I was once invited to give a one-hour presentation on time management skills, at a television broadcaster. The audience was late arriving from their previous meeting. When they finally arrived, my host turned to me and said “Oh by the way, the Head of Department wants to say a few words first — she’ll probably be about 15 minutes. So can you give us the 25 minute version of your presentation?”.
A few years ago, faced with that situation, I’d have been in big trouble. Of course I wouldn’t have prepared a 25 minute version. I’d probably have gabbled my way through 25 minutes’ worth of the 60 minute version, missing out on several key points and looking under-prepared and poor at time management!
But because of what I know now, I was able to smile and say “Sure, no problem”, and deliver a 25 minute version of my presentation — even though I’d never done it before.
The reason I could do this at short notice was because I had structured my presentation carefully, so that I can separate out the key points and talk about them, while skipping over some of the non-essential detail.
Here’s how you can do the same.
In his book Beyond Bullet Points Cliff Atkinson advises us to structure our presentations around three (maximum four) key points. This makes it easy for the audience to grasp the big picture of the topic during the presentation, and remember it afterwards. It also helps you do the same thing — it’s much easier to talk fluently and confidently about each point in your presentation, when you are clear about exactly how it fits into the big picture.
So the first thing you should do when it’s time to plan your presentation is sketch out your three key points like this:
Take time to think about the subject carefully, making sure that you have identified the really important points. It’s worth spending time mulling this over — get this right, and you save yourself a lot of time and effort later on.
Once you’ve got your three key points, you can start to fill in the detail:
Again, it’s worth spending time on this sketch, revising it if necessary, to get the right structure between the key points and the fine detail.
Once you’ve got your structure clear, it should be easy to expand or contract your presentation to suit the time available – you could have a full 1 hour version (key points and all details); a 30-minute version (key points and some details); and a 10-minute version (key points only).
Using Post-Its is a good way to plan out the structure of your presentation. Use one post-it per point, with different coloured post-its for your title, three key points and detail points. Move the post-its around until you are happy with the overall configuration and can survey your entire presentation at once.
If you’re using slides for your presentation, then later on you can create the slide deck from these post-its – each post-it corresponds to an individual slide, again with only one point per slide.
What Are Your Three Key Points?
Sketch out your key points – then add the details.
Take time to make sure you’ve got the structure right – it will save you time later on.
Make the Key Points Crystal Clear To Your Audience
The key points may seem obvious to you, but you need to spell them out to the audience — and repeat them several times — to make sure they grasp them firmly. A classic formula for doing this is:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them you’ve told them.
Make this as clear and explicit as possible — “Ladies and gentlemen, there are three things you need to know about electric potato peelers…”.
If you are using slides, it’s a good idea to use ‘place marker’ slides, to indicate your audience the different sections of your presentation. This has been shown to significantly increase understanding and retention.
Here are some place marker slides I use on my own presentations, created using images from www.iStockphoto.com:
And these are the place marker slides I’m using for this presentation skills workshop: