At this point in my career, I've seen almost every situation imaginable surrounding a presentation. But perhaps none is more daunting than seeing a speaker who's been given a presentation to deliver last-minute. Even worse if it's someone else's presentation that they've been... let's say, gifted. Either way, a last-minute scenario can be a nightmare for some speakers, and even unpleasant for those who love to present.
If you're down to the wire for an upcoming delivery, these presentation tips can help. If you're a manager or director about to place a team member in a last-minute scenario, consider passing this post along to them, as well.
When you're in a last-minute presentation scenario:
1. Do a brief audience analysis: The more in depth your analysis, the more informed your presentation delivery. However, in a last-minute situation you might not have time to do much analyzing at all. Take a moment and answer these three questions:
- Is this audience known or unknown to me?
- What is my credibility with this group?
- Might they have any preconceived notions about this content?
Audience analysis can be a lengthy and beneficial process (in fact, I spend an entire chapter on it in Presentation Skills for Managers) but these three questions can get the ball rolling, and provide some insight into how your message may be received. If you don't personally have the answers to these questions, seek out a source that might, whether it's a conference coordinator, co-worker, or manager.
2. Ask what you want your audience to do with your content: With moments to go before you go on, simply articulating the Super-Objective of your presentation can help put you in a mindset to achieve that goal. It will inform your delivery, and give your presentation a bit of underlining drive: "I want this audience to abandon their current process/product in favor of ours."
3. Can't speak through your whole presentation? Say the introduction and the conclusion: The first sixty seconds of any presentation are difficult. Sometimes, it feels like if you could just get past those first few moments you'd be fine. And conclusions are the last thing you leave your audience with — an opportunity to up, or undermine, your credibility. If you don't have time to go through the entire presentation with the Rehearsal Process (because you've just been handed this presentation, oh, an hour ago...) get on your feet and talk through the introduction and conclusion. Get comfortable with the content of these make-or-break moments. At the very least, you know you'll start and end strong.
Want to tackle more presentation "what ifs"? Download this free chapter from Presentation Skills for Managers.
4. Find something — anything! — you can connect with: What if you've been given content that you have zero feeling for? You still have to present it with as much conviction as you can muster. As an actor, I know how it feels to have to deliver something that doesn't float your boat. Find even just one thing in your material that you can connect with. Is there a moment of triumph hidden in the details? Are you really impressed by a certain process? Do you love a good Q&A session? Find something to hang your hat on. If you can highlight one of these moments with a story of some kind, you'll not only make the message more interesting for you, but for your audience, as well.
5. Brainstorm three potential Q&A questions: These three questions will come in handy in three ways (look at that!):
- You'll continue to get closer to your audience by putting yourself in their place and anticipating what they might need/be interested in.
- You'll take a bit of the "impromptu speech" feeling out of Q&A, and have a leg up should those questions be asked.
- You'll have three questions to prompt a Q&A discussion, in case that portion of the proceedings falls flat.
Anytime you can make your presentation more interactive and get people talking, you're going to forge a deeper connection with your listeners. Discovering three questions they may have about your content before you go on will help you do just that.
6. Decide how — and if — you'd like to take Q&A: As I mentioned in my last post, the choice to have a Q&A at all is up to you, as is the choice of how you'd like that Q&A to occur. You might choose to leave all questions to the end, or take them sporadically throughout (my favorite option). Whatever you prefer works. However, you should choose ahead of time and let your audience know what the plan is. That way, you won't be left to decide as questions come in how you'd like to handle them. You'll instantly lend a bit of structure and credibility to your delivery, and help your listeners feel that they're in good hands.
How do you handle last-minute presentations? I'd be glad to hear about it in the comments below.
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