When prep time is short, the last thing you want to be struggling with is content. So here’s a worry-free strategy for quickly deciding what you’re going to say.
- In Part 1 of this series, you took a few minutes to understand who you’re presenting to and how you want to show up.
- Then, in Part 2, you outlined your presentation, organizing and ordering it into sections.
Content is the easiest part of this process, and now you’re ready to tackle it!
Before You Gather Lots of Content, Do the Math
One thing you can’t afford to do, when prep time is tight, is to generate lots of content that you won’t have time to deliver.
Simple division will help you avoid this time-wasting mistake:
- A 10-minute speech divided by 10 slides = 1 minute of talk time per slide (actually, less, because your opening and closing remarks will take time, too).
- A 30-minute speech divided by 60 slides = 30 seconds per slide, etc.
Facing this reality will help you decide what to talk about — and here’s how to organize the points you choose:
Treat Each Section of Your Talk Like It’s an Instant Speech
The Instant Speech Format is a fast, easy way to get your point across. It’s made up of:
- Your Key Message — the most important thing you have to say about your current topic)
- Supporting Points — 1-3 ideas (they can include facts, figures, questions, comments, stories, explanations, etc.) that support your Key Message
Using this format makes it super easy to choose the best content for each section of your speech without falling down the rabbit hole of telling the audience everything you know.
1. Choose a Key Message for Each Section (and Your Presentation as a Whole)
For each section of your last-minute presentation — and for your entire presentation — ask yourself:
What’s the most important thing I need this audience to understand about X??
That’s the right question to ask whether X is a slide… a section… a data point… or your entire presentation.
- Save you time and wasted effort
- Keep you focused on what really matters, and
- Help your audience follow your thinking.
2. Once You Find the Most Important Thing, Focus On It
Listening is hard work, and people can’t effectively concentrate on more than one big idea at a time. That’s why it’s best to have one key message for your overall speech, and one for each section.
Choosing one idea can be difficult for many speakers, but remember: This is not your last chance to share your other points. They may come up in Q&A, or in follow-up conversations, or in your next presentation.
If several points seem important to you (for example, “There’s more flooding,” “Hurricanes are more frequent,” and “We’ve never seen heat like this”), try to find the idea that includes them all (“Climate change has become a problem.”). That’s probably your Key Message, and the more specific ideas are probably Supporting Points.
3. Choose 1-3 Supporting Points for Each Key Message
“Less is more” when you’re choosing key messages, and the same thing is true when you’re supporting them with facts, figures, arguments, explanations, questions, stories, or data.
Ideally, you should have no more than 3 Supporting Points for each Key Message. (If you’re tempted to load up with more than that, think about how well you listen when someone gives you 9 reasons for what they want you to do)!
And remember: Make sure your Supporting Points really do support your Key Message. If they don’t, they probably belong some place else in your speech…or out of it!
And Don’t Forget to Tie It Together with Transitions
Even when your preparation time is brief, take a minute to think about your transitions — those bridges between sections of your speech that keep the audience moving forward with you!
What does a good transition sound like? Here are some examples:
Now that we’re defined the problem, let’s look at the solution my team is proposing. (In this example, you’re moving from problem to solution; a common move in business speeches.)
We’ve talked about two causes of poverty — but there’s a third, and it’s probably the most important one of all. (Here, you’re building your analysis, point by point.)
You may be wondering what’s going to happen after we implement this new plan. (You’re inviting your audience to imagine that the change you want has already occured, as you make predictions about how that will look.)
Each of these transitions — and countless others — has the power to keep your audience focused on what comes next, and arguably, that’s half of the speech-making battle.
Phrases that are useful for transitions include:
- In addition to…
- On the other hand…
- You might think X, but…
- Now that we’ve looked at Y, let’s talk about how Z…
- One more thing:
- To summarize…
The tips in How to Prepare for a Last-Minute Presentation work with any talk. But when time is short, it’s particularly important to streamline your prep. To do this:
- Think about your audience, and what you’d like them to do differently.
- Think about yourself and how you’ll manage the stress of presenting.
- If you’ve been given a slide deck, identify the sections and put them in the strongest order you can.
- If you’re creating your own slides, lay out your argument in a persuasive order.
- Use the Instant Speech approach to fill your sections with content, staying focused on the most important thing you have to say.
- Add Supporting Points and materials, remembering that, with public speaking, less is more.
- Decide how you’ll transition between sections and wrap up with a summary that drives your Key Message home one more time.
Whether you have ten minutes or ten hours to prepare your last-minute presentation, this approach will help you stay calm and focused, and succeed.
Try it, and let me know what happens!