How to Prepare a Presentation in a Pinch

Christopher Witt —  February 10, 2014

Prepare Presentation in a PinchDo you ever have to prepare a business presentation when you haven’t been given adequate notice or time to prepare?

If you’re like most business people these days, here’s the problem you face.

On the one hand, you have to prepare.To give any sort of presentation without doing your preparation is to court disaster. And preparing a presentation takes time. 

And on the other hand, time is the one thing you don’t have. Typically, you are given little advance notice: “I want you to make a presentation at tomorrow’s meeting.” And typically, you are overworked and have little, if any time, to prepare.

So what do you do?

How do you prepare a presentation when you are given short notice and little time? 

5 Steps for Preparing a Business Presentation in a Pinch

Step 1: Create a Down-and Dirty Plan

Answer these questions as quickly as you can.

  • What will you be talking about? What’s the general topic?
  • Who will be in the audience? What do they already know and feel about your topic?
  • How are they affected by your topic?
  • What is your relationship to them? Do they know and trust you? Are you a peer? Do they have authority over you (and your decisions) or do you have authority over them?
  • How long will you be talking?

Once you’ve answered those questions, ask yourself one more question and answer it in one short sentence:
What do you want the audience to do at the end of your presentation?

Do you want them to approve your proposal, give the green light to your project, accept your report, adopt your process, cooperate with your initiative, apply your solution, take the next step in the buying process?

By the end of Step 1, you should know what you want the audience to do: the action you want them to take.

Step 2: Assemble your Material/Content

This is not the time to do original research or to go into great depth. You’re under the gun.

Gather information you already have at hand. If at all possible, use material you’ve already collected and formatted.

Here’s the only question you have to answer at this step:
What does the audience need to know and feel in order to do what you want them to do?

That’s it. Your goal is to move them to act, right? So only talk about those things — the information and ideas — that will persuade them to act.

Step 3: Organize your Presentation

Use a simple, clear structure.

Always begin with a brief introduction, an overview of what you’re talking about and why it’s important. “Today I’m going to talk about a problem we’re having at the plant that’s costing us a lot of money and what we can do about it.”

Break the main part of your presentation into three to five main sessions. Here’s one possibility:

  • Problem and its negative impact
  • Cause
  • Initial response: What’s already been done and how it did or did not work out
  • Possible solutions: Pluses and Minuses
  • Recommendation and Next Steps

Allow for Q&A. Taking questions from the audience is not optional. It’s an essential part of any presentation. You need to allow ample time for it. And you need to prepare to address the questions you expect the audience to ask.

Conclude your presentation following your answer to the last question, reiterating your main point and ending on a call to action.

Step 4: Prepare your Support Material

You don’t have to use PowerPoint, but you will probably want to have some visual aids available. Handouts are good. Using a flip chart or a whiteboard is perfectly fine and amazingly effective.

If you do use PowerPoint, keep your slides to a minimum. After all, you don’t have time to create a lot of slides. Only use a slide if it illustrates or demonstrates one of your central ideas. (You don’t need, for example, an agenda slide.) Avoid using bullet points.

Step 5: Rehearse

Do not skip this step!

Practice your presentation at least one time by speaking it aloud. Rehearsing your presentation will increase our confidence and the effectiveness of your presentation 10 fold.

That’s it:my 5-Steps for Preparing a Business Presentation in a Pinch. Try it next time you’re pressed for time and see how it works. I’d love your feedback.

Photo courtesy of William Warby at

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.