesn’t matter how it looks. It’s all good.

6. Smile – this is awesome

If you feel deep down that this new direction is EXACTLY what you want, that is a really big deal! Don’t take the easy way out because, before you know it, business school will be over and trying to change direction AFTER that will be even more challenging. Business school is set up for you to change your life, but you have to put in the work to make it happen.

7. Relax and be confident

You’ll encounter skeptics along the way; including people who you’re interviewing with. Shoulders back, smile, and own your decision. You have your reasons – share them. There are plenty of hiring managers who want to hire passionate people who aren’t guided by fear. If people try to dissuade you or tell you some horror story, just smile and nod. You can tell them that you actually know someone who changed careers and he considers it to be the best professional decision of his life. That someone would be me, and that’s why I’m sharing this.

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The time earning your MBA is special and unique. It’ll be over before you know it but if you take the steps now, even if it means more work with several rejections along the way, trust me, it will all be worth it a couple of years from now when you’re doing something that you truly enjoy.

jeffmagnusonconsulting.com

 

Dear Recent MBA Grads Without a Full-Time Job:

So, you graduated with your MBA and have no full-time job waiting for you?

Before we dive right in, let me just congratulate you on earning your MBA degree. I know that it took a large effort on your part, possibly a sacrifice on many levels, and was also stressful, fun, exhausting, and fulfilling. Well done!

Graduation itself was probably a mix of happiness, relief, and even a little sadness because you were saying goodbye to some good friends.

Maybe there was also something else. You knew that many of your classmates had full-time job offers waiting for them in a few weeks or months, while you had/have nothing lined up.

This article is for you.

I am reaching out to you because I was you six years ago. I graduated from Kenan-Flagler Business School (UNC) with an MBA in marketing and had no job waiting for me after graduation. I was a career switcher (Wall St. > Marketing) and despite many parallels between the two career paths, many recruiters and companies were not seeing the connection and instead were only seeing limited marketing experience on my résumé.

Any of this sound familiar?

Also, I know the income is needed. You have expenses, possibly including new student loans. I get it. I moved back home after graduation. I certainly don’t have advice for every specific situation but what I do know is that you cannot get down on yourself or let negative thoughts creep in and impact your next move.

You have a lot of value to add to an organization and now you need to regroup and find a way in. Keep in mind that this may take several months or longer, however if you remain persistent and focused, you will overcome this minor setback.

Allow me to offer some advice based on either my personal experience or what I learned in hindsight. I hope they are a help to you.

1. Don’t compare yourself to your classmates

You don’t know what you don’t know. Everyone is in a different situation. For example, some of your classmates got their dream offer, some possibly took an offer and now have a hint of regret, some maybe took the first or only offer presented to them, while others are returning to the companies that they worked at before business school because they have to.

You don’t know everyone’s story and it doesn’t matter. Your classmates are starting their new journeys and so are you.

Wish them well and focus on your next steps.

2. Take care of yourself

·      Exercise at least several times a week

·      Eat well

·      Get enough sleep

·      Get outside

·      Laugh. Read funny books; watch comedies or stand-up comedy

Looking for a new job is stressful and is even more difficult if you’re sick. Stay healthy.

3. Get together with people

Reach out to friends, former co-workers, or classmates for coffee or lunch. It’s great just to catch up and have a good conversation. Whether they can help you directly is not the point. Meeting with them will very likely give you a boost and make you both feel good.

4. Attend networking events

Sites like meetup.com and alumni events are a great place to make a new contact or two. You never know where one meeting could lead.

5. Add variety to your day

Do not spend 8 hours a day just job searching. You’ll get burned out. Mix it up to stay motivated...and sane.

Take time each day to read the newspaper, different magazines, online articles, books on people or topics that you are interested in. You can get all of this information for free at your public library. It’s a great resource. Take advantage of it.

Additionally, while I know you just finished 2+ years of classes, there are also tons of online courses available if you want to learn or become more familiar with certain topics.

6. Think of where you want to go in the longer term

There’s a very good chance that you have an idea of where you want your career to go over the next 5 years or so. Keep that perspective handy and realize that your first job will be a stepping stone to the next opportunity all leading to whatever your larger goal is. Landing a job is not the end game. It’s a chapter in your larger book.

7. Set parameters for your job search…but be open too

You’ll regret taking just any job or the wrong job and you don’t want to be in that situation. Focus on where you want to work. Consider the commute, the hours you’re willing to work, what type of organization, what size organization, etc. If an opportunity comes up where you possibly need to make concessions, then you can make them at that time. Additionally, you may have an opportunity that looks interesting but isn’t necessarily what you are focusing on. At a minimum, be open to it and assess whether it will help you move toward your professional goals.

