April 20, 2011

How to procrastinate on a presentation

The topic of procrastination came up twice yesterday, so I think it was a sign that I'm supposed to write about it.

I asked in a previous post, "What's the opposite of a procrastinator?" If there is such a thing, why is there no word for it in the English language?

But that's beside the point. The point is, we procrastinate. Almost all of us. Some of the time or all of the time.

And we all have important work we need to complete every day, including preparing for presentations. Yet we put off this work until the last minute, oftentimes delivering a final product that is not up to par -- or at least not up to the quality that we know we could have produced.

Is there a way to get the best of both worlds? Is there a way to start your presentation early, but still get the rush and the drama of procrastination? Of course there is!

The main problem for a lot of procrastinators is not knowing how or when to start. If you're too paralyzed to start your presentation, then how can you expect to finish it?

If you know how to start, however, then you can take your time finishing, but at least you've got the skeleton of the presentation to hang your ideas on.

The trick is to start early. That is, give yourself extra time precisely SO you can procrastinate!

By the way, I procrastinated in the middle of this article. Realizing my cat was asleep and it was a good time to mop the kitchen floor while she wasn't walking around, I stopped writing and started mopping. Mission accomplished! And not a moment too soon, as she got up right after I finished. Because I already had started thinking about and scribbling ideas for this post, it was easy to pick up where I left off!

Here's how to get the ball rolling.

When you know you have a presentation coming up, say a month before, write down the following as soon as possible.
  • What is your theme or main message?
  • What is your objective or desired result?
  • What is the purpose of the presentation?
  • What are some points you might want to make?
  • Who's your audience?
  • Where will you be speaking?
  • What else can you think of that you can drop into your notes right now and come back to later?
Write down these thoughts as soon as you can, preferably in a rough outline form, because this allows you to get the material fermenting in your brain, bubbling and churning away even when you're not physically working on the presentation.

When you come back to it later -- hopefully not the day before it's due -- you will have a basic framework to hang the rest of your content on, and your ideas will have been brewing and ripening for this moment. Instead of frantically scrambling in the wee hours to build the presentation, you can be refining and fleshing out something you've already started.

I don't advocate procrastinating on a speaking engagement; I see far too many last-minute, thrown-together, half-ass presentations to support that kind of shoddy work.

But if that's your style, and it takes nothing less than a looming deadline to get your rear in gear, then at least give yourself a head start before you start procrastinating, to put some thoughts on paper or in the computer.

You will feel less stressed out, and you might even find that the luxury of extra time feels kinda good.

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