Interviews: Applying Public Speaking Skills

March 10, 2009 | | Comments Off on Interviews: Applying Public Speaking Skills

One of the questions you may ask about public speaking is, “Other than giving a speech, what’s the use of having these skills?” This implies that these skills do not translate into other areas of your life, and therefore is useless. However, a better way to ask that questions is, “How can my public speaking skills help me in other areas of my life?”

How about your next job interview?

That’s right; the job interview requires many of the same skills used to deliver a speech. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to compartmentalize our skills rather than to see wider applications. We think that public speaking is public speaking and interviews are interviews– apples and oranges. But, if you take the same approach to your interview, you’ll find that the process much less daunting and the prospects of success enhanced.

So, here are a few items to consider for your next interview.

1. Think of interview questions as a persuasive speech.

Ultimately, you are trying to persuade the interviewer that you are the best candidate (for the job or the grant or whatever). You want to go from not having the job to having the job. That sounds like change, which is persuasion (see “Persuasion: Assessing the Need for Change“). When you think of each question as a persuasive speech or each answer you give as a persuasive argument (i.e. a main point), you’ll begin to see the interview as a process of change. Every word, then, should be chosen to help the interviewer to see why choosing you as the best possible option.

2. Have prepared answers for tough interview questions.

When you know you are going to speak to an audience, you typically like to prepare the speech. Very few people enjoy the impromptu speech, which is what the interview typically feels like. But, does it have to be?

Honestly, no, it doesn’t. You’ve been to interview or two before, or at least you’ve read enough about them to know some of the tougher questions asked. While I can’t provide an exhaustive list, some of the more common ones include:

  • Tell me about yourself (not actually a question, but…)
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • What do you know about us?
  • Why should I hire you?

You know these questions are coming, and yet you don’t have a fully-prepared answer for them. So, instead, your eyes go wide, you fumble for the words for a minute, and you look like you are scrambling to come up with something.

Or, you can sit down, think about the question, and think about what arguments you can provide that will help the interviewer see that you really are the best qualified candidate.

There’s no shame in having a full response ready (even memorized) for the interviewer. Knowing what you plan to say will give you a boost of confidence when answering those tough questions.

By the way, they’re all tough questions when you don’t have a good answer.

3. Show you know the company (do your research).

Similar to having prepared answers about yourself, be sure to know the company inside and out. Who are the major decision-makers? How does your prospective job fit into the organization? What does the company value? How is the company doing? Who is their competition? And on and on…

Then, as you build your persuasive arguments, add in that knowledge. It provides support to your ultimate argument of being the best qualified candidate. Why? Because the best candidates do their homework and know their stuff.

Moreover, the more you know about them, the more you’ll know if you are a good fit for the company. Don’t just come in knowing that they’ll pay more than your last job. Determine if the work will be fulfilling or if the working environment will suit you. There’s no point going to an interview for a company you know will make you miserable.

4. Provide adequate eye contact.

Again, it seems so obvious. Eye contact implies a connection between individuals communicating. People appreciate this connection. If you need proof, try to hold a conversation with a friend without eye contact. See how long it takes before he asks you if anything is the matter.

Remember that the interviewer is a person, and that person is probably as uncomfortable asking these questions as you are answering them. Providing that connection through eye contact will help to ease that discomfort. Of course, that being said, be sure not to stare unceasingly. There is such a thing as too much eye contact.

5. Be lively.

Eye contact becomes especially uncomfortable if the person staring has no personality. So, it is especially important to follow eye contact with a sense of liveliness. I’ve mentioned the need to have a lively face and lively voice, but it bears repeating in this case. Smile some, nod your head a bit while listening, stress important words, and otherwise be engaged in what is essentially a semi-scripted conversation/presentation. This liveliness will go a long way in helping the interviewer see that you are more than just a resume among many other resumes.

I wish it were as simple as that. There are plenty of other factors that need consideration, many of which are out of your control. You can be fully-prepared, do all your homework, say all the right things, look them in the eye, and show tremendous personality and still not get the job. It’s a tough market out there, and there are a lot of qualified candidates all doing their homework and knocking the interviewers’ socks off with a great presentation. But, that’s not a reason to avoid these tips. In fact, knowing others are doing everything to gain a competitive advantage, it’s all the more reason you need to apply these skills. As you improve, you will begin to see the opportunities open up for you.

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