In a perfect world, every new presentation would be prepared from scratch, tailored exactly to the specific audience. But in reality, you sometimes have to cobble together a “new presentation” from pre-existing material.

How can you create an effective presentation in the shortest possible time using pre-existing slides from different sources?

There are two phases to this. First, organizing the content of the presentation and second, creating slides to go with it.

Organize the content

1. Gather all your pre-existing slides

First gather all the pre-existing slides you may want to use into one file.  I suggest that you either print out the slides, two to a page and cut them out, or work in SlideSorter view. What you want to be able to do is see all of your material at a glance and be able to rearrange and discard slides.

Sort your slides into two groups:

  1. Slides containing mainly text.
  2. Slides with a visual element that you may want to reuse.

Set aside the visual slides for the moment.

2. Find a unifying theme

This is the essential first step to tying your disparate text slides together. What unites them? What’s the common idea or concept that most of them point towards. Identify this and then express it in one short sentence. I call this the key message of your presentation (also called the core message, or the big idea).

Now check: is this the right message for the audience you’re presenting to? This is critical. Many recycled presentations fail because they’ve been designed for a different audience. You may realize that these slides don’t fit for the audience you’re presenting to. If that’s the case,  it’s better to find out now, than when you’re sinking in front of the audience.

3. Cut material that doesn’t support the key message

Be ruthless. Everything in your presentation should support and tie into the key message. If it doesn’t, out it goes.

See my post 9 ways to edit your presentation for more ideas on this.

You might have a worry at this point that you won’t be left with enough material for your presentation. This is a common pre-presentation concern which is hardly ever borne out in reality. It’s probably the main reason most presentations go on too long. So be brave – cut!

4. Isolate the most important points

Now out of the material that you have left, identify the main points that support the key message. I suggest three to seven points. If you have more than three points, chunk them into three groups. This is because presentations work best when structured in three parts. Andrew Dlugan has a great post on why this works so well Why successful speech outlines follow the Rule of Three.

5. Put them into a logical order

The order of your points must make sense, both to you and to your audience. There should be a flow from one point to the next. You might think of this in terms of what will the audience want or need to know first. Once they know that – what will they need to know next… and so on.

6. Support each point with evidence

Each point needs back-up. If you have just a list of points, your presentation may be as boring as a shopping list. It’s the evidence which makes a presentation really engaging. There are four main types of evidence:

  1. Stories, case studies, examples, anecdotes
  2. Statistics and numbers
  3. Endorsements from other credible experts
  4. Metaphors and analogies (OK these aren’t strictly evidence, but they’re great for explaining complex concepts).

If you can’t find evidence to support one of your points, ask yourself whether that point really is an essential part of the presentation.

Create slides

There are many different styles for designing PowerPoint slides. I’m going to show you a method to use when time is at a premium. You’ll have two types of slides: text slides and visual slides

1. Create a slide for your key message and each main point

Express your key message and each main point as a succinct but meaningful sentence. Create a new slide for each sentence.  These sentence slides will act as anchors for your audience, emphasizing and reinforcing your main points.

If you have time, find a relevant visual image to add to these slides. But beware. Visuals added just for the sake of adding a visual are baaad. I would prefer no image rather than an irrelevant or far-fetched visual metaphor.

2. Select which of your pre-existing visual slides to reuse

Now go back to the visual slides that  you set aside at the start. Select the ones which will enhance the content of your presentation.

Resist the temptation to add a visual slide that you already have just because it’s pretty or impressive. It must fit with the content of the presentation.

3. Make the design of your slides consistent

If your visual slides come from different presentations, you may find that they are using varying backgrounds, fonts, image styles. You also want your sentence slides to fit with the visual slides you’re re-using. Use one style and then convert all the slides to that style. For basic design principles see PowerPoint slide design – the basics and PowerPoint slide design – adding elegance.

Done. Present.

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