9 ways to edit your presentation

I ask people who download my presentation planning guide what they find hardest about presenting. Here are some of the answers:

  • Being concise
  • Finishing on time
  • Fitting everything into the allotted time
  • Finding a balance between presenting too much and too little
  • Not giving too much info.

It’s a common problem. Most of us have far too much too say.

Long presentations rarely achieve more than short ones. The longer the presentation, the more information there is for audience members to process. And so the less likely they are to get your core message.

It does take time to edit:


Here’s a checklist of 9 ways to edit your presentation:

1. Ensure your presentation has only one focus.

If you were to ask a member of the audience afterwards, “What was my core message?” they should be able to give you a one-sentence answer without struggling.

If you’re at a loss to see how to shorten your presentation this is the first action to take. Ask yourself “If a person in my audience only remembered one thing from my presentation, what would I want it to be?”. That’s your focus.

2. Cut anything from your presentation which does not relate to that core message.

Examine every point you’re making in your presentation. If it doesn’t support your core message, out it goes.

3. Have no more than 3 main points in your presentation

You’ve doubtless heard of the “rule of three”. It’s used effectively time and time again. In an excellent post “Presenting complex information: 10 simple rules every subject matter expert needs to know” Ian Griffin says:

Three items act as a powerful unifying format. Examples:
• Three key themes that together cover a wide area.
• Three items that act in sequence to get to a desired goal.
• Two problems and a solution that resolves the problem.
• Two actions or objectives and a solution that will result from achieving these.

4. Chunk items together

If you have more than 3 points to cover in your presentation and they all seem essential – chunk them into three areas. For example, we were once working with an environmental agency on a presentation to introduce their new water policy. The water policy had 13 action steps. The audience would have been overwhelmed if they had tried to present 13 different items. Instead we chunked them into three main points which formed the framework of the presentation.

5. Restrict the number of items in a list

Whether it be a list of reasons, benefits or disadvantages, restrict your list to three items. You might think if your idea, product or service has several benefits you should list them all. But some benefits will be stronger than others. Cover the top three benefits for the particular audience you’re presenting to. Make those benefits powerful rather than skimming weakly over several.

6. Cut secondary stories or examples

Every point you make should be supported by a story, example, statistic, endorsement, metaphor or analogy. But it rarely needs more than one. If you have two brilliant stories for one point you’ll be tempted to include them both.  We were working with a financial adviser who came up with two great analogies for stock market movements that he wanted to include in his presentation. We advised him not to. Your audience will get the point from your first analogy – and then will be ready to move on.

7. Tighten your explanations

It’s easy to start waffling if you haven’t practiced explaining a complex concept. Rehearse your explanations until you say everything that is essential to understanding, and nothing that obscures it.

8. Rehearse your stories

Equally, if you don’t rehearse your stories you may find yourself going round in circles or adding in unnecessary details. Fine tune your story through rehearsal until you have all the details that make it come alive for your audience, but you’ve culled the fluff that doesn’t move the story forwards. A story doesn’t need to be long to make an impact.

9. Create a handout

Creating a handout will make you feel more comfortable about cutting stuff out of your presentation. If you’re prevaricating about whether to cut an item – put it in the handout and let you audience know that it’s there.

What are the things you look for when you’re editing a presentation?

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  1. Great summary, Olivia. Another way to be comfortable about leaving some secondary points out of the main presentation is to plan to bring them up in the Q&A period…either in answer to a question or proactively…if they still seem relevant.


  2. while editing business presentation I want to ensure use of appropriate graphs to highlight context of the presentation. I mean there is always temptation to add all data from XL to PowerPoint as is. You then end up with increased content, more things to explain and potentially more confusion for audience. Goes with your item 2 in the list.

    • Hi Milind

      Good point Milind. I think it is much better to create a new simple graph in PowerPoint rather than export an Excel graph. Olivia

  3. Great suggestions here. I would stress the importance of focusing on one point and one point only. We always have clients develop an “elevator speech” — that is, the one-sentence summary of the speech that says why you should attend and what you’ll get out of the speech. Then, everything that doesn’t support that sentence gets cut. Audiences remember 10 -30 percent of what they hear, so don’t waste your time and the audience’s by dumping too much information in your talk.

    • Thanks Nick for contributing your thoughts. I think an “elevator speech” is a great way of putting it. Olivia

  4. Great points. I’d go even further though and add the idea that if you can’t explain your main point in a single sentence, you can’t explain it in a paragraph or an hour.

    Okay, I’m over-stating to make the point, but I’m sure you see what I mean.

    That said, giving too much is a problem I sometimes fall for myself and I have to confess that it’s a critisism on some feedback forms from a training day I did last week: “Too much to take in in just one day!”. I’m spending today looking at what could get cut but still leave a coherent day! :(


    • Thanks for your honesty Simon! It’s a very easy trap to fall into. Olivia

      • …. and what makes it worse is that for the life of me I can’t find anything I want to take out! :)

        • Hi Simon

          I can really relate to this. We’ve had the same problem with our one-day training course.

          There’s two options – cover everything more lightly OR take out one big chunk. We decided to take out one big chunk, and do justice to the rest of the material. It’s still a wrench though. Olivia

  5. Yeah – what we normally do is have all the material available but concentrate on what the client says they want/need (and modify on the day if it becomes evident that the two aren’t the same :) ). S

  6. Thanks, Olivia. I enjoy your site and tweets! How does this editing approach work with full day workshops that might have more than one point. For example, with time for skill practice, deeper philosophy behind an approach, etc. We have client wanting 4 to multi-day workshops.

    • Hi James
      The short answer to that question is that you break up your multi-day workshop into modules and each module has it’s own key message. There’s also an overarching key message for the whole workshop.

      I can go into a lot more detail, so what I’ll do is write a blog post specifically on this issue in the next few weeks.


      • Thanks, Oliva! That makes sense to create modules with each it’s own key message. I am really looking forward to the blog post!

  7. Not sure what Olivia’s take on this is James, but TBH, I think her principles are valid no matter how long the presentation is – the application might be different, but the overall approach is the same… give people only what they can handle! :)


    • Thanks Simon :-).

    • Thanks, Simon. Great reminder!

  8. I used to begin drafting a presentation by mind-mapping or brainstorming about my topic.

    But now I’m starting to draft my presentations by writing the one-sentence assertion that I want my audience to remember. Then I brainstorm for three points that support my assertion.

    This has cut my editing time in half!

  9. @Eyal Sela:
    Your link for effective presentations appears to be broken. Can you check and resubmit, please?


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