May 31, 2012

Phil Waknell is one of Europe’s leading presentation specialists. Apart from managing the presentation training business for Ideas on Stage, the company he co-founded with Pierre Morsa, Phil speaks regularly about presentation skills, selling and leadership at companies, conferences and business schools including HEC Paris. He also acts as on-stage host for major events, coaches speakers for major conferences, and is the co-author of The Business Presentation Revolution, in addition to regular articles on

Here are some of Phil’s videos available online. To enquire about booking Phil for your conference or event, email us at



Exclusive Interview:

May 12, 2011

Last year, I wrote (here) about how wrong I felt it was that SlideShare call their annual contest a “presentation” contest, when in fact it only features slide-decks. I believe semantics are important, and fixing the wrong equation of ‘slides = presentation’ is the first step to curing the communication problems of many companies and individuals.

I was therefore very interested to see that there is a new presentation-sharing site – and I can call this one a presentation-sharing site because it shows slides together with the video of the presenter. You no longer have to choose whether to upload your video to YouTube or your slides to SlideShare. This does both. It’s called

To find out more, I interviewed two of the founders, Spencer Lambert and Richard Garnett, both of whom are presentation experts, and who were just as unhappy as I was about the absence of a good site for sharing video and slides together. (Only they decided to do something about it.) Now to be clear, I am not involved with and I did not even know these guys a week ago, so I am not trying to sell it. But based on this interview, I do think it is quite promising.

The video of the interview is below (Spencer is on the left, Richard is on the right, and I’m not there at all in case you were wondering), and I’ve also included a transcript for those of you who may find it easier to read than to watch the video. In any case, I recommend you take a look at the site, experiment with it (basic accounts are free), and think how you might use it in your business. I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Transcript: interview with

9 May 2011

Phil Waknell: I’m delighted to have with me Spencer Lambert and Richard Garnett from a new company called which aims to be an alternative to the other slide or presentation-sharing applications, but I’ll let them say a few words about it. Spencer and/or Richard, can you give me an elevator pitch, just 20-30 seconds: what is

Richard Garnett: is an opportunity for presenters to tell their story in slide form and also through their faces and their voices. I was an actor, I help people to present properly and I know it’s not just about the slides, it’s about how they present the slides, how they connect personally with the audience. And it’s an opportunity, through the cloud, for somebody to present their slides and record themselves through their webcam presenting them, and then we join it up and they can publish it. If you like, it’s YouTube marries SlideShare.

PW: So why are YouTube and SlideShare on their own not good enough? What does bring that they don’t – or couldn’t?

Spencer Lambert: With SlideShare, it’s just your slides so that’s only a small part of the story – you don’t get to hear the presenter, see the presenter, and with YouTube you don’t get the full effect of the graphics.  A great presentation is a waltz between the presenter and their graphics, and when they are together they work very well.

RG: It’s like a great double-act, and it amazed us because we’re in the business with a lot of corporate clients, that there wasn’t something out there that was able to do it quickly, easily and simply.   And there are options, but they’re complicated – a lot of our clients aren’t techies and can’t do it; or you hire a production company, which is really expensive… so we wanted to build something that somebody could do just from their desktop or their laptop, easily and simply because that’s what great software does. We wanted to create something that even I could use!

PW: So that’s the acid test – if Richard can use it, anyone can use it!

SL: Yes, and he’s a hard man to please!

RG: I’m very stupid!

PW: So why are you the right people to be creating this? What made you decide that you are the team to create

SL: I think it’s a culmination of all our experiences. We’ve all come from slightly different areas in a related backgrounds, Richard with his corporate training, me with the graphics side – I’ve been a presentation designer for a long time…

RG: He’s a PowerPoint genius!

SL: …and then there’s Mike who’s also been working in the presentation sphere as well, but he’s been doing a lot of online software, so as a culmination of all our experiences it seemed like the perfect project. And there’s Charlie who works with Richard as a presentation coach.

RG: And we’ve been incredibly lucky to find two fantastic coders who write in… what are those strange languages?

SL: They code in Flex and ColdFusion, those are the two main codes behind the site, and they are fantastic, great guys – they take what we say and turn it into reality, which is perfect.

