One common problem in the business presentation world – and the cause of many a mediocre presentation – is when the speaker finds herself delivering someone else’s talk.  Perhaps the company line is tightly controlled, so you have no choice.  Or perhaps there’s a new product out and you have to grab the only available deck to present about it.  Or maybe it’s just your boss who calls in sick and asks you to step in at the last minute. 

How do you make someone else’s presentation sing?  Here are 5 ways to make this tricky situation work.

1.  Give yourself enough time to get to know the content.  The first rule of success is don’t wing it.  That’s so important that I’ll repeat it:  never, ever wing it.  It’s bad enough when you wing your own presentation, but don’t even think about taking someone else’s content and trusting to luck.  If someone dumps a deck on you at the last minute, take enough time off (a day, preferably) to learn the deck part of your deal.  Use your brilliant negotiation skills and the fact that the other guy is running out of options too.

2.  Practice the transitions.  A slide-based presentation is made up of two parts – what you say on the slide, and what you say to move from one slide to another.  The way speakers always give themselves away is in the transitions.  I can always tell an under-rehearsed speaker by the way he stumbles from one slide to another. 

3.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Don’t be afraid to jettison some portion of the slides in the deck you’ve been given.  Work through the storyline so that it makes sense to you.  That often means cutting out something in order to get you over rough places or places that you have no enthusiasm for.  In order to be successful, you’ve got to make that slide deck your own, so bend it to fit. 

4.  Add a section with your own story.  Find a section of the speech where you can naturally bridge to a segment that you’ve delivered often before.  You’ll find that it will give you something to look forward to, a personal oasis in the desert of others’ ideas.  And it will help the whole presentation feel like your own.

5.  Get an emotional focus for the presentation.  As part of learning the speech, figure out what your (appropriate) emotional attitude toward the topic is.  Focus on that; that will help guide your body language so that you won’t look as hesitant or uncommitted as you otherwise would.  And no, fury at having been saddled with the speech is not an appropriate emotion, alas. 

What are your favorite horror stories – and successes – from presenting other people’s ideas? 


  1. Business breakfast event, round-the-table elevator pitches. Someone wrote cue cards for their boss, he comes up…
    “Good morning ladies & gentlemen. My name is Bill and this is my first meeting. Now I can tell from the looks on your faces that you’re all desperate…
    …to know what I do.”
    I’ll come clean, it didn’t really happen but I wish it had!

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