Putting Together a Solid Presentation on Short Notice In an ideal world, we’d all have weeks to prepare before delivering a presentation. That way, we could spend plenty of time writing, editing, practicing in the mirror and reworking the weakest bits. But reality often gives far less notice.
Suddenly, your boss is standing next to your desk, asking you if you’ll fill in for your sick coworker at the company meeting. Or, a conference lineup changes and a representative reaches out to you asking if you’ll fill the slot. Perhaps the deadline on a big project gets moved up—which means presenting your findings to a panel much sooner than anticipated.
Whatever the case may be, thinking on your feet will help you put together a solid presentation on such short notice. You may be short on time, but you can still develop a framework for making sure the essential elements of a great presentation are all ready to go.
Start with the Basics
Cut through the clutter to get to the basics. Ask yourself: What do I need to include in this presentation to get my point across? And, furthermore, what is my main point? As one entrepreneur and Harvard Business Review contributor writes, “The biggest problem I see in first drafts of presentations is that they try to cover too much ground.” So, start with the basics.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re trying to cram a plethora of data points, anecdotes, quotes, citations and supplemental materials into one finished product. Step back. For the sake of time, you may need to exclude certain non-essential materials. Narrow your scope, but strengthen your central point. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by reducing your workload while also fortifying your primary takeaway.
Resist the Urge to Script
Let’s face it, whipping up a presentation under time constraints can be stressful. When you’re crunched for time, your first instinct may be to write out everything you’re going to say. That way, you don’t have to memorize a speech. Right? Not exactly.
You see, even the smoothest scripted speech tends to come off as stiff; it’s hard to make an impact when your presentation feels like it “came from a can.” A script tends to act like a crutch and keep presenters from connecting with their audience in a meaningful way.
A script may help you internalize your main points during practice sessions, but leave it behind when you actually take the podium. Instead, write out your main points concisely so you can refer back to them if you falter. A good presentation outline acts like a solid deck of PowerPoint slides in that it guides, but does not control, your communications. Everything in between the guideposts is up to you.
Emphasize Audience Interaction
The short turnaround on your presentation means you have less time to anticipate audience questions and comments. But, with polling in PowerPoint, you can ask them for feedback on the spot. This will help you generate material to cover, and let you know if you need to circle back and expound on anything you’ve already mentioned. Opening up two-way communication between you and your audience also serves to boost engagement all around.
Make Your Presentation Viewer-Friendly
Your deadline is tight, so the temptation to fill your presentation with charts, tables, video clips, handouts and more to compensate is all too real. But it behooves you to design your visual aids wisely. Less is more in the world of presentations. For example, make sure your presentation follows the rule of eight. This guideline states that you should be able to read the text standing eight feet away from a computer screen. If you can’t, it will be too small for your audience to read from afar. Keep bullet points crisp and concise, placing no more than a handful on each page.
Putting together a presentation on short notice means you have to prioritize what’s truly important and leave more room for flexibility.