PW: OK so it’s a great idea and a great team. Now what do you think are the key success factors, and what is it going to take for you to get a step ahead of people like SlideShare who could decide to switch on a video option overnight?

SL: I think the key to the whole thing is just to keep innovating. You can’t protect a lot of this stuff, there’s no IP around what we are doing – well there may be some but is it worth us investing the time, money and effort to protect it? I don’t think we can. So really what we need to do is to keep innovating, creating new ideas – we’ve got loads of ideas in the pipeline that we really want to bring out, and just keep bringing them out, one by one, and keeping ahead of everyone else.

RG: And I’m not a technologist, but I love my iPhone, because it’s so incredibly easy to use, and what we want to create is a site that is incredibly easy for people to use and which is constantly innovating, and I think for that, the challenge I give these guys is, let’s listen to the audience, let’s listen to people who are using it, let’s take their ideas, let’s feed them in, because you constantly have to stay ahead, and we’ll be led by the people who use the site. The ideas you’ve given us already Phil about the apps, for example, all of that is terrific feedback – our challenge is to build it and implement it, and quickly.

PW: At the moment you’ve been basing your technology as far as I’m aware on a Flash front-end, which makes it more difficult with iOS and Apple’s well-known dislike of having Flash on its devices, so do you have plans to get around that?

SL: Yes, we do. Our first step is to build an HTML5 player – that’s an easy win for us. The back-end technology supports us to be able to put an HTML5 front-end on, so we can very quickly do that, and then we’re looking at building apps – cross-platform apps if we can. So something that we can get onto all those devices, because that’s where a lot of it is ultimately going to be consumed – I don’t know what the statistics say at the moment but it’s probably 30% of all internet traffic is consumed on mobile devices, that’s only going to grow, we’ve got to be there, it’s the consumer end is where it’s all at really.

PW: So I’m a consumer – what would I use for, apart from uploading a presentation that I’ve done for people to see later on? Are there some other uses that you’re already thinking of?

RG: So education – we’re already finding that teachers are using it as a platform for kids to load up presentations. I’ll give you a simple one – my daughter is 14, and we went on a trip; in the past I’d take a camcorder and take hours of footage and never have the time to edit it – or I’d take photos and do a slideshow but it wouldn’t capture her voice. Now what allows you to do is to upload pictures of a trip, and then I got my daughter to talk about the trip and how fantastic it was. So I’ve got the photos, I’ve got her as she is at 14, the way she sounds, the way she looks, joined together – that’s just a tiny little application. And incidentally she’s talking about a trip to Bilbao, so somewhere like TripAdvisor where you have comments about hotels and holidays, you want some photos but you also want somebody live. And then we were thinking about PDF files, to talk about documents…

SL: Yes, one of the problems that our clients always tell us is they might have to share a document but there’s usually one part of the document they want to focus in on, and no matter how you write it, you never quite get the meaning across. So imagine you could upload a document, zoom into a part of the PDF, and highlight a bit of it and talk around it, have a discussion, and tell them exactly what you are trying to get over.

RG: We have a coach, a mentor from KPMG who happens to be a client of mine, and he works on M&A (Merger & Acquisition) when companies are bought and sold, and there are lawyers fees, huge fees, just swapping documents to and fro – you’d be much better doing that live with loading up a PDF, and we’re about 5-6 weeks away from having a live solution. So that’s a tiny application and I’m sure business will come up with loads more. So we were thinking today – in future, instead of a CV, why couldn’t you have a 3-minute “this is me”, and companies would have a much clearer idea of whether somebody had impact by their ability to put together a presentation. There are folks we’re talking to at the moment who’ve got algorithms that can measure your charisma through a webcam. There’s a scientist at MIT who’s got an algorithm which can measure that and we’re looking to adapt his technology so you could do that through your webcam. So wouldn’t it be great for us presentation skills guys, when somebody presents into a webcam, we could give them a percentage of how dull or interesting they are in terms of their performance? It’s just a tiny thing that’s in the pipeline, but it’s doable: the technology is there, it just isn’t being used yet.

PW: Effectively the sky is the limit and it sounds like you have lots of great ideas on how this could be used. I heard you mention live meetings there, so in fact your competitors are not just SlideShare but also people like WebEx.

