I’m often asked for some tips and tricks that can help presenters nail a presentation when they have little time to prepare.  Obviously, that’s never ideal, but in a pinch there is one activity that is rarely documented and yet in my opinion invaluable.  And no, it doesn’t involved recording your presentation, and playing it through headphones while you sleep. Admittedly, that would be awesome – if it worked.  But I’ve yet to be convinced that it does.

I’ll make this point with a road markings analogy.  If you’ve ever driven in the UK, you might have noticed that when approaching a stop sign, you’ll see the words “Stop Ahead” painted on the road. [If you missed it, pay closer attention – or drive on the left!]  Same as in the US, right?  But not so.  In the UK, “Stop” is written above “Ahead,” whereas in the US, it’s written below.  To me, that’s always implied that in the UK, drivers are taking in the big picture and can see the phrase clearly and completely, while in the US, drivers must be driving with their eyes so fixed on the road, five yards in front of the car, that they first see the word “Stop” and then the word “Ahead.”  Subtle, but true – check it out sometime.

So what’s the lesson here? When you’re in a time crunch, think US road markings, not UK.Why?  Because without the time to truly prepare, it’s unlikely that you are going to have the time to really refine your overall narration and story arc.  That’s a complex, well thought out process that can lay out a big picture.  Without that time, you can still stand-up and impress, by concentrating on knowing exactly what comes next.  Don’t worry as much about delivering your best possible performance, but be sure that you know your slide order cold.  Once you know that “Ahead” is going to follow “Stop” you can then think of a phrase that will link the slides together.

There really aren’t many things worse than watching a well-intentioned but poorly-prepared presenter stumbling through a bunch of slides and being “surprised” by unexpected content.  “How did this get in here?” should be banned from any speaker’s vocabulary, along with “let me just gloss over this one,” or “sorry these aren’t my slides.”

Watch any good presenter and you’ll see that their slide transitions are seamless – they ALWAYS know what comes next.  They might be talking to one slide, but they are doing that in the context of setting up the next one.  While these presenters are more fully prepared, and taking you on a well thought out journey, this simple trick of knowing which slide comes next, will also help you look smooth and prepared when time constrained.  You might also become a better driver, too.

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