How to Prepare a Presentation at Short Notice (3 Key Strategies)

Posted by Belinda Huckle  |  On February 20, 2024  |  In Presentation Training, Tips & Advice

Collection of hourglasses with yellow sand showing the passage of time

When we run our presentation training workshops, we focus first on understanding the motivations and needs of the audience (and only then on the content of the presentation) – that works when you have plenty of time to prepare – but what do you do if you are asked to present at very short notice?

In the case of one of our recent workshop participants, they shared with us that their manager, who wanted to give them a chance to shine, asked them to present to the senior team with only 10 minutes to prepare.

Now the manager didn’t have any ill intentions, but our participant did feel put on the spot. And I’m sure most of us have been in a similar situation – maybe even several times – during our careers.  

Whilst your first reaction might be to panic, there are things that you can do to ensure that if this happens to you, you are prepared in advance and can pull your thoughts together very quickly.

It’s important to remember that if you are asked to present at very short notice then it’s likely that your allocated time will be short, say 5 or 10 minutes, so we are talking about top line/key points only and a minimal number of slides, if any.

Here are three simple but effective strategies to prepare a short, impactful presentation at a moment’s notice:

  • Pre-Meeting Preparation for Poise Under Pressure
  • Take The Lead And Volunteer
  • Use Proven Storytelling Frameworks

Thinking ahead about potential discussion topics, putting yourself forward to present, and leaning on proven storytelling frameworks can make you feel confident and credible, even with minimal prep time.

Read on for tips to master short-notice presentations using these three key strategies. With some practice, you’ll be ready to step up whenever opportunity knocks!

Person using a calendar to map their meetings so they can plan in advance for any last minute presentation requests

Strategy 1 – Pre-Meeting Preparation for Poise Under Pressure

This is a good habit to form whenever you know you will be attending a meeting or presentation. It’s all too easy, especially when we are very busy, to underprepare for meetings if we aren’t scheduled to present or lead a discussion point. 

So, think about the upcoming meetings you’re going to be attending – hopefully you know the agenda(s) in advance – and consider what your role might be in any of the discussion points? 

  • What is your role or specific area of responsibility on the subject?
  • What might the audience want to hear about, from you?
  • What questions are you likely to be asked?

Then make 3-5 bullet points that could be relevant if you are invited to contribute. Even spending 10 to 15 minutes beforehand will make a big difference to how confident you will feel and how prepared and professional you will come across.

Reactive or proactive symbol with a businessman's hand turning the cubes to switch from reactive to proactive

Strategy 2 – Take The Lead And Volunteer

Rather than waiting to be asked to present, or lead a discussion, at an upcoming meeting, why not proactively put yourself forward? That way you’re on the front foot. 

This doesn’t need to be a big deal in terms of making a huge amount of extra work for yourself. In fact, you don’t even need to prepare any slides – unless you want to, of course. 

Simply think about telling a story. Which leads us to our next point. 


Strategy 3 – Use Proven Storytelling Frameworks

Our Presentation MapperTM framework that we use in our workshops utilises the power of storytelling. Stories are more engaging for your audience, can simplify and clarify messages, and are far easier to remember than facts and figures. 

Using our 3-chapter story approach, all of us can quickly pull together a clear and compelling narrative.

Closeup of a blue retro typewriter and the text once upon a time to indicate the start of a story.

Ten 3-Chapter Story Structures With Real-World Applications

Below are ten, simple, 3-Chapter Story structures, together with example scenarios where they might be useful, that can be used for just about any presentation, especially at short notice:

1. What? Why? How?

E.g. What do we do? Why do we do it? How does this benefit our organisation or customers? This structure is ideal for describing a role/function/team/department or business unit. These scenarios could also lend themselves to a slightly different approach: Who? What? How?

2. Past state. Current state. Future state.

There are plenty of free templates available to guide you through this popular 3-chapter scenario. It is particularly useful for product launches, product upgrades and project management timelines.

3. Feature. Advantage. Benefit.

This is a popular format used to pitch new product launches or product updates. For some examples of this format check out our recent blog on elevator pitches.

4. Purpose. Vision. Values.

Why do we exist as a company – aside from making money? What difference can we make to organisations’/customers’ lives if we deliver on our Purpose? What Values are we committed to in delivering our Vision. This format works well for strategic presentations, establishing or updating corporate or brand values, and also for startups.

5. Strategy. Tactics. Outcomes.

This is the classic ‘it does what it says on the tin’ approach and is ideal for strategic, operational and project management formats.

6. Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How are we going to get there?

Organisational restructures most commonly follow this format.

7. What’s working? What’s not working? What are we going to do differently?

A good format for team structure updates, analysing new ways of working, and setting team goals for the future.

8. Delivered. Risks. Priorities.

What has been delivered so far? What obstacles might prevent the project from being completed? And what are the immediate priorities going forward? A classic project management/timeline format.

9. Wins. Losses. In Progress.

Good for sales updates, measuring new business success, tracking customer retention, and evaluating the competitive landscape.

10. Ahead of Budget. On Budget. Behind budget.

A good alternative to the above.

Row of yellow light bulbs with varying degrees of knotted cords but the bulb with the straight cord is lit up

Always keep your talking points simple and involve the audience where you can. Remember that most great stories include a conflict, journey and resolution, so bear this in mind when developing your 3-Chapter Story and think about ways you can personalise your narrative. 

It’s unlikely that you will have time to rehearse, so remember the basics; speak slowly, be aware of your posture and body language, remember to make eye contact and pause when you need to add gravitas to your point.

With practice, using the 3-Chapter Story approach will begin to feel like second nature, and you’ll find that you’ll be able to put this to use, even if you only have a few minutes to prepare for a presentation or meeting.

Whilst most of us don’t like being asked to prepare, and potentially deliver, a presentation, with very little notice, these strategies will help you feel confident, credible, organised and comfortable, even with minimal prep time. 

You’ll be ready to step up and speak whenever the opportunity arises!

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Belinda Huckle

Written By Belinda Huckle

Co-Founder & Managing Director

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Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.

Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.

She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.

A total commitment to quality, service, your people and you.