Presentation Too Long? Edit with these 3 Easy Steps

Randy Pausch Profile Picture

One of the most dreaded parts about giving a presentation is the time crunch. You have so much to explain – and in only 10 minutes. But even worse is needing to redo that presentation for a smaller audience – in half that time! After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, that pressure to execute hyper-efficiently felt heightened to an enormous degree. According to a survey conducted by Microsoft Workplace Insights comparing their team’s pre-remote work (Jan/Feb 2020) and post-remote work (Mar 2020) activity:

Short meetings (30 min or less) increased by 22% while long meetings (1 hour or more) decreased by 11%.

In other words, a need rose for shorter and more efficient presentations. On top of that, 70% of those surveyed felt they were in more meetings in general. So not only did meetings need to be more economic. They also needed to be more engaging to stand out from the crowd.

The key to a successful presentation in this new workplace landscape is knowing how to expertly edit down your content. And it comes down to 3 simple steps:

1. For each major section of your presentation, break it down into a list of main points.

2. For each list of main points, condense it into a short 1 sentence summary.

3. Try to state your 1 sentence summary with as few of the main points as possible. Remove all other main points.

In this post, we’ll break down how Randy Pausch used this 3-step editing technique to repurpose his famous 1 hour+ “Last Lecture” into a 10 minute TV-ready presentation. The technique will be applied to 3 major sections of the talk: the opening, the middle, and the close.

1. The Opening

What legacy would you want to impart to the world before you died? This question was the motivation behind the “Last Lecture” series at Carnegie Mellon for which Professor Randy Pausch delivered a humbling and incredibly inspirational presentation about achieving your childhood dreams. Unfortunately, Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer about a month prior and this was in fact Pausch’s very last lecture at the university. Watch, however, as Pausch transforms this uncomfortable “elephant in the room” into a rousing and unforgettable opening to his “Last Lecture”:

Presentation Clip 1

Due to the phenomenally positive response to his “Last Lecture”, Pausch was asked to repurpose it for none other than the Oprah Winfrey show. This was quite a tall order, requiring him to reduce his original content by nearly 1/8 from ~80 minutes to 10. Let’s go through the 3-step editing technique to see how Pausch edited down his original opening section.

For Step 1, there are several main points:

  • The Elephant in the Room (Slide)
  • “You can’t change the cards you’re dealt, only how you play the hand…If I’m not as morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint”
  • “I’m not in denial” (Slide)
  • “I’m probably physically stronger than most of you”

For Step 2, the 1 sentence summary is: “He is terminally ill but chooses instead to live life to the fullest”.

For Step 3, let’s go through each main point:

  • “The Elephant in the Room” is necessary because it informs the audience Pausch is terminally ill.
  • “You can’t change the cards you’re dealt…” is necessary because it informs the audience Pausch refuses to feel pessimistic
  • “I’m not in denial” may actually not be necessary because it only adds a little extra detail to the previous main point
  • “I’m probably physically stronger than most of you”, lastly, is necessary because it emphasizes how Pausch chooses to live his life in the best health possible.

As you watch the shorter, “TV-ready” version of the opening below, notice how Pausch did indeed choose to cut the “I’m not in denial” main point because he could still deliver his 1 sentence summary without it being present:

Presentation Clip 2

2. The Middle

The middle section of Pausch’s lecture was devoted to how he achieved each of his childhood dreams. Pausch actually completed Step 1 for us, presenting a slide of everything he planned to cover in this section. (These are the main points):

For Step 2, the 1 sentence summary is: “He achieved most of his childhood dreams using lessons learned from those he did not achieve”

For Step 3, it turns out you only need two main points to embody the 1 sentence summary – one representative point about a dream not achieved and one representative point about a dream achieved. All other points only add extra detail.

Ultimately, Pausch decided to use “Playing in the NFL” as an example of a dream he did not achieve. The lesson of hard work gained from that experience allowed him to successfully achieve his dream “Being a Disney Imagineer”. By distilling the original six main points down to these two, Pausch was able to neatly encapsulate his 1 sentence summary summary and lose none of its essential spirit.

3. The Close

Finally, watch as Pausch wraps up his original “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University with a fittingly sentimental close:

Presentation Clip 1

Here are the main points:

  • The talk was about achieving his childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and lessons learned from both
  • The talk was really about how to lead life so that the dreams come to you
  • This lecture was not written for the audience, but for his kids

The 1 sentence summary is: The talk was not about achieving dreams, but really about showing his kids how to lead their lives

To support this core message, Pausch really only needed the last 2 main points, since the first only summarized the contents of the lecture thus far. Watch below as Pausch repurposes his original close into a more succinct version comprising only the last 2 main points:

Presentation Clip 2


When creating your own presentation, follow these 3 simple steps to achieve Pausch’s mastery of editing:

1. For each major section of your presentation, break it down into a list of main points.

2. Summarize your list of main points into 1 sentence.

3. Try to state your 1 sentence with as few of the main points as possible. Remove all other main points.

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