Assessment Centre Guide

Chapter 5: Presentation Exercises

Presentation exercises

You will almost certainly be required to give some sort of presentation at your assessment centre. Presentation skills are important in the workplace, so the assessors want to see if you are able to deliver a well-structured, clear, confident presentation. The good news is that it is possible to improve your presentation skills through practice and following some sound advice. Chapter 5 explains all.


Typical competencies assessed in the presentation exercise are:

  • 1. Oral communication
  • 2. Organisation and Planning
  • 3. Professional Style
  • 4. Presenting Information
  • 5. Time Management

Planned vs. on the spot presentations

Most employers will give you information before the assessment centre about the presentation exercise, and what they expect you to have prepared in advance. This preparation time is a realistic simulation of the demands of a real job since employees rarely get asked to give a presentation off the cuff. To stretch you, assessors may interject during your prepared presentation or add a minor last-minute change to your brief, again to simulate a real-world scenario. Effective preparation will significantly improve your performance in the presentation exercise. At your assessment centre your presentation will probably be only 5-10 minutes in duration.

An effective saying goes "own the time". It's your presentation and you have the floor. There's no need to rush.

Some assessment centres deliberately reveal very little about the presentation exercise before hand, so that all the preparation has to be done on the day at the assessment centre. This type of exercise is more a test of how well you deal with being put on the spot, and less a test of presentation skills.

In one scary example of a challenging presentation exercise candidates were given a handful of topics to choose from and 15 minutes to prepare a 5 minute presentation. Few assessment centres use this shock tactic as they are more interested in how you perform in realistic situations.

Preparing for your presentation

A well-used saying goes “fail to prepare; prepare to fail”.

This is most true for giving presentations. You will likely be given time before your assessment centre to prepare for your presentation, so take advantage of this luxury. Walking into the room confident in what you are about to say will settle your nerves and help you present with aplomb. Aim to have rehearsed your presentation so many times that if disaster struck on the day and you lose your notes (it has happened at assessment centres before), you could get by on your memory.

Establish who the audience will be and what level of knowledge they are likely to have, so that you can pitch your level of technical content accordingly. Your audience will either be just one assessor, or more likely, a mix of assessors and other candidates from the assessment centre.

What brief have you been given? You will get marks for achieving the brief as well as how well you present. Clarify with the assessment centre organisers beforehand what equipment will be available. PowerPoint slides are much better than overhead projector slides or a flip chart. Remember you are in a simulated business environment, how would it look in a client presentation if you use scrawled acetate sheets? Ask the assessors if there is time for you to familiarise yourself with the equipment before your presentation, perhaps during a lunch break. Even if it’s not possible you are showing them what you would do in a real-life situation: plan and take precautions against the common nuisance of IT issues

Carry your presentation on two separate USBs and email it to yourself. It has been known for candidates to lose their presentation!

A common mistake made by inexperienced presenters at their assessment centre is to use too many slides. As a rule of thumb, use no more than one slide per two minutes presenting. And keep the slides sparse! The slides are meant to be a prompt for the audience to follow what you’re saying; they are not meant to be read, because you want the assessor’s attention on you, not the slides. The best use of slides is for graphically presenting numerical information difficult to describe orally, not for showing blocks of text. It should go without saying but it’s surprising how many candidates still just read what the slides say. This is a quick way to show the assessors you are not a good presenter.

If you want to stand out from other candidates at the assessment centre reduce the number of boring bullet point slides. These are a standard PowerPoint template and quickly make audiences dreary. Professionals replace bullet point lists with a simple graphic alongside text.

The best slides are clean and let the presenter be the focus of attention.

Practice your presentation out loud. You will be amazed how differently it comes out compared to reading it in your head. Record yourself and play it back. This is a great way to discover where you could inject intonation, pauses or emphasis. Practising out loud will also give you an accurate estimate of how long it takes.

Write your prompt notes on envelope-sized cards, not A4 paper which can distract from your presentation and will exaggerate any shaky hand tendencies.

Giving your presentation

When it comes to presented information, people tend to be very slow at taking it in. So use simple, clear language. Break down what you are saying into simple sentences. Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then remind them what you said.

Look at the audience, not the slides. This is another classic mistake made by inexperienced, or nervous presenters. Don’t take your cue from the slides; keep your attention on the audience and take your cue from your note cards. This looks very professional.

Your introduction should briefly explain who you are (in the fictional scenario) and what your presentation will cover. Reiterate anchor phrases on each slide to emphasise what you're talking about. For example, if you’re talking about projected sales, title your slide “Sales Projection” and open with something like “the projected sales are increasing because…” Then end that slide with something like “…which is why we see these projected sales”.

Think about how you want to take questions. Are you the sort of person who gets thrown by interjections? If you think you can handle questions as you go along, this will impress the assessors. Whatever you decide, tell your audience at the start whether you’d prefer to take questions at the end or as you go through.

Commonly presentation exercises are being video recorded so assessors can re-watch your performance later, or refer it to someone else. The cameras used are usually discreet security type ceiling-mounted ones so they’re not overly imposing.

What assessors look for in a presentation

The assessors will gain an overall feel of your presentation, but to standardise assessment amongst candidates and to justify hiring decisions, the assessors will be scoring you against a set of criteria agreed with the employer. Obviously each employer will have their own scoring criteria but an example of the type of criteria used is below:

  • 1. To what extent were visual aids used effectively?
  • 2. Was prior preparation and planning evident?
  • 3. Did the candidate come across confident and convincing?
  • 4. Were the audience engaged?
  • 5. Was the brief question satisfactorily answered?
  • 6. What was the standard of oral communication?
  • 7. How well were questions addressed?

If the assessment centre assessors enjoy your presentation they're more likely to notice and remember how you fared against their set of scoring criteria.

Next: Role Plays