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How to shine in interviews, essays and presentations? Make me a believer.

As I reflect on the many interviews I have done with students recently and anticipate the end of the winter term, I’m reminded that so much of clear and persuasive communication comes down to a well-structured argument. Students in the winter term are writing their final essays for their courses. Those looking to attend a new school next year are doing their final interviews. Being able to offer a persuasive argument could make the difference between admission to a top choice school or earning an outstanding grade. In the future, being an outstanding presenter and interviewer will be a cherished skill as you apply for jobs and write papers in university. As a longtime educator and administrator, I have been on the receiving end of many interviews, essays, and presentations.  I want to share some of my observations and explore briefly what constitutes a successful persuasive piece.

Creating compelling presentations

Some people are best convinced by hard facts and statistics. Others might be persuaded by an emotional anecdote or a story from their own life. In reality, facts and statistics rarely tell a good story on their own. They need a variety of other factors to support them in order to engage any audience. Looking at a topic from multiple perspectives is probably the best approach to convince your audience to pay attention, and hopefully support your argument. Here are some factors to consider when deciding how to present your ideas:

  1. Personal experience: Start by revealing why this topic is important to you. What experience have you had to make this topic connect to your life? Beginning with an anecdote allows your audience to connect with you on a personal level and understand why you feel strongly about this subject.
  2. Expert opinion: Follow your own story of connection to the topic in question with opinions of an expert in the field. Find a person who has relevant experience and has done some research on the topic you’re exploring. Backing up your argument with the findings of an expert will bolster your credibility.
  3. Example: Find an example that supports your larger idea or the pattern that your idea may represent. Using a real-life illustration will make your ideas more tangible to your audience.
  4. Facts and statistics: Sooner or later, you will have to root your claim in some research, or nobody will fully believe you. Look for proof in newspapers, books or websites. Be careful, however – the internet is full of misleading information. Make sure your sources are real and credible!
  5. Logic: I think of “logic” as your reasoning, the conclusions you are arriving at throughout your essay or interview. The transitions from one supporting piece of information to the next should follow a logical sequence to help your audience connect the dots of your argument.
  6. Emotion: Leave your audience with an emotional appeal. We are all more motivated to listen, read more, or ask questions when we are moved emotionally. It’s the funny irony of claiming that we are rational people – needing facts and statistics to decide – but ultimately acting on a feeling.

Make me a believer

In academia there are many types of essays we must learn to write. We ask students to give presentations, write essays in English class, present experiments in science class, give rhetorical arguments in history class. If you’re an IB student in grade eleven, you must write your seminal work: the Extended Essay. This time of year, I find myself thinking about the variety of presentations students are making in class. But I also think about what constitutes a good answer, in general.

I frequently ask in interviews, what are you passionate about? Students often answer with a brief statement or phrase, like “the environment.” When I ask “Why?” I am often met with a shrug or a few uncertain sentences. I want to know why you feel compelled to talk about this topic. How does it impact your life? I want to hear you share the knowledge you have gathered. I want to see you present some of the components above in your argument. Then you’ll make me a believer, and you’ll probably get what you want.

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