Presentations rarely go exactly as planned, and one of the most common reasons is the incredible—and inevitable—shrinking time slot. You prepare a half-hour presentation because you’ve been told that’s how much time you will have. But unlike you, the previous presenter showed up late or rambled on past their allotted time, and now you have to pay the price.
The meeting sponsor asks if you can give the presentation in 15 minutes instead of 30, and you agree because you really don’t have a choice.
Faced with this challenge, most speakers react in one of three unsatisfactory ways:
There’s a better way—structure your presentation so that it is scalable.
In its simplest form, a business presentation has an introduction, middle and end. In most cases, you can keep the beginning and end relatively unchanged. You may need to strip out some of the context out of the beginning and forgo the summary at the end, but neither of those will affect the length too much.
To make the middle of the presentation scalable, picture it as a pyramid, with a key message supported by three main points (although the exact number is of course flexible).
In the topical structure, you may have three supporting reasons to accept your theme, each supported by evidence and supporting reasons of its own. For example, the first reason might be that it will increase revenues. Supporting that might be the three ways that it will increase revenues, each illustrated or supported by stories, statistics, and such. In effect, you end up with a pyramid structure.
It does not have to be a topical structure to work. For example, your three main points may be problem description, causes and recommended solutions. Or yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Depending on how you create your presentation, each of the three main points could be a certain slide design, and the supporting evidence could be shown on slides with a different heading style, for example. That will allow you to go quickly through your slides in slide sorter view and hide the bottom level of the pyramid. Leave out the detail but keep the basic structure intact. If people ask for the detail, you can remind them that you don’t have time to provide it but will be glad to leave the complete set of slides or answer questions off line.
The point is that if you leave off the base of a pyramid, you still have a pyramid.
There’s an added advantage to designing your presentations this way. Your own structure and reasoning become much clearer, both for you and for the audience, and that clarity always pays credibility dividends.
By the way, especially when presenting to busy decision makers, it’s a good idea to tell them up front what decision you’re going to ask them to make. They’re pretty quick studies, and they’ll either tell you when they’ve heard enough, or they will tell you what they need to hear to say yes.