How to write presentations quickly

A man with a ball and chain how most presenters feel about powerpoint? ;)
Meet Syd. Syd is a pain in the neck!

One of the biggest issues I face when I do presentation skills training are ‘the SYDs’. Syd is a nice chap, I’m sure but it stands for Slow You Down.  A SYD is anything that gets in the way of you getting better at what you do and making progress. There are lots of SYDs that I’ve met over the years but one of the most common is the cry “But I don’t have time to do it that way”.  So… let’s take that SYD on!


I understand that people are busy. Honestly I do. But so is everyone else. And if you do a bad, boring and ineffective presentation you’ve wasted their time as well as your own. So step up to the plate and make a point of putting time in your diary to design, write and rehearse your presentation. You put time aside to write reports, don’t you? And time to check them? (But Presenting AIR - the productivity systemyou don’t think anyone reads them?) Just do it! Put time in your diary.  It’s not a hard idea!  (On the other hand, if you really are short of time, you could consider getting some help over at a personal productivity site called – there are some handy ideas in the blog!)

Let’s think about this with a bit more of a logic hat on.  I’m not suggesting you spend three days solid on an in-house presentation that lasts 10 minutes and which you do every week (and which, let’s face it, no one pays much attention to!). What I am suggesting is that you think about how significant the presentation is and ascribe time in proportion to that. Don’t forget, preparing your presentation isn’t something you do in a hurry in addition to your ‘real’ job: preparing your presentation is part of your job!

So with those things in mind, let’s look at how to design your presentation quickly.


Ready? I’m going to start with the tactic that you don’t want to read… 😉

Tool #1 … Don’t

Don’t. Seriously.  I know, I know, sometimes you’re ambushed and can’t take time to prepare (in which case see the rest of this post)… But in reality there are definitely times when you could be thinking about your presentation in advance and don’t – you put it off and put it off. The truth is that like all creative tasks, ideas take time to percolate. The best way to design it is to do whatever you can as early as you can.  I know that might mean putting in a slide or two as placeholders saying things like “results of X to go here” but at least you’ve started the process.

H2O - Probably the most unusual presentation medium I've seen ;)Once you’ve got a start/structure/idea/problem/whatever let it go. Do other things and let your subconscious work on it for a bit – but make sure you have some system in place to capture your thoughts and ideas as they pop up. It’s a cliche that you’ll get your best ideas in the shower (or whatever) when you can’t write them down, so make sure you don’t lose them. Notepads, smartphones, partners you shout your idea to… they all have a place! Hell, I’ve even once written a keyword in the condensation of the shower in desperation.

Tool #2 … MindMaps

MindMaps are things of beauty. Well, okay, some are ugly as hell, but as a tool for getting things into some form of structure quickly, they’re a beautiful idea.

I’m sure you know the rules for MindMapping, so I’ll not go into them here, but the key things to remember are:

  • just do it
  • don’t worry about getting it right – you can edit after you’re finished
  • build out from the previous branches to get ever more finely-grained.
[one_half]By the time you’ve created your MindMap you’ll not only have the structure of a reasonable (not great) presentation you’ll have something very handy in terms of flexibility too – you can use your MindMap differently according to how much time you have for your presentation. If you’ve got only a little bit of time you just go around the first (or second) set of branches: if you’ve got quite a lot of time you can go around the finer branches around the outside.[/one_half] [one_half_last]

What this tactic won’t do, of course, is write what you’re going to say – it just gives you a fantastic – and fantastically clear – framework around which you should improvise. Rehearsing is better, but anything is better than making it up on the spot!


Great way to design presentations quickly by finding structureAs a side note – we use a package called Xmind to do this. It’s free and has the almost magical ability to change mindmaps to nested bullet points at the click of a mouse, in case you ever need to print things off in a more structured-looking way. The downside is, of course, that no matter how good you are with the tech, it’s not quite as organic/quick as writing the MindMap by hand.

Don’t forget, also, that you can use other ways of jotting down, such as a tree-diagram or a herringbone diagram if that suits better.

Tool #3 … Make it picture perfet


You should be using images a lot anyway, but what I’m talking about here is the idea that you can use images as talking points. The advantage is pretty simple: if you’ve got a good library of images handy (and if not just buy them, they’re cheap!) you can put a slide-deck together very quickly if you know your topic inside and out. (And if you don’t know your topic that well, what are you doing making a presentation in the first place?! 😉 )

Beware – this isn’t as easy a tool as it sounds like it is. While actually assembling the slide deck won’t take long the planning can take a long, long time. Don’t think of this as a substitute for:

  • knowing your stuff
  • planning your presentation

because just putting pictures up is an emergency approach!

Tool #4 … Cheat

Quite often, you can make a fine presentation by just starting the ball rolling and letting the audience then do the work. At work for example, you can often get input from the audience by just a two minute presentation which sparks debate (and maybe even controversy). In fact that’s often a good tactic for presentations when you’ve got plenty of time to prepare too, depending on what the presentation is supposed to do. For example, if you want people to buy-in to your Big Idea, getting them to talk about the ways to implement your Big Idea.

You might only have to give a presentation for the first five minutes of your 20 minute slot, for example… although you will need to be skilled as a facilitator if you pass the baton to your audience for the remaining 15 minutes.  (That’s a separate topic and skill and no something I’m going to go into here.)

Tool #5 … Apologise (not!)

Don’t – just don’t. Your audience doesn’t care that your boss dumped this on you in the last hour. And telling them you’re not the real expert is well… how do you feel if someone’s first words to you are “Sorry, this won’t be very good – I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m talking about”?

Summerizing that?

Don’t panic. It’s not the end of the world!

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