Why You Should Present Like Santa Claus

December 21, 2011

In just a few days, an old bearded man wearing red will swoop down from the skies in his sleigh, land on the roof, slip down the chimney and leave Christmas gifts under the tree for my two amazing boys, before drinking a glass of milk and eating a couple of mince pies, and then climbing back up the chimney – without forgetting to take the carrot we’ll have left for his flying reindeer.

Yes, Christmas is upon us, and perhaps we presenters could learn a thing or three from Santa Claus about the art of presenting.

Santa brings gifts

Firstly, Santa comes a very long way to deliver gifts, in return for a bite to eat, a glass of milk and a raw carrot, and more importantly, the smile of a child. As a speaker, you might be paid a little more generously, but whether you are paid thousands or nothing, you should treat a presentation as a gift you are offering to your audience.

Santa only comes because children believe in him and behave well enough to deserve presents. You are only on stage because your audience believes in your ability to change them in a positive way. You are there for them. Your presentation is your gift to them. Treat it as such, from the moment you begin to prepare for it. Their smile, their thanks and the positive change in them will be your greatest reward.

Santa chooses gifts carefully

Every child is different. They wish for different presents. Often they create detailed lists for Santa. My kids were very disappointed last year when Santa got it wrong, and brought Super Mario Galaxy instead of Super Mario Bros. (Imagine the uproar if he’d brought Sonic the Hedgehog instead…)

Likewise, every audience is different, and you need to adapt your talk to your audience’s expectations. Don’t give them something that was on someone else’s wish list. Usually my university talks get very high ratings, but on one occasion this year, the ratings were merely good. Why? On examining their comments, it turned out that the students had been led to expect something completely different to what I’d been asked to talk about, and they were measuring my talk against their (wrong) expectations, even though I’d set out my objectives clearly at the start. So as far as you can control it, work out what your audience is expecting, and then meet or exceed those expectations.

It doesn’t matter how great your talk is: if it’s not the one they have set their heart on, they will be disappointed. Santa (usually) gives kids what’s on their wish list. Do likewise.


Could you imagine meeting Santa in the living room, and finding him scowling or growling? Santa is a happy, jovial chap, or so we imagine, and behind his white beard there is a perpetual smile.

Presenters should smile too. There are many reasons for this, and I strongly recommend this article by Garr Reynolds on the Presentation Zen blog about smiling. Garr notes:

A presenter or entertainer who actually looks like she is happy to be there—because she really is—is well on her way to engaging her audience naturally.

Another key reason for smiling is the power of mirror neurons. What you visibly feel, the audience subconsciously feels too. If you look happy, they will feel happy. And just as Santa wants kids to be happy, you want your audience to enjoy your presentation. After all, if they enjoy it, they will pay more attention, and that means they are more likely to get your message and even do something with it. Making your audience enjoy your talk should always be a major objective. Smile, and you are halfway there.


So there are three things to learn from Santa Claus: treat your presentation as a gift to your audience; tailor that gift to that particular audience; and smile.

With that, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and inspiring 2012.

Top 10 of 2011

December 20, 2011

As 2012 approaches, and many of us wind down for a relaxing break for Christmas and New Year, it’s time to take a look back at 2011 and what marked it most.

So just as I shared my Top 10 of 2010 last year, here is a rundown of the Top 10 Phil Presents posts of 2011. Whether you read them at the time or missed them, this is a chance to recap the most popular articles of the year (not including event reviews etc).

And let me say a warm thankyou to you, because it is the growing popularity of this blog and the many fine comments you make that keep me writing, sharing, and doing my bit to help change the world, one presentation at a time. Just as a presenter is on stage not because he or she is important but because their audience is important, I don’t write this blog because I am in some way great or important. I write it because you are important. You matter. You can change the world. My role is merely to help you do that in some small way.

So best wishes for a successful 2012, thanks for reading and listening, and enjoy the recap of the most popular posts of 2011.

