Even the best laid plans can awry…
It might be a colleague who falls sick just before the big pitch, relying on you to jump to their rescue and deliver the presentation. Or maybe your kindly boss lets you know at the last minute that he or she would like you to present at the next board meeting…which is in two days time.
Whatever the reason for running around the office like a particularly frantic headless chicken, panic not. Here are some strategies for dealing with life’s presentation curve balls.
Note: Each strategy assumes that you will be presenting using visuals, courtesy of something like PowerPoint, Google Slides or Keynote. As always, your audience should still determine the method by which you share these visuals (PC, tablet, hardcopy).
With just four hours to go…
Let’s face facts; there’s not a huge amount you can do to fix a broken presentation in four hours. In fact, the last thing you should be doing with such a limited time ahead of you is to try and change too much. You’ve got little choice but suck it up and make the most out of what you’ve already got.
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Review your presentation and identify the one key message you need to share with your audience. Write this down and refer to it throughout the review of your visuals.
Work your way through your visuals and remove as many words as you feel comfortable (hint – start with the verbs and move on from there!). Then quickly review each slide – if it doesn’t help drive your key message home, ditch it.
Cover off the very basics and no more. Double check all animations and slide transitions to ensure there are no nasty surprises. Also check that no rogue slides have made their way in as a result of copying and pasting from other sources.
Practice the presentation as much as you can in front of a mirror. Time is short, but this will help you at least ensure you are fully acquainted with each element of the presentation.
With 24 hours to go…
While it may not feel like it but 24 hours leaves you with plenty of time to polish and buff your presentation into something more engaging. Granted, it may not have the firepower of a fully optimised presentation; but it can still deliver on many fronts. It’s just a matter of getting your priorities straight.
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Take time to write down your presentation objectives (we use a process called Must, Intend Like. This not refocuses your mind and helps identify the content and visuals that will work for your audience but also informs your story structure.
Print out all your slides, lay them on the floor and check your content against your objectives and story structure. As always, ditch the superfluous and make sure your Call To Action aligns with your key message.
Where possible, swap out text for images and diagrams (tools like PowerPoint’s AI layout function are really helpful when you’re up against the clock).
Grab a colleague, friend or spouse and deliver the presentation to them. After feedback on your style, ask them the most important question – what message did they take from the presentation?
- If it matches with your original key message, well done.
- If not, review content and visuals again (the extra effort will be worth it).
With one week to go…
You lucky thing – a whole week?! You should be giddy with the possibilities… Of course, it’s vital that you use the time wisely – delaying everything until the last minute limits your options (and your audience deserves better than that). So allocate a few hours early on to profile the audience, define your message and pull together relevant content.
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Message (Day 1)
Spend time analysing your audience (we use a process called Audience Heatmapping and align this to your key message. Now pull together a strawman story structure and share with colleagues.
Be brave – ask them to play ‘Devils Advocate’ against your approach. Listen carefully, tweak accordingly and then save. Don’t be tempted to keep meddling – that way lies madness and very little benefit.
Content (Day 2)
In line with your presentation structure and message, sift through the content and identify which elements need to remain… and which can be left on the cutting room floor.
Visuals (Day 2-3)
Doodle down your slides on paper and share with colleagues. What works? What doesn’t? By doing your ‘workings out’ on paper, you’ll not only be able to quickly make changes but also find that the temptation to attach a bullet-point to everything disappears.
Once happy, crack open the PC and start transposing your masterpiece onto your presentation software of choice… or hard copy.
And then… (Day 4)
Allocate at least half a day to rehearsing the presentation in front of an audience (ideally colleagues – but friends, partners and pets are also allowed!). If possible, video yourself and review (yes, we know it’s tortuous!). Spend less time worrying about your stance or voice and focus your attention on your message – are you making it clear with a strong call to action?
Of course, underpinning all of these strategies is the simple fact that presentations – and more importantly, your audiences – deserve a decent investment of time. Last minute panics over a presentation should be a rare headache rather than a modus operandi. The most engaging and powerful presentations are intelligent, considered and planned pieces of communication.
This article is an edited extract from The Presentation Lab: The Formula behind Powerful Presentations, published by Wiley and available in 6 languages worldwide.