We all know the feeling of being put on the spot. Whether it was having to stand up and recite the alphabet in front of your classmates as a child or hearing your name being called while you were daydreaming during a meeting, being put on the spot can induce instant anxiety and nervousness like nothing else.
As human beings, we like to be prepared and to feel in control. It helps us to feel safe and confident. But there may be occasions where you are thrust into the spotlight with little to no prior notice, and in a corporate or business environment, it’s something that we have to learn to deal with – to be ready for anything.
Even if you are well-versed in giving presentations, it’s an unnerving experience when all eyes are on you and you’ve had little time to prepare. You can’t always predict exactly when you’ll find yourself in these situations, but you can prepare yourself for them now so that if and when the time comes, you’re ready, no matter what!
So, let’s take a look at some tools and techniques that you can use to deliver an engaging presentation at the drop of a hat.
Focus on your audience first
When it comes to structuring your presentation, focus on the external elements first (your audience), then focus on the internal (settling yourself). Taking this kind of structured approach will ground you and give you the confidence you need to craft an engaging presentation at the last minute.
So what is your audience looking for? What questions do they need the answers to? What outcome do they need to leave your presentation with a good understanding of?
A great place to start is the ‘Rule of Three’, which can be adapted to suit just about any topic or subject matter.
Three is the ‘magic number’
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle’s Rhetoric introduced the world to the concept of the ‘Rule of Three’.
It is based on the idea that we are more likely to remember a list or a group of three things. It may be one of the oldest presentation skills in the book, but it’s still just as effective today as it was back then.
You can use the Rule of Three as a basis for structuring your presentation and delivering a compelling argument, even with barely any time to prepare. Simply choose three key points to focus on, for example: ‘Three steps you must take…’ or ‘Three processes you must follow…’.
While the Rule of Three is particularly effective when you’re speaking to an intellectual/process-oriented audience, e.g. HR, corporate, legal and technical professionals, it may not be as appealing to an audience of salespeople.
This audience is more likely to respond to ‘buckets’, or groups of related topics or categories. For this audience, you would use language like ‘the route we’re going to take’, ‘the target audience we’re going after’, and ‘how we’ll hold on to our customers’. The Rule of Three is maintained, but with a slightly different approach.
Regardless of the topic or who you’re speaking to, the one thing to remember above all else is this: you must use a combination of logic, emotion and ethics to appeal to your audience.
This brings us right back to Aristotle and his Rhetorical Triangle, which defines the three essential elements of persuasive speech as ‘logos’ (logic/reason), ‘pathos’ (emotion), and ‘ethos’ (ethics/credibility).
Turn your focus inwards
Now that you have a basic structure for your last-minute presentation and can adapt it to different types of audiences, it’s time to turn your attention inward. Focus on preparing yourself for the task at hand, both physically and psychologically.
In the same way that the All Blacks gear themselves up for a rugby match by performing the haka, you too must prime yourself and get ready for ‘battle’. This can include deep breathing, wriggling your fingers and toes, or giving yourself a pep talk.
Find a routine that works for you
The most successful people generally have several things in common, one being a daily routine that sets them up for the day and helps them to function at their best.
Here’s an example of a pre-presentation routine (my routine!):
- Eucalyptus oil — the invigorating scent will aid your breathing and awaken your senses
- Lavender oil — to relax and calm your nerves, place a drop on your finger and dab it on your temples and under your nose
- Breathe in for a count of seven, then breathe out for a count of eleven. This technique is referred to as ‘7/11 breathing’, and helps to calm your mind and body by increasing your oxygen levels
- Wriggle your toes and clap your hands – this can help you to ‘place’ yourself in your body and help you to feel more grounded
Structure is key to success
Usually, you’ll have at least some time to prepare, maybe 30 minutes or a few hours. But what should you do if it’s really spontaneous, leaving you with fifteen minutes or less to gather your thoughts and decide what you’re going to say?
First, focus on creating a simple narrative structure.
A tried-and-tested technique is ‘Situation, Action, Result’ (SAR), where you start with the situation and the problems being faced, then outline the actions that were taken to overcome the obstacle, and finally describe the end result and how the situation changed. You can also use this to describe a current problem and the steps that need to be taken to overcome it.
If you’re tasked with presenting in a hostile environment — which is often the case with spontaneous presentations — you can flip SAR around and focus on the results first, followed by the action and the result. The reason for this is that in a hostile environment, the audience is usually aware of the situation already, they want to hear results, now!
Introduce yourself with C.A.B.A.
When you need to come up with a spontaneous introduction, remember ‘CABA’:
- Establish Credibility
- Capture your audience’s Attention
- Talk about the Body of the topic
- Connect with your Audience
You can weave these elements into your narrative structure in any order, for example:
- “I’m totally unprepared…” (capture people’s attention)
- “I’ll be here all day to discuss…” (body)
- “I’ve been a long-standing member of…” (establishes your credibility)
- “What you’re going to get from today is…” (connect and set expectations)
Body language matters
What you say is equally as important as how you say it, so make sure you’re aware of how you’re presenting yourself to your audience.
Whether you have five minutes or five hours to prepare, keep these basic tips in mind:
- Use positive body language and open gestures, make eye contact with your audience, and don’t forget to smile! Your presence can light up the room, even if you’re feeling nervous on the inside.
- Try to keep your tempo even, since speaking too fast can cause your audience to feel anxious and uncomfortable.
- Use your mini haka ritual before and after your presentation. Take a few moments to breathe, steady your nerves and ground yourself in your body.
Last-minute presentation pointers
The next time you’re caught off guard and have to give a last-minute presentation, remember the following pointers:
- Focus on your audience first.
- Control the narrative with structure, using the Rule of Three, SAR and CABA.
- Focus on yourself second — grounding yourself and getting into the right mindset.
- Pay attention to your body language, facial expressions and speech tempo.
- You know the information is all there in your head, you just have to keep your cool and go for it!
NxtGEN’s executive-level Spontaneous Presentations training programme gives you the knowledge and ability to present confidently at the drop of a hat. Enquire today or contact us directly if you think our team can help you in any way.