SL: Absolutely, and I think it’s going to create a fair bit of noise once we can add live in – people are already paying for that, so when we go to approach them, as a business case, they’ve already got budget allocated for live, so adding recording as well, it’s a no-brainer almost.

RG: What I find fascinating is that the non-corporate world has discovered video on the web via YouTube and it’s growing hugely. Business doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Business still lives in a world of documents, and words, and emails, and I think there are massive applications for video on the web. I’ll give you a tiny example: one of my clients pitches 1000 times a year for many millions of pounds worth of work. They have no record at all of those pitches. They’ve got no record of the good ones or the bad ones – they might just have a couple of slides. But wouldn’t it be great to capture some of those fantastic pitches?

PW: Lots of opportunities there. So down to the basics: I can upload PowerPoint and Keynote files? Anything else?

SL: At the moment it’s just PowerPoint. We are building the ability to upload PDFs. At the moment there is no server-side way of uploading Keynote files – Apple appear to have restricted that unfortunately, they’re probably keeping that for themselves I would imagine, so if you’ve got a Keynote file, at the moment you’d have to save it as a PowerPoint file which isn’t ideal; in the future, in the next few weeks, you can save it as a PDF and that can just go straight in. Then probably further down the line we’ll have the ability to upload Word documents and maybe spreadsheets too.

PW: It’s good that there is some solution for Keynote presentations because a lot of presentation designers do use Keynote nowadays, but you’ve got PowerPoint, that’s still the majority of the market so I can see why you’ve started there. Now a question about animations and transitions – can we assume this is like SlideShare and it’s effectively a static slide and then another static slide, or have you got animations in there?

SL: At the moment it is just static slides, and the free account will always be just static slides – that’s a kind of restriction along with a 15-minute time limit – but if you’ve got a paid account, you’ll keep your slide animations. At the moment that feature isn’t finished so we’ve got some issues to try to iron out there, but once that’s finished…

RG: How many weeks?

SL: It’s not far off – three weeks…

RG: Three weeks!  He said it!

PW: So that will be done by the end of May then…

SL: So essentially if you’ve got a paid account you’ve got your animations…

RG: And video, the ability to insert pieces of video…?

SL: I’m not saying yes or no to that at the moment, there are still some issues around that, but that’s definitely going to happen at some time in the future…

RG: Thankyou Phil, this is a really useful call!

SL: I’m not committing to that one right now in terms of a date!

PW: You just mentioned elements of a charging plan, so obviously you’ve got a free model for basic users who are going to have a restriction on the time they can upload videos and also I guess a maximum total per month?

SL: Yes, there’s a limit of 10 per month that you can upload as a free user.

PW: That’s already plenty for a lot of people, but then as a premium user, you don’t have those limits, and you don’t have adverts as well I guess?

SL: That’s right, no adverts, and you’ll have slide animations, and privacy – that’s another option you get as a paid user, so you can have your presentations hidden on the main site but still send a link out to people with a password or whatever.

PW: For companies, that is probably going to be very important, and that’s an area where I guess your competitors that we’ve already mentioned don’t have that kind of solution, apart from probably WebEx.

SL: Yes, one of two of them, but we’ve also got in the pipeline the business version, which would be a private space for multiple users, so if you’re a company, you’ll have your own subdomain, so, your users would log into that, and you’d have your own private space where you could share presentations, so they would never actually appear on the main site unless you wanted them to.

PW: Well we’ve come to the end of the interview. Since we’re all presentation specialists here, we know that people will only remember one, two, maximum three things, so what are the one, two or three things you want people to remember from this interview?

RG: The fact that we are YouTube marrying SlideShare, and the children are fantastic, and please, my beg and my ask would be, if you’re in the presentation world, try it and please tell us what you think, and most importantly of all, tell us how it could be better because we’re a small start-up, we can build it, and wouldn’t it be great if we could build a solution that we all want and that we can use. We haven’t got all the answers, but your input would be fantastic.

PW: So it’s a presentation platform for presentation specialists, by presentation specialists. Thanks for your time today, and I look forward to seeing how evolves.

