Welcome to Phil Presents. My name is Phil Waknell. If you want to pronounce it right, my surname rhymes with ‘wakeful’. Most people don’t. No matter. Phil will do just fine.
I’m a speaker, writer, trainer, presentation coach, businessman, husband, father, village actor and cricket fan. I coach speakers for TEDx events and other major conferences, and I mentor budding entrepreneurs. I teach at HEC Paris and ESCP Europe among other fine universities. Sometimes I play guitar too.
I’m a founding director of Ideas on Stage, the leading French presentation specialists, but more on that later. First, let’s go back, way back…
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve been passionate about presenting since a tender age. My first public speech was when I was 9 years old and my school ran a fake election to mirror the UK General Election. I was the Kids Rule OK! candidate, and my speech helped the party to a resounding victory.
I did a little acting at school, taking a lead role in a musical when I was 11, and looking back I think that helped me to feel at home on the stage. Our school had many fine actors (one of whom has had great success), certainly finer than me, and I didn’t act much more until I reached university where I performed Molière (in French) and took the lead role in Zoshchenko’s comedy ‘The Wedding’ (in Russian). I also played guitar on stage on a few occasions.
So by the time I left university at 22, I was comfortable on stage. I was also something of a computer whiz, but there was one application I had never touched. PowerPoint.
Soon after I joined Procter & Gamble, I had to make my first presentation about my team’s project. I was told that everyone uses PowerPoint, so I decided to conform. I hadn’t seen any corporate presentations, so I didn’t quite know what to do with PowerPoint, but I learnt quickly, and produced a deck full of meaningful photos to illustrate the concepts I would talk about.
The day came, and first I sat through three other presentations which were the typical title+bullet slides with perhaps a little cheesy stick-man clip-art, and I remember thinking “What have I done? My slides are completely different! What will people think? Am I doing it wrong?”
As it happens, my slides blew people away. I’d done something very different because I didn’t know any better – or any worse. Years later, I would realise that indeed using images instead of bullets is far more effective. Perhaps I got lucky – or I was lucky because I was not burdened by any ‘received wisdom’ on what a presentation should look like.
Throughout my many years at P&G and later at Hewlett-Packard, I watched the rise and rise of PowerPoint, and saw it regularly abused but rarely leveraged properly. When I took over my last team at HP, I used very few slides in team meetings, but I still recall one that I showed them on my first day. It showed a picture of a cruise liner and a picture of a rowing boat. I told them that there was going to be a lot of organizational upheaval in the coming year or more, but my job was to make them feel safe and comfortable despite the waves, allowing them to keep moving ahead regardless just like the cruise liner, instead of feeling buffeted and helpless as if they were in a rowing boat. I referred back to that image frequently. Everyone remembered it.
I did plenty of customer presentations for HP, some at major international events, and I came to realise that I enjoyed presenting more than management politics. When I did my Executive MBA course at HEC Paris, my classmates told me that I should make a living from presenting. At first I dismissed the idea. But slowly I came to realise that presenting and training were areas where my talents and my passion coincided. As HEC taught me to become a business leader, I hatched the idea of starting a business focusing on presentations.
As it happens, I was not the first. My good friend Pierre Morsa had already started transforming himself into a presentation expert, and ran the top French blog on the subject. He was focusing on designing great presentations for important speakers like Yann Arthus-Bertrand. My idea was to start a training company focusing on presentation skills. When we met to compare notes, we realised that it would be better to do both. And while neither of us was quite ready to take the plunge alone, we could do it together.
Thus Ideas on Stage was born. In a short time, it has become one of the foremost presentation specialists in France, running training courses all over the country in French and English, teaching at HEC Paris and ESCP Europe, designing presentations, helping speakers at TEDx events, and organizing exclusive events with the world’s leading expert in presentation skills, Garr Reynolds, who also did me the huge honour of featuring me in his latest masterpiece, The Naked Presenter.
I’m no natural-born speaker. I am actually quite shy, although you’d never believe it to see me present. I learnt to be comfortable on stage, and I learnt the art and science of communication. And I practised. A lot. There’s no reason why you cannot do the same.
I hope you get something out of reading Phil Presents. If you have questions or you’d like me to write about any particular subject, just let me know. Just as a presentation is intended to be for the benefit of the audience, this blog is intended for your benefit.
phil [at] philwaknell [dot] com
More about me:
Here’s my Posterous – which I use for sharing interesting photos and thoughts which aren’t always related to presentation skills.
Here is a page with some of my videos.
Two interviews on the great Life Lessons show on BlogTalkRadio:
And if you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a short video of me giving some pitching advice in French.