Q&A: What if I only have one day to prepare a presentation?

by Oliver Adria on 07/03/2009

qaNeha asks: Sometimes I just get time of only one day to draft an entire presentation. I would like to ask for your help on how to make presentations if I only have a day to create it.

Hi Neha, thanks for your question. Well, if you only have one day to work on it, I’ll admit, it’s a challenge to create a great presentation, but it’s not impossible. The first thing you need to do is prioritize the preparation time. Where do you want to invest the time to create the presentation? Under such short time pressure I would suggest using three steps:

  1. Idea gathering/Brainstorming
  2. Structuring/Creating the story + Handout
  3. Slide Design.

Step 1 Idea gathering/Brainstorming

Here it’s important to lose all the distractions around you and be really focused on the task at hand, because you want to get as many ideas as possible and put them on paper. Because the more you do now, the less you will have to revise it later, and the less you have to invest more time at the end of the day (which might push you into “panic mode”). So. write down all the stuff on the subject you’re working on, and in this first phase, don’t filter your thoughts, don’t judge the brainstorming material, because you first want to get all the ideas (the normal ones AND the crazy ones) on paper. Only after you have your thoughts on paper should you move on to Step 2.

Step 2 Structuring/Creating the story

This Is a crucial step, because once you have all the ideas gathered, you want to structure it into a nice story. Identify what the most important themes and points are. Figure out what your one core message is going to be (e.g. “If we acquire that company, our innovation potential will increase dramatically.” or “Using this software will make us 30% more productive!”). Once you’ve got that figured out, always keep it in the back of your mind, because later – when creating the slides – you should always review: “Does this slide contribute to the core message and the story?”

Once you have a good storyline (e.g. one interesting method is to do a storyboard) and you are sure what your one core message is, then invest 20-40 minutes in creating a one-page handout for the listener (more details on writing a handout, read my blog post tomorrow on this subject matter). This should consist of the main points that you will talk about, it should include possible references and also links to further reading; and also (except it’s an internal workshop at work) don’t forget to include your contact details in case someone has more questions much later after the presentation (e.g. a week or a month later).

Step 3: Slide Design

This should be the last step when you’re under such time pressure. In the end, if you already have your ideas gathered and the story in place, you don’t really need the slides. The slides are there to provide visual aids for the audience. So keep this in mind when creating them. Why not just use full-sized pictures instead of a lot of text? If you’re doing a technical presentation, why not put in big images of the technical devices you are talking about? If you work a lot with charts, just put in the charts – do you really need full sentences on the slides? Just explain the charts while you show them, no need for textual explanations on the slides itself.

That’s a quick rundown of how I would work on the presentation. Good luck with your future presentations!

This is part of the “Q&A” series at ReThink Presentations. If you have a question yourself, don’t hesitate to write to me at mail@rethinkpresentations.com

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