Review: Presentation Zen European Seminar 2010

December 13, 2010

From all the comments I’ve received, the Presentation Zen European Seminar 2010 was a fantastic event, highly appreciated by the participants, and throughly enjoyed by everyone.

It was a lot of work to get everything organised, but it was well worth it. Garr Reynolds was superb as always, and led the participants through an entertaining, instructive and memorable afternoon.

The show began, of course, the evening before, when we congregated at Un Dimanche A Paris, the new chocolate-themed concept store opened by Pierre Cluizel just off Boulevard Saint-Germain. Garr was able to meet many fans including some who weren’t able to make it to the seminar itself, and it was also an opportunity for some seminar participants to get to know each other beforehand.

The location was beautiful, the wine delicious and the food (we stayed to eat in the restaurant) was simply sublime. I will be taking my wife there soon. Garr enjoyed the guided tour – and the chocolates!

Pierre’s charming wife Sylvie also provided us with some chocolate mignonnettes (small squares) which were the perfect accompaniment to the coffee break during the Presentation Zen seminar. This was one of three surprises we sprung on the participants. The others were a Presentation Zen Way bento box, and – just at the end – an advance copy of Garr’s new book, The Naked Presenter, which Garr was only too pleased to sign and dedicate.

Between these surprises, Garr’s typically strong performance and the great support provided by Microsoft and Pearson, it was a successful event and although tickets weren’t cheap, it was generally considered great value for money.

But don’t just believe me – there are plenty of participants who have blogged about the seminar, and I’ll put links to their posts and photos in the comments below. (You can find many of our photos here.)

So, time for thankyous.

Thanks to Microsoft (Saïd Sbihi, Blaise Vignon and Christophe Lauer) for hosting the event in such a great room and supporting us so professionally.

Thanks to Pearson (Cécile Legros, Victoria Watkins and Florence Young) for making the bento boxes affordable and for giving away Garr’s new book.

Thanks to Pierre Morsa, my partner at Ideas on Stage, for his tireless enthusiasm and great organisation with tickets, invoices, etc.

Thanks to all the many participants for making it such a special day – I hope we will meet again.

And of course, thanks to Garr for bringing his Presentation Zen Way to Europe and for trusting us with this event, not for the first time, and hopefully not the last.

@philpresents Twitter Policy

November 2, 2010

I tweet using the name @philpresents and I tend to focus mostly on presentation advice, mostly in English although sometimes in French.

I tend to leave personal details to Facebook, although I do have a personal Twitter id (@philwaknell) which I use from time to time. By all means follow both of my Twitter IDs if you want.

Here are some basic points which describe my use and expectations for Twitter.

Mutual following – or lack of. I follow people because I’m interested in reading their tweets, and for no other reason. I will not follow people just so they can follow me back or because they follow me. Likewise, if I follow you because I want to read your tweets, that doesn’t mean I expect you to be interested in my presentation tips. Twitter is not Facebook – a follower is not a friend, and following does not have to be reciprocal.

Therefore don’t expect me to follow you back unless you tweet regularly about something which interests me, in a language which I can understand (mainly, English and French).

Quality, not quantity. Some people use automatic tools to mass-follow thousands of people, hoping that those people either use similar tools, or instead will manually follow them back. Personally I wish this were not possible, and I believe it’s abusing a good platform. I won’t do it. I prefer to have a few hundred ‘quality’ followers who are interested in reading my tweets, rather than have tens of thousands of ‘followers’ who in fact don’t read what I say, but only use me to gain an extra point on their ego-trip follower count.

So if you use a robot to gain followers and feel falsely influential, don’t expect me to play ball. I’ll follow you if you tweet interesting things. Following me is not a condition for that. But if you follow tens of thousands of people, I don’t believe you’ll read every tweet, I don’t believe you’ll read mine, I wonder about your well-being if you need that kind of ego-trip, and I therefore wonder whether you are really the kind of leader whose tweets I want to read. There are a few exceptions who follow thousands but truly interact (@unmarketing for example) but they are few and far between.

