Oh the dreaded speaker “inheritance tax.”
If the company you work for, whether small or large, has a group of folks who typically deliver your organization’s presentations, the day will come when you will have to fill in for someone else.
Ugh. There is nothing worse than having to present someone else’s topic and presentation.
You’ve been asked a few days or hopefully at least a few weeks before the presentation date to fill in because a co-worker got sick, had a family emergency or maybe even left the organization. You can’t say no and it is likely too late to change the title and topic of the presentation to something of your own choice.
So what do you do? You do everything you can in the time that you have to revise the presentation to “make it your own” and in a way that boosts your confidence. If this means staying up most of the night revising the slides, then that’s what you must do.
Here are some dos and don’ts for this situation:
1. Don’t accept it – if you really don’t want to do it.
Assuming you have a choice, if you aren’t comfortable with the topic or are overwhelmed with work, don’t say yes to doing the presentation just to be a hero.
If the topic is not in your area of expertise or you can’t get behind it, do the smart thing and say no. Taking on a presentation that you don’t want to do ultimately won’t be a great experience for your audience or a good result for your employer and/or personal brand.
2. Don’t panic.
You’ve got this thing. Turn a stressful situation into something fun. You are a mini hero after all as you are coming to the rescue of a your employer and a co-worker, peer or boss. Take the added stress and channel it into an opportunity for you to shine or tackle a new opportunity.
3. Don’t simply deliver your co-worker’s presentation.
A key tenant of good presenting is to thoroughly and completely own your topic and presentation, including inherited ones. While a lack of time may not allow you to create a brand new presentation of your own, do add as much of your own material, stories and content as possible and appropriate.
Remember, your task is NOT to deliver your co-worker’s slides, but to inform, educate and entertain the audience. The audience doesn’t know or care who developed the slides or if you completely changed the presentation. The person who created the original slides is not on stage and so you owe them nothing.
4. Do stay consistent with the promised title and topic.
It is generally unacceptable to the attendees and the event organizer to change the topic without any notice. If you are able to get the organizer to change things up and go with your new topic, then great. But just showing up with something different is unfair to attendees who likely chose your session based on the description. Taking a different approach to the presentation is fine as long as you address the essence of what the session title and description promised.
5. Don’t tell the audience you inherited the topic and you are filling in for someone else.
The audience most likely doesn’t know or care that you inherited to topic. An exception of course is if someone else’s name is still listed on the agenda and you are a last minute substitution. But even in that case, just mention you are filling in and move on quickly. Raising too much awareness that you are a replacement may put the audience in a mood of feeling like they got a lesser speaker. You want the audience 100% focused on you and with positive vibes.
6. Do spend time in person or on the phone with your co-worker or whomever created the original slides for the presentation (if slides were in fact developed).
You’ll want to thoroughly understand the slides and the stories behind them. You have to get passionate about the topic. Focus your conversation on the key theme and concept behind the talk. Try to find if there are “fulcrum” slides – those that convey the most critical elements of the talk. If the presentation includes things like case studies, get the details behind what’s on the slides. Determine if a written case study exists.
Find out if part of the presentation based on a white paper, blog or research study? Your goal is NOT to learn the other person’s slides, but to understand the theme and goals and if there is any “must use” content.
7. Do incorporate your “comfort” slides.
If you speak on at least a somewhat regular basis, you probably have a few (or several) slides that you incorporate into every presentation. Unless they simply don’t fit with the topic, try to work these into your inherited presentation. These “go to” slides will increase your confidence, improve your flow and delivery and allow you to more effectively make the same or similar point from the original presentation
8. Do delete “trouble” slides.
After familiarizing yourself with the slides, the single most important thing you can do is delete slides or content within slides that you struggle with in rehearsal or are simply uncomfortable with.
I once inherited a presentation from a co-worker that included a phrase I was uncomfortable with and that was a key theme throughout the presentation. Depending on your frame of mind or reference, the phrase sounded like either a very crude sexual act or the name of a home for seniors.
Perhaps it was my dirty mind but every time I said the phrase I could not help but to think of the similar sounding sexual phrase and assumed many in the audience would as well. I revised it to a different term that had a very similar meaning and was one that I had used in several articles and previous presentations.
I was then able to leverage imagery and slides that I had used in another presentation. And because I had used this term before it gave me additional confidence and a feeling of ownership of a major aspect of the presentation.
9. Do Tweak slides so they include easy to see “triggers.”
Inherited presentations will not be second nature to you so spend time tweaking slides to incorporate numbers, phrases and keywords that will trigger detail or stories on which you can elaborate.
You’ll want to remove sentences, long phrases in smaller fonts that might tempt you to read them. Take a keyword or phrase and blow it up big so when you click to that slide you’ll be able to riff on the content rather than looking too much at the content on the slide itself.
Some slides will likely require more effort to make “yours.” Recreate slides, break them into 2 or 3 slides or just skip that content unless it is critical to the presentation.
10. Do make the opening “yours.”
A key to having confidence and getting into a good rhythm with your inherited presentation is starting off well, especially if you have limited time to make revisions. Even if you have only a few minutes to revise the slides, drop in some of your own “go to” opening slides or create one or two quickly.
Whether you use humor, relate something that happened on your flight to the conference or reference a current event – find a way to immediately get into a groove. If you are relaxed and confident as you transition into the inherited slides you’ll find it easier to think on your feet, make good decisions and ad lib.
11. Do feel free to skip over slides when speaking.
Just because a slide is in a presentation, do not feel compelled to use it or speak to it. If you get to a slide and you aren’t comfortable with it, or have a story to tell – simply skip past it. If you can’t add any value to a slide you aren’t serving anyone’s interest by struggling with it.
12. Do use inherited slides as launching pads for “your stories.”
If you don’t have time to revise every slide in the presentation to your style and approach, then simply do so on stage. Use the essence of a slide as a launch pad for you to tell a story or share an example that you can get behind and bring to life.
13. Don’t wait until the last minute if you can avoid it.
We are all busy and finding time to revise an inherited presentation might get pushed toward the bottom of your “to do” list. It is important, however, to early on at least understand the session description and have gone through the slides and spoken with the original creator. This way there should be no or very few last-minute surprises or questions.
Have an idea early on what you want to do with the slides, so even if you wait until the last minute you know what you are up against.