The biggest mistake in interviews is not smiling.
That was one of many important, practical tips Dr. Daniel Moser gave during his presentation. (Smiling is one of those easy things people seem to forget to do, surprisingly; it makes them seem less friendly and less interested in the job, etc.) What presentation, you may ask? Why, it was a presentation about presenting yourself, funnily enough. Dr. Moser started off the event by engaging the audience. He had hundreds of students shout, at the top of our lungs, “A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits.” It left us feeling not only powerful, but more receptive to what he had to say next — a good way to start off a presentation. His Ph.D in Performance Studies was showing itself at this point. What follows is a summary of the content he gave us, most of which are short tips to keep in mind.
The way we act is always affecting those around us, whether we are conscious of it or not. Most people are not good at critical listening; they are too busy listening to their own thoughts and thinking of what they’ll say next, rather than truly trying to absorb what the other person is saying. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to plenty of miscommunication. What Dr. Moser says next rings true to me as a physics student – “Research not communicated is research not done.” This applies to more than research, but to any project. If you cannot effectively communicate the progress of a project, then to the management and your supervisors, it hasn’t been done.
Any pitch or self-description you have can be derived from one thing: your brand. If you want to start creating your personal brand, start by asking your friends: “Why do you like me?” Focus on the biggest 5 things each friend says, and try to notice similarities across the board. Continue this process by beginning to think more seriously about yourself every day; what is special and unique about me? What makes me, me? Better yet, you must question yourself in order to improve. Most people end up hitting a ceiling in management because “What got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, many people hit a ceiling early on, one that is self-imposed: the thought that your life hasn’t really begun yet. Something I embrace and recommend to everyone I advise is to remember: your life starts now, not when you graduate, or when you get married, or when you get your first high-paying job. It starts now. For example, if you want to be an engineer, be one. Build things, impressive or useful things, and jobs will be easy to come across.
Dr. Moser then opened up the discussion to us, asking what we’d like to ask him about. We began talking about conversations and presenting yourself. People get nervous because they keep focusing on themselves, and not on others. For example, we’re thinking, “what if I do badly and embarrass myself?” instead of “What information can everyone get out of this?” Did you know that your effective IQ goes down 8-9 points while nervous? Dr. Moser’s recommendation for those who are generally anxious or otherwise introverted is to constantly challenge yourself to speak up in any way you can throughout your day-to-day life. Dr. Moser mentioned an exercise: find the friend with whom you have the greatest, most engaging and animated conversations with. Spend some time with them, and in the middle of one of those conversations, take note of your own body language, your facial features, and your eye contact. When giving a speech, just like with talking with that friend engagingly, your words-per-minute change dynamically; there are slow moments and fast moments, and these dynamic changes keep your audience interested. Speaking dynamically as if you were talking to your best friend in speeches will keep listeners’ attention better. Additionally, it’s okay to move around during a presentation, but if you move your legs, do it with purpose; don’t pace like a caged animal or it will be distracting. Lots of animated upper body movement is good, though it may seem awkward at first. It is actually more awkward for your hands to be stuck in one position for your whole talk. Engaging upper body movement unconsciously keeps people actively observing you.
Finally, an effective speech structure is given:
- Start with something evocative and interesting; your “wake-up call”
- An interactive question to the audience
- A story
- Try to avoid jokes, unless you are 100% sure the audience will get it
- The problem
- Credibility (of the speaker, the content presented)
- Relate the problem to the audience
- Preview the rest of your talk
- Main Points and Claims
- Quantitative: The numbers and results you obtained.
- Qualitative: How to interpret your results, how does it impact the rest of the industry?
- Examples: Include examples of what your results will mean.
- Opposite of your introduction
- This is your opportunity to come full-circle and reference your wake-up call
At this point, we interviewed each other using some of the tips Dr. Moser had provided, which was useful, as we got to experience what we had learned immediately after learning it..
Overall I consider this event a success. Students were given many practical examples and pieces of advice for becoming effective and engaging communicators–more than I was expecting. And, if we remember nothing else from this presentation in the long run, I hope we can at least remember to smile in our professional interactions. Who doesn’t love a good, honest smile?
Adam Denchfield is a lead peer career coach (PCC) for the Illinois Tech Career Services department. A senior physics student, Adam has had to present quite a few times so far in his career, yet even he ended up learning quite a bit from this presentation.