Interaction. I enjoy having conversations on Twitter, and I take care to respond to every personal and direct message I get. I like other people to do the same. I will retweet anything I see which I believe my followers will enjoy reading. I don’t need you to thank me for retweeting, although I don’t mind if you do. I usually thank people for retweeting my tweets, although sometimes I forget. Forgive me that – I’m only human. I know you are too.

Advertising. I don’t mind if you use Twitter to try to sell me things. If you do it excessively – and especially if I’m not interested – then I can just unfollow you, which you should not take personally. If you want to use Twitter to market your services or products, that’s fine by me, and if I’m not your target audience, then you shouldn’t mind if I don’t follow you. Likewise, sometimes I will use Twitter to market services or events which I think are of interest to my followers, and judging by my company’s success at selling out events using only social media (zero advertising budget), many of my followers are interested in them. If you are not, that’s fine, and if you prefer not to follow me, that’s fine too.

Languages. I follow a number of people who tweet in two languages, even if I only understand one of them. I just skip past the ones in languages I don’t speak. Likewise, please do the same with me. While most of my tweets are in English, I live in France and do much of my work in French, so I will sometimes tweet (and retweet) in French. If you don’t speak French, please just skip past those ones.

Repeat tweets. Sometimes I will tweet multiple times about the same blog post. This is a proven way to get more hits – which means to have more people read something which interests them. I am not on Twitter 24×7 and although I don’t follow thousands of people, sometimes things drop off the bottom of my Twitter timeline, which means I miss tweets and the articles they link to. I’m sure that happens to other people too. Therefore I will tweet a few times about the same post, over a day or two, to ensure most of my followers get a chance to see there’s a new post waiting for them, and I’ll tend to tweet it differently each time. I will never flood your timeline with dozens of tweets, so please accept my multiple blog tweets are for sound reasons and not to bug you. Tell me if I overdo it though.

#FollowFriday. I don’t always participate in ‘Follow Friday’. In many cases it would just be the same few names each time. I could do a special #FF for great Paris start-ups, for example, but most of my followers would not be interested in them or their French-language tweets. Instead, I manage a couple of lists (presentation experts for example), so if you’re interested in whom I recommend following, check out those lists. Naturally, if you want to recommend following me on Follow Friday, I will be grateful, but I won’t automatically reciprocate unless I truly believe that most of my followers (a) should follow you and (b) don’t yet follow you.

Should I follow you? Here are the questions I ask myself when I am making a decision on whether to follow someone. This could be triggered because you’ve started following me, or because I’ve seen one of your tweets, or because someone has suggested following you.

  1. Who are you? If you have a photo and a short biography, that helps. No photo or bio? No follow.
  2. Are you a real person or a robot? If you follow tens of thousands, likely you’re using a robot. No pulse? No follow.
  3. Do you tweet in a language I understand, at least part of the time? I’ll check your last few tweets to find out. No comprendo? No follow.
  4. Are your tweets interesting to me? Again, this is based on your last few tweets. No interest? No follow.
  5. Still here? Then I’ll probably follow you, for as long as these conditions remain true – and regardless of whether you follow me.

That pretty much sums up my Twitter policy. I might change it from time to time. Thanks for reading – I’d like to hear your reactions.


Radio interview: Phil on presenting

October 13, 2010

Yesterday I once again had the opportunity to appear on the US-based radio show Life Lessons, on, hosted by Rick Tocquigny. You can listen here.

This time, it was all about presenting and storytelling, so it’s effectively a 30-minute podcast for anyone interested in presentations. We covered some aspects of storytelling and oratory, dissected a very short speech by Winston Churchill, talked about books by Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds and Chip & Dan Heath, and mentioned Steve Jobs and TED a couple of times.

A key moment was where we spoke about the bar being a lot higher nowadays for speakers, teachers and presenters. Everyone can see great presentations at TED and by Steve Jobs, and on the flip-side, everyone has shiny tactile screens sitting in their pockets or in front of them, tempting them away from the poor presenter. Expectations are higher, attention spans are lower, and there is much more competition for attention.

My conclusion here was that if the audience’s attention wanes, it’s not because there’s something wrong with them (Attention Deficit Disorder for example) – it’s mostly because your talk isn’t interesting enough to deserve their attention.

That’s why it’s important to make an effort to be interesting, connect with your audience, and make them relate to your subject. You can’t take their attention for granted any more.

