How to Make a Good Presentation When There's No Time to Prepare

What do you do when you have a speaking engagement and little time to prep for it? Speaking experts share their advice on how to make a good presentation.
Journalist, freelance writer
January 20, 2017

So you've been asked to give a talk with almost no time to plan it. You're probably wondering how to make a good presentation in record time. 

If you want to get by on more than hope, consider these strategies that can show you how to make a good presentation, fast.

1. Keep talking points simple. 

While it can be a good idea to use PowerPoint, Zoho Show, Prezi or some other program to make your presentation more visual, less can oftentimes be more when you don't have much time to prepare. (Besides, it may not be helpful to cram a ton of statistics, talking points and data into your talk anyway.) When it comes to how to make a good presentation, keeping your talking points simple can work in your favor.

"At the end of the day, the audience is only going to remember one or two things from your presentation, if you are lucky enough to be memorable at all,"  says Danielle Dy Buncio, the CEO for VIATechnik, a virtual design and construction services company based in Chicago. "I try to make sure that I am the one deciding what they will remember. So I think about what I want these key take-aways to be, and structure my talk around that."

Steve Albrecht agrees. Albrecht owns a training, coaching and management consulting firm in San Diego that specializes in helping companies build a healthy work culture. He advises against doing a data dump on the audience.

"We all know how the majority of people in a business audience ... check their phones, read other material and listen to a presentation at the same time," Albrecht says, including himself in that multi-tasking number. "Since a lot of them will be already distracted, it's important to stick to a small number of key items. I always try to start with a story of success, failure or a surprise; a famous or infamous quote that can lead me into the material; a statistic that relates; or something fresh from today's headlines."

2. Keep your presentation short. 

If you're being asked to speak for five hours, there's no keeping that short. But if you have some control over the time, "less talking is more effective," says Suzanne Franchetti, president of communications training and coaching company Franchetti Communications, based out of Port Washington, New York. 

Add as much audience participation as you can. It'll break up the speech, get them involved and take up some time.

—Julie Austin, founder, Creative Innovation

"TedTalks are less than 18 minutes for a very good reason," she says. "No one can pay attention to a monologue for longer than that."

3. Tell a story. 

You don't have to open up with a story. But you may want to have at least one good anecdote somewhere in your presentation, says Adrian McIntyre, a cultural anthropologist and business communication coach based out of Phoenix. He advises and trains entrepreneurs, small-business owners and corporate teams on effective communication and the art of storytelling.

"Storytelling is hardwired into the human psyche," McIntyre explains. "From the campfire to the kitchen table to the company boardroom, stories are how human beings organize our minds and connect with one another."

So it stands to reason that a story can help you connect with your audience. And as long as you have an anecdote or two in mind that fits into your larger message, storytelling can be a fairly easy way to fill up time. (And if you know the story, the details are far easier to remember than spouting off a bunch of memorized facts.) 

If you're really struggling with how to make a good presentation, a good anecdote (or several) can be one of the best tools you've got. You could use PowerPoint or some other presentation software to help illustrate your story—but the beauty of the anecdote is that you don't have to. As long as you know the anecdote well and your delivery's sharp, a good story that makes your points for you can help you deliver a great presentation.

"There's a benefit to storytelling that most people don't realize until they've done it," McIntyre says. "A story can have a magical effect on the presenter, not just on the audience. Storytelling pulls you out of your head and into the story, making you seem more confident, less anxious and less nervous."

4. Include some audience participation. 

"Add as much audience participation as you can," says Julie Austin, a public speaker who runs Creative Innovation, a public speaking bureau in Los Angeles. "Let them do some of the work. Ask them to tell their own stories. It'll break up the speech, get them involved and take up some time."

This advice on how to make a good presentation may depend on what sort of presentation you're doing. Still, even if you're giving a presentation to potential investors, you could have a question and answer session.

5. Practice, practice, practice. 

"If you only have a day, practice eight hours. Practice as much as you possibly can. Do the speech over and over again for as many hours as you can," Austin says.

Especially if you're using PowerPoint or Prezi, and you don't have much experience with navigating slides.

And if you literally have no time?

"Even if you have 10 minutes to prepare, you have time to practice your opening," Franchetti says. "Start with practicing a compelling opening statement. When you get past the opening, the rest will more easily fall into place, especially if you have limited your topics of conversation."

6. Don't let 'em see you sweat. 

When you're trying to figure out how to make a good presentation that doesn't look like you've rushed it out in four minutes, it may be tempting to plan on telling the audience that you haven't had much time to plan what you're going to say. But many public speakers and business owners say that's not a good idea.

For starters, if you look nervous—and especially if you tell your audience you don't know what you're doing—you may create a self-fulfilling prophecy and see your presentation fall apart. But if you fake it until you make it, you may have a chance.

"Smile," Franchetti advises anyone trying to figure out how to make a good presentation. "It's almost impossible to ignore someone who starts with a smile and looks happy to be there."

Read more articles on presenting.

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