Amanda is a passionate business writer and mentor.She spends most of her days empowering women and taking part in community projects.
Your presentation is due next week. The slides aren’t done. Your content is a mess, verbose and lacking value. And you’re thinking, "Ah, I’ll get this done in a snap; it can wait a few days . . . "
Two days till showtime: "This is taking longer than expected; I’ll just wing it.”
"Let’s Wing It" Is Not the Solution
This is a familiar scenario to many presenters. At times, you’re simply overwhelmed with too many things, and you can’t afford time to worry about the upcoming presentation in the near future. I call this phenomenon 'Presentation Procrastination'.
We know the adverse effects of procrastination on our productivity. How is Presentation Procrastination any different? For one, the calamitous effects of last-minute work here are compounded on stage, evident for the audience to scrutinize. When you present, you are representing yourself. A half-baked presentation reflects horribly on your credibility and professionalism. It makes you look unprepared, disorganized and possibly even lazy.
‘Winging it’ doesn’t work half the time. You can exude so much charisma that it overflows from your ears, but if you don’t genuinely know what you’re talking about or offer any value, the audience will see right through these shenanigans.
How to Motivate Yourself to Work on Your Presentation
Ideally, you should be prepared. Invest the time to know your stuff and get the work done properly. The truth of the matter is however, you can’t simply throw aside your commitments to go both Picasso on your slides and Ralph Waldo Emerson on your script. Something has to give. As an advocate of productive presentations, I offer some possible shortcuts you can create for yourself.
Hack #1: Understand That It’s a Process
Acknowledge that creating a good presentation is a sum of parts, a step-by-step process, if you will. Utilizing your pockets of free time to fill these gaps will ensure you get it done fast and avoid compromising too much on quality.
You may have your own ‘system’, but following a structured process gets you to ‘done’ a lot quicker and affords you time to make the endeavour to get it close to ‘perfect’.
Hack #2: Repurpose Past Work
Contrary to what some communication professionals suggest, you simply don’t have time in all instances to create a customized presentation for your audience from scratch.
If you’re a trainer or work in a focused department, chances are you will eventually speak about the same concept or idea again. Nothing is stopping you from using the specific graphic or transcription you’ve painstakingly created prior to create your next presentation.
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Hack #3: Outsource Parts of Your Presentation
This is more of a last resort if you simply can’t spare the time. Let a professional take the load off your back by outsourcing parts of your presentation to them. For example, hire a designer if you have problems with design. Enlist the help of a copywriter if you’re stumped on content.
Notice I did not suggest extricating yourself completely from the process; you should know your presentation best. Inject your bit of originality into it. Your contribution can be in the form of furnishing the message structure or sketching designs.
The Perfection Paradox
I’m quite the perfectionist, as I’m sure many of us are. In my younger days I used to love drawing animals. I’d draw the limbs, ears and head, and leave the eyes for last; I’d always mess it up. I would crush the paper and promptly dispose of the wretched creature.
When it came to designing presentations, things were not much different. I incessantly pursued the idea of perfection. I made 50-60 tiny tweaks on a slide before I was satisfied. Then again, I was never truly satisfied.
Realize That Nothing Can Be Perfect
No doubt these acts got me noticed for good work, but it also adversely affected my delivery schedule. In three hours, all I had done were three miserable slides out of 60? I had to postpone uploads, work submissions and presentation slots.
Nothing wrong with wanting to be ‘perfect’ right? Wrong. Perfection is a myth. Things will never be perfect, at least to you. But they can be ‘good enough’ or better.
I spent hours focusing on tiny details in certain minute areas, thereby compromising on quality on the whole. When deadlines came, I simply could not deliver what I had at the time. I only had half of a workable umbrella.
Get It Done
In situations where you’re time-stretched ( or not ) weighing the opportunity cost is everything. Would you rather have a few super slides but be unable to give the presentation at all or have a full deck of an acceptable standard to give a presentation.
I’m big on how things should be fantastic, but there’s a fine line between ‘good enough’ and over doing it. I’m not encouraging you ship a half-assed product, but delaying a ‘good enough to ship’ product is just as bad. The old maxim stands true: “Done is better than perfect.”
What Really Matters?
Bake your presentation (pardon the cake pun) layer by layer. Build 'em from the ground up. If it so happens you run out of time, you’ll still be in a good position to give the presentation regardless. A speech coach friend of mine, Benjamin Loh, has this to say:
I make well sure my presentation’s structure is pristine before worrying about how it looks. If I lack the time, at least I know I’ve got the content down. I can present without the visual aids if I needed to.
It’s all about prioritizing the important bits to get it to ‘Done’ or ‘Good Enough’ before aspiring to move beyond that.