10. DSK: How emotions beat logic every time

Written before Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s New York trial was dropped, this took two key presentation lessons from the DSK-Diallo case and the public reaction in France.

9. Adapt To Your Audience

A presenter who takes the time to understand his or her audience, and tailors their presentation accordingly, is worth their weight in gold.

8. Do Investors Like Slideuments?

One of many pitch-related posts this year, this asked the question whether information-laden slideuments are appropriate in an investor pitch. (Clue: they’re not.)

7. Animate Your Audience – Not Your Slides

A follow-up to the year’s #1 post, this one talked about how animation on the screen is bad unless it helps to deliver your message more effectively; but on the contrary, animating your audience is absolutely critical for the success of any presentation.

6. Keep it simple…

As experts in our subjects, we tend to present with far too much complexity. Keep it simple, and your audience will understand far more.

5. When you think Presentation Zen isn’t appropriate, that’s when you need it most

The post that debunks the myth that you can’t use Garr Reynolds’ approach in certain situations like technical presentations.

4. Video: Introduction to Presentation Skills

This post features a 90-minute video of yours truly, giving a presentation skills talk to entrepreneurs at Le Camping in Paris. If you have 90 minutes to learn about what it takes to give a great presentation, sit back and enjoy.

3. First Impressions Last

All about the vital importance of your introduction.

2. Perfecting Your Pitch

Another pitch-related post, and this is about putting the finishing touches to your pitch, and turning it from a good pitch into a great memorable pitch.

1. Two Reasons I Don’t Recommend Prezi

The most-viewed and most-commented post of the year was this one, about how I believe Prezi stops the presenter focusing on the audience before the presentation, and stops the audience focusing on the presenter during the presentation. I believe Prezi is a fine tool for certain niche uses, but in most cases, it is solving the wrong problem, and making an existing problem worse.

And a few bonus posts…

Here are a few other posts which didn’t make the Top 10 in terms of hits, but which I believe deserve another look. Some were from the start of the year (when the blog was not as widely read as it is now), and others were very recent and didn’t yet have time to accumulate enough hits.

Take The Drive-By Test

Treat your slide as if it were a road sign, and make it simple, clear and quick to understand. It’s a simple but powerful test. And this short post from early January also features a hilarious video which is well worth watching.

Show And Feel

About the importance of mirror neurons – this is vital information every presenter should know.

Pitch 2.0 (Video)

A video of my 8-minute presentation at Le Camping Festival in June 2011, in the style of Steve Jobs. Six months later, people still tell me they remember ‘Magic, Vision & Passion’!

Presentation 2.0: Resonate Naked

This was my joint review of Resonate and The Naked Presenter, two fantastic books about structuring and delivering great presentations. For me, these two books usher in the era of what I call Presentation 2.0.

So which of these was your favourite post of 2011?

A Presentation is a Gift

March 9, 2011

We don’t ‘do’ presentations. We ‘give’ presentations. And we should treat them as special gifts which we give to our audience.

When you give a gift at Christmas for example, you could just choose to give everyone a pair of socks. Would you really do that? Not if you want them to be truly grateful.

Instead, you would most likely choose a gift specially for each person, based on what they like and what they need, and perhaps based on what they told you they would appreciate. The best gifts are often hand-made or even made to order for a particular person.

So you should prepare your presentation in the same way. Make it the best gift you could offer to a particular audience on a particular day in a particular setting and context.

When opening presents (particularly from mothers-in-law and aunts), some people expect the worst, based on previous unpleasant presents. In the same way, when turning up for a presentation, many audience members expect the worst: a standard, boring talk. So it only takes a little effort to give them a pleasant surprise.

Don’t give socks. Make each presentation a personal gift – and your audience will thank you.

The Twelve (Presentation) Days of Christmas

December 20, 2010

It’s almost Christmas, and even those of you who don’t celebrate it can appreciate the wonderful non-religious song The Twelve Days Of Christmas. I like the way it builds up and repeats the messages until you end up remembering it all and going through it all at the end. Some presentations would benefit from building up in this way.