8. Do not endlessly apply to companies through their online portals

I made this mistake. Who knows how many hours I wasted filling out and submitting my résumé, cover letter, and other information only to never get a response.

Consider sending your résumé and a letter directly to a company that you’re interested in via USPS (not email) whether they have a job posted or not. Use LinkedIn to research and send your information to whomever would be potentially looking to hire in the department that you’re interested in. Let THAT person then reach out to HR.

8a. You need one good fit, not 100

Don’t wait to hear back from companies; keep moving forward. I don’t know when many companies started thinking that it’s acceptable not to communicate back to candidates, especially after you take the time to interview with them, but it happens far too often and there is one good way to deal with it:

Acknowledge that it’s the company’s loss, not yours, and move on.

9. Keep practicing your interviewing skills

It’s possible that you’ll have gaps of time in between interviews. Make the effort to consistently rehearse answers to common interview questions to stay sharp. You can practice with friends or even by yourself out loud. If you’re working with a recruiter, ask him or her to ask you some quick questions so you can answer and get immediate feedback. This will also help take some of the pressure off of you when the next interview comes around…which it will. (Thanks to Chris for the assist on this point)

10. Consider other approaches

This was the turning point for me.

After months of submitting applications to those online portals, I realized that one of the companies that I was interested in kept posting the same jobs over and over on their website. I decided to reach out to the UNC Career Management Center (Thanks Mike) in February of 2012 to ask for an alum who worked at the company. I figured I might as well just get in touch with someone AT the company instead of hoping a computer liked my résumé.

I received the information, reached out right away, and explained my situation to the alum, who was sympathetic. (Thanks Mark) While we were talking, I said to him that I would even consider an internship because in my mind I knew two things: 1) UNC had a strong connection with the company and their summer internship program and 2) I could not hear that I did not have ‘enough experience’ for a full-time job one more time. I figured the internship would be a no brainer for them and a decent back up plan for me.

Long story short, they wound up offering me the summer internship in April of 2012 which I accepted.

That’s right. One YEAR after graduating, I was now going to work in the field that I studied for. I was one graduate among 11 current MBA students who were in between their first and second years. I didn’t care. This was a win for me.

I worked hard that summer, learned as much as I could, and left in August with a résumé that now helped recruiters and companies see the ‘connection’. Ridiculous, right? The idea that I was now substantially more marketable because of a 10-week internship was silly. But, that’s how many people view it which is why I knew the internship would pay off.

A few months later, a recruiter helped me land a job where I remained for 4 years and 2 months. I was fortunate to work at that company because I learned and contributed more there than I would have at a larger company. In the end, this made the whole year after graduating worth it. I ultimately got to where I wanted to be at this point in my career.

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Remember, you are not at a disadvantage for not having a full-time job at this moment. Your path just looks different - which doesn’t matter anyway. (Point #1)

Focus on you and realize that you have a ton to offer a deserving organization. Do not let yourself get discouraged and do not let any company or individual make you second guess the reasons that got you to this point.

There is no one right way to go about your career. Do what you need to do to set yourself up to keep moving towards whatever your short and long term goals are.

I wish you all the best.

jeffmagnusonconsulting.com

Presenting/Public Speaking Doesn't Have to Be Scary

Public speaking and the ability to present effectively in front of a group of people is a craft. I hesitate to call it a skill because skills seem more finite while a craft can always be refined.

Some might think that anyone can get up in front of a room full of people and present. I would counter that with, can anyone simply act, sing, or play an instrument? Like those other forms of expression, if you want to get really good, if you want to have confidence instead of being nervous, then you need to practice.

So many people are terrified of public speaking. This post is not about why people are so frightened to speak. The point of this post is to argue that public speaking/presenting does not need to be that scary. If you take advantage of the opportunities to present, then you will certainly get better. People will notice and appreciate if you present well and it’s also a great weapon to have in your professional arsenal.

Use the following steps below as a rough starting point but never underestimate the importance of practicing as much as you can.

1. Keep Your Cool

This is 100% stolen from Dr. Tim Flood, my professor at UNC. I cannot find my notes from the class but this top reason was burned into my brain by him 7 years ago (Thank you sir).

Stuff happens.

a. Whether you’re speaking to 10 people or 300 people, there will almost always be a disruption or a distraction. A group of people laughing in the back, a co-worker who cannot stop asking questions, an obnoxiously loud sneeze, a phone ringing, etc.

Stay calm and never apologize for having to stop, even for a moment.

