Presentation Tips: How to Make It Your Own (Even When It’s Not)

Everyone knows it’s much easier to deliver a slide presentation you’ve prepared than one that is foisted upon you, and I always advise clients to resist giving a talk they didn’t at least help to write.

But sometimes, saying “no” is just not an option. I’m often asked to coach executives who, for various reasons, have to present somebody else’s slides. This can be a daunting task for even the most senior executives.

That’s why I’ve adapted 3D’s successful model for communications preparation, “ACT – Analysis, Content Development, Testing,” to this less-than-ideal situation.  Since the speaker usually has a short amount of time to prepare, I call it ACT Fast – 15 presentation tips for making a presentation your own, when it’s not.

  1. Start with Analysis.  Interview whomever DOES know the slides, asking the reporter’s 5 Ws. Who is the audience? What do they want from you? Where and when will you be making your presentation? Why is the presentation important? Write down the answers.

  2. Identify your presentation goal.  Is it to convince or persuade? Get buy in or input?   Why is this presentation important? Again, write it down.

  3. Quickly move to Content Development. Keeping your audience and goals in mind, identify the three main points or messages you want your audience to remember. You guessed it – write them down.  These must be complete sentences, written exactly as you would speak them. For example…

Don’t say this: “What the Exodus program is designed to do”
Say this: “The Exodus program is designed to ensure that all employees have the tools they need to fulfill their career goals.”

Don’t say this: “Efficacy of XYZ drug”
Say this: “XYZ drug demonstrated efficacy in slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.”

  1. Now, keeping these three main points in mind, analyze each slide individually. What is the single most important point to make on that slide? Write it down in the notes section of the slide. If you can’t identify a slide’s key point, it’s not worth presenting.  Go through the entire deck, writing down the key message of each slide. These will be the first words out of your mouth when you present each slide.

  2. IF you are allowed to change the headlines, make each one “mirror” the message, such that the first thing the audience hears – and sees – match each other. It’s a little trick to help an audience follow your story, and to help you stay on message.

  3. IF you are allowed to, drop or hide unnecessary slides. If you must present the slide, ask why. Find out how it fits into the overall story.

  4. Now go back to the top of the presentation. For each slide, think about: what must be explained to support the point? Jot down only these points, in complete sentences, exactly as you would say them. Stay focused on the message — no extra words! If certain data points aren’t critical to the slide’s main message, ignore them. Draw the audience’s attention to what IS important.

  5. Speak the points out loud as you write, keeping the “script” simple and conversational. Write for the ear, not the eye.

  6. IF you CAN simplify the slides, DO. IF NOT – can you do highlights and builds to draw attention to certain things? IF NOT – focus on guiding the audience, supporting the message and only saying what’s necessary.

  7. When finished, check to see if you captured your original messages in the script. If not, adapt the messages OR the script. They should be consistent. The three messages are your guideposts and everything else you say should support them.

  8. Write a brief introduction to the presentation, using the three main messages.  Introduce yourself and tell the audience what you are going to tell them.

  9. Next, write a close, telling them what you told them. Your three key messages should open and close the talk, “book-end” it – for optimal retention.

  10. Moving now to Testing. Once your bulleted script is written, print the presentation, using the notes page version, and read it out loud, word-for-word. Time yourself.   Cut out extra words. Remember – the length of a presentation depends on how much you say, NOT the number of slides.  Shorter is ALWAYS better – so edit, edit, edit.

  11. Read the presentation out loud at least 5 to 10 times, watching yourself in the mirror. Practice slowing down and pausing for emphasis. Read it repeatedly, NOT to memorize it, but rather, to learn it well enough to use the slides as your cue.

  12. Now – put the script aside and practice with the slides alone. When you are comfortable, you’re ready!

For presentation tips on delivering with confidence, check out Allison May Rosen’s blog here.

3D ACT Fast helps you deliver a slide presentation you didn’t create with confidence and expertise. Remember, a presentation is NEVER about the slides – it’s about YOU – what you say and how you say it.

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