Anyway, as a fun post to finish the year, here are my Twelve Presentation Days of Christmas. Imagine this as the last verse, but of course if you want to sing it all verse by verse, be my guest! And as a New Year’s Resolution for 2011, perhaps you could consider NOT inflicting any of these on your audiences?

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2011!  I’ll be back blogging in January.

The 12 (Presentation) Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, presenters sent to me:

Twelve-point fonts

Eleven fuzzy photos

Ten crappy clip-arts

Nine 3D pie-charts

Eight-column tables

Seven clashing colours

Six corporate logos

…Five bullet points…

Four moving GIFs

Three stick men

Two comic fonts

And a printout of their awful slides.

One Slide To Rule Them All

November 10, 2010

Stories are a great way to communicate messages, and analogies are a key part of this. Here’s an analogy using story, all about how using great slides as visual aids is more powerful than using slideuments.

Before I start, I should make a short disclaimer. Garr Reynolds is a Star Wars fan and has used this analogy many times on his Presentation Zen blog (and he does a mean Yoda impression too), and Nancy Duarte used Star Wars Episode 4 to exemplify the art of storyline in her brilliant book Resonate. To those who would suggest I’m just copying them, I would state that imitation is the finest form of flattery, and besides this is a very different exercise. Plus I’m not much of a Star Wars fan to be honest.

However I have been a Tolkien fanatic since a tender age, so I’ll use The Lord Of The Rings to explain my message. If you don’t know the book or films, this might not mean a lot, but it might be fun anyway. Here is my story and it is called:

The Shadow had returned to Boredor, and it was working tirelessly to spread its malevolent influence across the whole land of Middle-Management. The Dark Lord, Microsauron, had unleashed a deadly new weapon to torture, bore and demoralise the free people of the world and bring them unwittingly under his power. It had many names, but since it was powerful and many torture implements are pointy, they mostly called it PowerPointy.

One by one, presenters everywhere began to use Microsauron’s technology and bored each other to death. “Who needs Orcs?” laughed Microsauron, “these dumb idiots are killing each other with my bullets! Soon the whole world will be under my Shadow!”

However, far away, a Jobbit called Stevo discovered something shiny and unique, and he decided to call it the iRing. It became known that this iRing used to belong to Microsauron and contained much of his source code, and Stevo was asked to bring it to Rivendell to decide what to do with it.

The Council of Elrond brought together representatives from all the great nations, and Elrond’s message was that the only way to defeat Microsauron was to take the iRing to RedMount Doom and throw it back into the fire whence it came. He convened the Fellowship of the iRing to undertake this dangerous but vital quest.

The warrior Borismir argued against this, stating that it would be better to use Microsauron’s power against Boredor.

Unfortunately, his slideument was not very convincing, so it was agreed to proceed with the quest.

However, Elrond had himself come under the Shadow’s influence, and he made the fatal mistake of using a slideument to explain the Fellowship’s mission.

Sadly but inevitably the Fellowship didn’t understand the whole message, although they thought they’d read it properly, and they didn’t realise that “Watch out for Googlum” meant that it would be a good idea to stay away from him. Instead, they welcomed his offer to guide them, and Googlum led them to their doom in the Great River Androin, where the iRing was lost, never to be seen again.

Only Stevo the Jobbit and the wizard Garrdalf escaped, and they fled to the woods of Lorien, where they were found by elves and taken to their leader Nancydriel who lived in the highest tree, with its majestic mountain view.

Nancydriel had long studied slideology, and she showed them that in fact Borismir had been right about using Microsauron’s powerful technology to defeat his Shadow – it just had to be used in the right way. Then she shared with them the secret of the One Slide To Rule Them All – the most powerful slide ever conceived, so powerful that it could break the trance-like spell of the slideuments, and vanquish the Shadow of boredom for ever.

