On Short Notice: How to Give a Powerful Presentation When You Have Little Time to Prepare
Have you ever been tapped to make an impromptu group presentation with a half hour's notice? When is the last time someone asked you for a "brief update" on the status of an upcoming project in "about an hour"? Did you ever stand up in the heat of a membership meeting where negativity prevailed and asked members to consider a more positive stance on an issue?
These scenarios require you to "think on your feet" -- give an impromptu speech -- if you do not want to embarrass yourself, and want to demonstrate your knowledge and mental organization.
A well-prepared presentation is possible at the last minute. Be the envy of your organization and become the go-to person with the strong communication skills by taking initiative and being willing to make impromptu presentations. It only takes a little practice. You can apply these on-the-spot presentation principles whether you speak informally to five people or give a formal speech to fifth. The more you prepare yourself ahead of time to give impromptu presentations, the more you will be the one looked to to keep everyone else informed.
Impromptu vs. Unprepared Presentations
The idea of preparing yourself for an impromptu presentation may seem like a contradiction. Impromptu presentations do not mean you do not prepare. Even if you only have five minutes, you can put an effective presentation together with prior "general preparation". When you expect to give an impromptu presentation at any time, you become ready to do so at a moment's notice.
Public safety, military, and law enforcement personnel -- as well as good Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts -- practice the mantra "be prepared". You can apply the same mantra to impromptu presentations. Sear the basic structure of a presentation into your memory and volunteer to give speeches on the spot. The more you practice giving impromptu presentations, the more comfortable you become doing so. Just as people trained to respond to emergencies at a moment's notice, you will be able to respond with a solid presentation at a moment's notice.
Consider the following key points as well as how to best communicate the content that is necessary for the requested presentation.
Please With Threes
A lesson I teach early in my presentation skills workshops, and that I learned in school and in Toastmasters clubs, is to "please with threes". Otherwise called the rule of threes, this means that you create a presentation using a speech structure that consists of three main components: an opening, a body, and a closing. Manage these three major parts of a presentation and your speech will be organized every time.
Get Off on the Right Foot
Develop an attention-grabbing opening. On short notice, few people expect you to be witty or humorous. Typically, last-minute presenters are expected to address a specific issue or concern. Implement the following techniques, however, and you just might come across as witty and instantly engaging in spite of your last-minute performance.
Grab your listeners' attention right away by beginning with the issue about which you are asked to speak. You can do this by asking a question that directly reflects back to the topic. For example, if you are asked to present the status of a project, begin your presentation with the question, "One of our current projects is Project You-Name-It. Just where do we currently stand at this point with Project You-Name-It, and are we on track for our end goal?" Miracle of miracles! This is exactly what everyone in the room is there to find out so you immediately have their attention. You also buy yourself a few more seconds to figure out what you need to tell them.
Keep it Going
The body of your presentation -- whether it takes five minutes or fifty minutes to present -- should then answer the question posed in your opening. You have valuable information to give to the attendees and you have their attention.
Plan to cover no more than three points in the body of your presentation. People best retain up to three pieces of information so list those three project points to the group up front. For example, (1) "This is where we stand," (2) "These are our budget concerns," and (3) "This is the proposed process we will implement to move the project forward."
Next, tell them in broader detail what you just outlined. If you are up-to-date with your project, you should already know this information and can expand upon it. The last statement in the body of your speech should then summarize the three points you just explained. You could say, "In summary, where things stand include Points One, Two, and Three. And we will overcome these concerns and move the project forward by doing actions a, b, and c".
Bring It to a Close
The final part of the three-part presentation structure is a summary and closing statement. Start a powerful closing statement by addressing the opening question. This brings the presentation full circle and sums up why everyone is listening. Then ask whether you answered all concerns, and field questions. Finish your presentation by calling the group to action or reaffirming everyone's commitment to the project. Examples might include, "With the status I just presented, I ask that you continue your commitment to move forward with the project," or "With the concerns I addressed, I ask that you designate another person to help with the task at hand." These steps reaffirm the commitment of the group members or of management.
Public Speaking On Short Notice
Burn this basic presentation structure into your mind. When called upon to speak, you will be able to create a well-prepared impromptu presentation. You can apply this presentation structure to almost any speech you give.
To summarize the structure: Please with threes. Remember the rule of threes -- that people best remember three points. Follow a structure that includes an attention-getting opening that reflects the issue you are asked to present, a body with no more than three points. Make a closing statement that summarizes and reaffirms, motivates, or calls your listeners to action.
Presenting on short notice is a strong, career-building skill. The more you accept these types of presentations, the more you will stand out as the person who can best represent your organization in a positive light.
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