That said, I hope you enjoy the interview and get something out of it. Thanks to Rick for inviting me back, and thanks to you for listening.

Ideas on Stage

May 25, 2010

Logo (c) Ideas on Stage

Ideas on Stage is a leading specialist in fantastic presentations, aiming to make presentation rhyme with communication, inspiration and motivation, and rid the world of boring talks and Death by PowerPoint.

Founded in 2010 by Pierre Morsa and Phil Waknell, Ideas on Stage has grown to be the leading worldwide presentation specialist, offering presentation design, training courses and coaching to presenters around the world in six major languages.

Our specialists teach communication skills at several leading universities and business schools; our clients include top international corporations like Microsoft, EDF and Orange as well as major institutions like the World Bank; and we are the official training providers for Presentation Zen, the leading book on presentations by our sensei Garr Reynolds.

We’ve helped hundreds of TED and TEDx speakers to create and deliver the talk of their lives; and we’ve helped hundreds of entrepreneurs to prepare brilliant pitches that have helped many of them to raise millions and create the next generation of companies.

Perhaps we can help you to become a better presenter, or turn your ideas into a memorable presentation? Wherever you are, we’d love to hear from you.

For more information: and


Radio – a slide-free zone

March 26, 2010

I had the great privilege to join Rick Tocquigny yesterday on the Life Lessons radio show on BlogTalk Radio. This is a very worthwhile show with reflections from seasoned professionals on business, life and things they have learned along the way. I felt honoured to be following in the footsteps of previous guests like Seth Godin and Jim Gilmore.

You can listen to my interview via this link on the BlogTalkRadio web site. The 30-minute show covers topics such as leadership, change, values, and what led me to set up a company focusing on communication and presentation skills.

I have a couple of comments to make about this. Firstly, when answering questions which haven’t been prepared, it’s impossible to give your absolute best answers. I think I managed fairly well, but in some cases I could have done better. In particular, I didn’t take the opportunity to give my wife all the credit she deserves for the fantastic support she has given me over the years and never more than in the last two years while I’ve been combining a full-time job with an Executive MBA. I didn’t convey how lucky and grateful I feel to share her life. I also didn’t find the chance to mention the wonderful team I had at HP in the last three years, with whom it was a real privilege to work.

A key lesson learned from this, which is absolutely relevant for presentations, is that you should not expect perfection from yourself – don’t set the bar too high, and don’t be afraid to be imperfect. Of course you might think afterwards “I should have said something else instead”, but if you spend too long looking for the perfect answer, the delay will bore your audience and betray a lack of confidence or expertise. Most likely only one person will realise afterwards that you could have given a better answer, and that’s you.

A question is never to be feared: it is an opportunity to reinforce your key messages with your answers, and before you open your mouth to respond, quickly think not only about what the question was and why it was asked, but also about the messages you’re aiming to communicate. (Of course it’s vital to work out what your key messages are before you take the stage, but that’s another story and another blog post.)

Another thought I had about this was that radio is an extremely pure form of communication. There are no slides to distract people, no need to worry about gestures or body language: it is all about the words you use and the way you say them. Anybody who could not imagine presenting without a deck of slides should imagine they are on the radio, and learn to do without them. If you can get your message across well on the radio, then you’re ready to stand in front of a live audience.

In any case, it is refreshing to find a slide-free zone and BlogTalkRadio certainly provides that. I recommend listening to some of the Life Lessons shows, and working out how some of the guests get their messages across – and how you would speak if you were on the show. What is more, you’ll be sure to learn some interesting life lessons along the way.


December 2, 2009

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 blog (here) and I also tweet enthusiastically. Occasionally I share photos and thoughts unrelated to presentations on my Posterous.

I’m a founding director and Chief Inspiration Officer of Ideas on Stage, the leading European 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, accompanied by a few big words, 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 Europe, running training courses all over the world, teaching at HEC Paris and other great business schools, 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 and who now trusts us to deliver his official Presentation Zen training courses.

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 Waknell

phil [at] philwaknell [dot] com

More about me:

Here’s my Twitter policy – I tweet as @philpresents.

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 presentation advice in French.

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