If you’re cool, everyone else will be cool.

b. You might find that the work-horse projector that your company has had since you started working there decides to call it a career when you get to slide 3.

This isn't a disaster.

All this means is that now your audience really needs to pay close attention to what you have to say, which is a great thing! Additionally, it won’t matter whether your slide deck is being projected behind you because you knew to…

2. Prepare

“I’ll just wing it.”

“I’ll figure it out when I get up there.”

While almost anyone can get up and read off of a projected slide, that does not mean it is a good presentation. You may get through all of the material but the audience will know that you did not prepare. There is a noticeable difference between a polished, rehearsed presentation and one that is done ‘off the cuff.’

Your audience is giving you their attention whether they have to be there or want to be there. Show them the respect of a prepared presentation.

Rehearse your presentation 5-7 times and use a timer to see how long it takes you (it’s usually longer than you think). Rehearse standing up with your laptop so you can coordinate advancing the slides in line with your talking points.

2a. Really know the material. Do not memorize.

You will get interrupted. If the material becomes ingrained, then you can pick up from wherever you left off without any issues. If there are specific figures that you need to communicate, write them down on an index card. Give yourself a break. Don’t stress over a data point or two.

3. Create concise, visual slides

The bulk of the information and the story-telling needs to come from you. Let the slides be a guide with key points, figures, and visuals. Also, use the animation feature to slowly build the slide. This allows you to manage how much information your audience sees at any time and keeps them focused on you instead of a new, full slide of data. And once you start your presentation…

4. Look at your projected slides only if absolutely necessary

The audience does not need to see the back of your head. If your slides are visual and concise, simply tell people where to look or point in the general direction for emphasis. While the laser pointer/cat toy does exist, no one on earth has a steady hand and that red light is usually more distracting than helpful.

An easy way for you to know what slide you’re on is to have the laptop that is projecting the presentation face you so that you can easily see what everyone else sees (without having to turn around).

5. B-R-E-A-T-H-E and relax

Most people know it takes guts to stand up in front of a room and present. People want you to succeed, especially if you’re presenting to colleagues. The audience is there for you. You’re already prepared. Deliver what you have practiced.

Also, keep the hand/arm gestures to a minimum. It’s a waste of energy and doesn’t add much value.

6. Look at everyone and make eye contact

What I’ve learned after presenting many times is that people will listen to what you have to say even if they look completely miserable while you are presenting. You need to trust that if you are delivering a confident, thoughtful presentation then you will have their attention.

When looking around the room, locate those people who give you a slight nod when you are speaking. Find them and return back to them during the presentation if you feel yourself needing some quick reassurance.

7. Smile

Unless you’re presenting disappointing news…smile. You will feel better and you will notice at least a few people in the audience smile back. It’s kind of strange but it happens every time. This also helps you to relax (#5).

8. Silence is your friend. Verbal clutter is not. 

You do not need to fill your entire time with meaningless words, phrases, “ums”, “uhs”, or “ya knows”. If you pause to let a thought or an idea sink in (or to gather your own thoughts), the audience will not become impatient. It may feel like a long time to you but it’s literally seconds. Use it to your advantage especially when trying to highlight important points or topics. This leads to…

9. Repeat important points

Repeat important points.

This is especially true for longer presentations. Audience members will zone out from time to time. It’s inevitable. If there are a few points that you absolutely HAVE to make, say them twice...with a pause in the middle. Pausing will also break the audience out of their daydream and bring them back to you. Then you can deliver the punchline with greater effectiveness.

10. End Strong

Deliver the last 2 or 3 sentences, which should bring the whole presentation together, slowly and clearly. You can even turn the slides off so people look right at you and give you their full attention. Once done, pause for a second, smile, and say thank you.

11. Invite questions (if applicable)

12. Get feedback

Later on, ask anyone who was in the audience for his or her thoughts. As I said, presenting is a craft and can always be refined. In fact, if there is a way to video record your performance, that’s even better. As awkward and awful as watching yourself on screen is, it will only help you improve.

13. Don’t give up

You stumbled or fumbled over a section? One or two parts dragged on too long?

It’s fine.

There was a reason for it. Learn from it and improve for next time. Simple as that.

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These steps are based on my observations over the last few years and can serve as a general guide.

Take advantage of the opportunities to present to a group as they may not come along too often. My guess is that you won’t have to fight off too much competition either.

Remember, there is really nothing that can occur during your time presenting that you cannot ultimately control or manage…so go for it!

You may even start to enjoy it.

{pause}

Thank you.

jeffmagnusonconsulting.com

1. "Verbal clutter" is also from Tim Flood.