You have an important presentation coming up on Monday. But now it is Sunday and it is still not ready. From the beginning you had planned to work on it for weeks and make the best presentation of your life, but then came an unplanned trip, a few days of flu, a snowstorm, a computer issue and other surprises. Now you are surrounded with notes, old presentations and half-chewed drafts. But no presentation.


This is a surprisingly common scenario. But even more surprisingly there are ways to deal with this problem – to create a last-minute presentation that is not only good enough, but perhaps even better than the one you would have made if you had more time. To do this you need an entirely new approach, one that I call Lean Speaking.


Start by throwing everything away. Take all your old presentations and all your notes and throw them all away. You might think that they will be useful but they actually slow you down. Finding old material to recycle just slows you down and it pulls you away from what you want to say towards things you just happen to have.


Then, with a blank sheet or screen in front of you, start by defining your core message. What do you want people to think after your presentation? You need to have this. If you don’t know what you are saying nobody else will either. This is, in fact, the most important part of the presentation.


Once you have defined the core message write down the three main ideas that will support this message. For each point make a bullet point list of what you will say for each. Use stories and examples to make it more vivid. Add a simple introduction and a conclusion. With this minimal sheet of notes, you are ready to go.


Now start practicing your presentation “unplugged”. Memorize the main points and supporting facts and practice as many times as you can – delivering it without notes and without slides. When time is short you cannot afford to spend a lot of time creating elegant slides, searching for images and so on. Focus on the content and the talk first.


When you already have a minimum viable unplugged version and you still have some time left you can create a simple presentation to support it. Don’t write everything on the slides, just the keywords. And don’t use stock images merely for decoration. If there are any images they have to add to the message, making it easier to understand. And when you are looking for images have a strict time limit; if you don’t find the image within that limit just drop it and move on. Never get stuck in a search that eats up your valuable minutes.


Most people say too much and show too much in their presentations, and this “noise” gets in the way of the message. At the same time, they waste far too much time working with PowerPoint, Keynote or whatever, adjusting animations and builds that nobody likes anyway.


Quite often the most effective presentations emerge accidentally from a last-minute panic. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use the lean speaking approach in all of your presentations, saving a massive amount of time, but at the same time, making your messaging more effective.


Andrew Hennigan

Andrew Hennigan

Lecturer, speaker coach and writer specializing in topics related to influencing skills, innovation and culture.