Stevo and Garrdalf then made their way to Minas Tirith, where the Shadow had already taken a firm hold, and no meeting was safe from the scourge of the slideument. Taking advantage of the bored stupor of the city’s residents, Microsauron had unleashed the full force of his mighty armies, who were already beginning to bombard the citadel with bombs, patches and overstocked Zunes.

There was no time to lose. Quickly, Garrdalf and Stevo found the biggest projector in the city, raised up a huge screen above the walls, set up a microphone, and Stevo took the stage. He began to deliver the presentation which Garrdalf had written, and which they had rehearsed meticulously as they rode over the plains of Rohan.

Both armies stopped and listened, and looked in wonder as Stevo told them stories (with lots of superlatives) and illustrated them with slides which mostly just had pictures – yes, pictures, and maybe only a few words or a number. The black clouds that had filled the skies began to recede to the East, back towards RedMount Doom whence they came. The spell of the slideument was being broken, and one by one, everyone watching realised that in fact Microsauron’s technology could be used to enhance communication, not just to impede it.

Then when the time was just right, Stevo clicked forward and unveiled the One Slide. The crowds gasped. Weapons fell to the floor, jaws dropped, and there was absolute silence, apart from the clear sound of Stevo’s voice which spoke clearly and directly to every individual present. Everybody paid attention. They could not do otherwise.

Slowly it dawned on Microsauron’s armies that their foes had found a way to harness the Dark Lord’s power, and vanquish the slideument for ever. As Stevo spoke clearly, simply and passionately, they realised they could not win, they panicked, and they fled.

One Slide To Rule Them All

In the end it was all remarkably simple. Stevo just had to show a completely black slide, and suddenly the audience would have nothing to look at but him, the presenter. That was the One Slide, the most powerful slide, the beauty of simplicity, one could say an anti-slide, the best way to defeat the slideuments.

Between them, Stevo the Jobbit and Garrdalf had beaten the Shadow, and shown the world of Middle-Management how real presentations should be done. No longer would the terror of Death By PowerPointy haunt meeting rooms across the land; no longer would people tremble at the words “I’ll come back to that on slide 87”; no longer would the word ‘presentation’ be synonymous with ‘mind-numbing boredom’.  And perhaps people would realise that in fact it wasn’t Microsauron who had inflicted all that pain on them, but their own dumb use of his perfectly good tools.


Meanwhile, Microsauron realised his plan to conquer the world through boredom had been foiled, but what most people didn’t know was that it was only his Plan B. Originally, his Plan A was to use his great presentation technology to convince everybody to join forces with him, and take over the world peacefully, but sadly it hadn’t worked because he hadn’t found the right way to use the tool. Luckily, neither had most other people, so Plan B happened almost by accident.

Now that he realised how to use his fantastic tool to communicate effectively, Microsauron decided to move back to Plan A, and began to plot a major presentation. If he couldn’t do boredom any more, perhaps disease would do the trick. Ah yes, malaria. Now that could make for a memorable presentation…

FOOTNOTE: Any perceived likenesses to individuals and companies will be strenuously denied. I can’t be held accountable for your vivid imaginations…

The World’s Best WHAT Contest?

November 3, 2010

From one badly-named contest to another.

Apparently something called the World Series has just been won by a team of giants from San Francisco. Yet this competition was contested only by American teams. There’s a badly-named contest if ever I saw one, although I didn’t see this because of course, being a US-only event, it’s not shown in France.

There’s another badly-named contest currently running though. I have written before, as have many other presentation experts, about how one of the fundamental problems with modern corporate communication is that we mistake a slideset for a presentation.

A deck of slides is a visual aid for a presentation – it is not a presentation. If your slides say everything, then why do you need to stand up and talk? If they say everything, and you talk anyway, will anyone actually listen to you? No, they’ll try to read, and try to listen, and fail miserably at both.

There is a name for images and text, without audio, which tell a story. They’re called cartoons. Now I have nothing against cartoons, and they can be excellent means of communication (not just to kids), but they are not presentations.

A presentation is when somebody stands up and tries to communicate something to a group of people. With or without visual aids.

