7 Speech Tips for the Procrastinator

You’ve got a speech to give, but you’ve procrastinated. Not to worry, the Public Speaker tells you how to give a great presentation even if you waited until the last minute to prepare. 

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #242

You’ve got a presentation coming up.  You've been thinking about it, but keep putting off actually preparing it because you know it’s going to take a block of time.  You want to do a good job but time is running out. ;

This past week was National Procrastination Week, so today I want to talk to those of you who tend to leave things till the last minute. This episode is for those of you who agree with Mark Twain’s famous quote:

"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

We all know procrastination is a bad idea. You’ve probably seen speakers who haven’t taken the time to prepare, and it usually shows. They ramble, they seem nervous, and they rarely make their point stick. Worse, sometimes they’ll even say, “Sorry, I didn't have a chance to prepare as much as I would have liked.”  Which, of course, is never a smart thing to admit. Even if you wait until the last minute, it’s still possible to give a good speech.

I want to be clear: I don’t recommend this as your default behavior, but there are times when you don’t have lot of time and you’ll need some hacks to help you create an excellent presentation quickly. 

Here’s what I suggest:

Tip #1: Skip the Slides

If you’ve waited till the last minute, your time is better used preparing what you’re going to say than trying to create a slide presentation. It’s better to have no slides than to have unfocused, disjointed presentations. Your first step should be to think about your audience.  Who will be in the audience? Why will they be listening to you? What do they already know about the topic of your presentation? Create your presentation with those questions in mind.

Tip #2: Focus on One Main Message

Ultimately, based on your audience analysis you should then write down the one thing you want the audience to say or do differently as a result of hearing you speak.  This will become your main message and the rest of your talk will be in support of this main message. If you can boil it down to a catchy mantra or catchphrase, even better, but at a minimum you should come up with a single phrase that summarizes your key idea and be sure to weave that phrase into your talk at key points in order to make it stick.

Tip #3: Brainstorm Your Main Points

The next step is to put that main idea on a piece of paper. Give yourself 2-3 minutes to come up with supporting points.  Don’t edit yourself.  Write as many ideas as you can as quickly as you can.  It doesn’t matter if someone else can make sense of what you are writing—it only matters if you do.  Once the buzzer rings, choose the three best ideas you’ve got on the paper. Best for this audience, best to meet you goal.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.