Big Presentation, Little Prep Time: What to do?

One of the most difficult things to do well is to give presentations and speeches on short notice. There’s an expectation that goes along with a presentation that there will be a certain amount of preparation that goes into it and the audience is going to be receiving a fairly well knit together show. There’s a couple things that you can do if you’re put into a situation where you have very little prep time. Maybe you are coming into to speak for somebody that is sick or maybe you were just presented with an opportunity to speak and have a very short time to get ready. Either way I think that a there are a couple things that you can do that will help put you at ease and help that presentation be well received despite inadequate prep time.

  1. I think a good way to start off is to, in some way, acknowledge the fact that you haven’t had an enormous amount of preparation time. If it’s something where it’s public knowledge that the person you were subbing in for is sick, it’s really easy. You can use it as an opportunity to inject a little humor. Anything along the lines of, “So and so is ill so you get the b team,” or something like that is a little bit funny but it also sets it in the audience’s mind that they should take in to account that you may stumble a little bit. You may get some slack out of it and a little bit of humor can work in your favor.

Oftentimes with very polished presentations the audience doesn’t feel as engaged as they sometimes do, particularly if it’s a smaller group, with a less polished presentation. When you’re working your way through something you’ve given a lot of times, you lose some of the natural beaks and a lot of the conversational tone that really engages audiences when you’re speaking to them. So I think sometimes the shorter the time between preparation and presentation can actually be a blessing in disguise. You end up with a better product from both sides because there is more of a willingness to experiment and take direction on the fly.

  1. The second thing is to try to eliminate highly specific sides and builds across slides. One thing I do when I’m presented with a situation like this where I’m having to work from a deck or something like that is I will pull out any slides that have builds across two slides. The tendency is to talk to what’s on the slides because that’s what’s providing you the guideposts to your talk, which is especially helpful when you are short on prep time. If you have something that builds across two slides, inevitably you’ll make one of two mistakes. Either you run across the second slide during the first slide or in anticipation of needing the material that is on the second slide and not remembering that it is there, you’ll use another example or you’ll have cover that material in some other way. It really just creates a kind of fumbling appearance to the presentation. I would much rather go in in advance and have more generic slides. That gives me a lot more free range than to have a polished slide deck and an unpolished presentation. That will just serve to highlight the lack of preparation. So make sure to remove complexity from your presentation materials and give yourself the broadest amount of free range possible.
  2. Finally the last thing I want to talk about is building that connection to the audience. I find it worthwhile to make sure I find something to link directly to my audience and their target interests. Say for instance that you are going to speak to a group interested in education, I’ll try to find some facts and figures that, while maybe not 100% directly relevant to my topic whether it’s strategic planning or investment portfolios, can be used as stage setting but also are just generally interesting that relate to their field. If you can find a few of these things to sprinkle into the beginning of the talk you’re giving that day, you can garner that little bit of engagement and trust you want from your audience. If you’re able to get people to buy into the fact that you’re going to be interesting, maybe not be topical, but at least interesting; the audience will give you a chance.

They’ll give you a chance to engage them throughout the rest of your presentation and I think that is really critical within the first few minutes. You need to be able to build that interest within your audience where they say, “Hey this is somebody that I want to listen to talk.” You don’t always have to do that by being directly relevant to the speech that you’re gong to give the rest of your way through. It could just be something that just builds a bond with the audience and generates enough interest so they listen to the rest of what you’re going to say.

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