So I find it fundamentally wrong that SlideShare is running a competition which they call “The World’s Best Presentation Contest”, and almost all the front-runners are slidedecks which tell the whole story. Many of them look great, and Scott Schwertly’s promo for his new book How To Be A Presentation God even embraces the cartoon idea, because that’s what these decks are. They’re not presentations.

One entry, from Jean-François Messier, demonstrates (quite well) how slideuments really don’t work – they are neither documents nor slides, so you should not attempt to create slides which tell the whole story. Yet, ironically, that’s exactly what he created for this SlideShare competition. Which just goes to show that a good entry for the competition is almost certainly not a good set of slides to accompany a presentation.

There is one of these slidedecks which would be a great set of visuals to support a presentation, and that’s the one done by AnaFxFz for Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment talk. That’s because it IS intended to accompany a talk. It doesn’t say everything on its own. So it doesn’t work as a cartoon because it needs the narrative. Yes, I voted for the one deck which doesn’t work properly on SlideShare but which is a real set of presentation visuals. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Ana wins! Take a look at her great deck here.

I don’t blame the others who have created fine slidedecks knowing there would be no audio, and some are very good (I particularly like the ones by Jon Thomas and Ed Fidgeon Kavanagh) – they’re just following the rules and using this cartoon-type medium as well as anyone.

I just think there’s something missing. If part of the problem with corporate communication is that the slides have become the presentation, SlideShare is simply perpetuating that problem by providing a platform which allows people to share standalone slidedecks without audio (although they do provide the audio option, it’s rarely used). This contest, and its name in particular, really doesn’t help. I wouldn’t mind if they called it “The World’s Best Slidedeck Competition”.


It’s good that many people are starting to realise that slides can look great, and SlideShare deserves some credit for helping that movement. Unfortunately, if all it does is convince people to create better-looking slides that still tell the whole story, we’ll just replace Death By PowerPoint with Death By Pretty PowerPoint.

For their next contest, I call on SlideShare to run two competitions: one for slidedecks if they must (and call it “Best Slidedeck Competition”), and another one for Best Presentation but which requires an audio track, and makes great use of visuals to enhance the spoken messages (like this). That’s a contest I would support, and one I would probably even enter. This year, you’ll just have to look at other people’s cartoons – and Ana’s masterpiece. If she wins, at least San Francisco will be able to claim a true world title…

Stone Cold Phil Davison

September 17, 2010

Astounding. There are many words to describe this speech, but astounding sums it up for me.

Astounding that a candidate from a serious political party would think this is a suitable way to run for a nomination.

Astounding that anybody could communicate quite this badly, making very basic errors.

And astounding in particular that Phil Davison (no relation, honest) claims to have a Masters degree in Communication!

Now this video has run up over a million hits in a week, and I’m not going to repeat what many other presentation coaches have already said so expertly – notably John Zimmer – but I’ll just say a few words about passion.

It’s not about how passionate you are, but how passionate you appear to be, and in what way. A speech without any enthusiasm or passion is as dry and featureless as a desert. However, there’s a difference between showing genuine passion in an acceptable way, and speaking like a wrestler who’s shouting into the mike about how he’s about to beat his opponent to a pulp. Despite the electoral success of Jesse Ventura, politicians are expected to show passion in a more, erm, civilised way.

Compare Phil Davison’s speech with this one by wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin from some years back. They go rather well together.

The tone is very similar, but Austin had obviously prepared a little better, not needing to resort to notes, and his conclusion was very well scripted, using good rhetorical techniques. Perhaps they went to the same communications college?

Phil Davison didn’t get the nomination. And I’m not sure if any communications coaches would even consider trying to turn him into a respectable political speaker. But his style has its place, and perhaps if he learns to do without the notes (and hits the gym) he has a future in the wrestling ring… you heard it here first!

What the iPad teaches us about presenting

May 10, 2010

Apple’s new iPad is the latest tech sensation, and while many expected it to bomb, its initial sales and reviews are extremely positive. So, you ask yourself, what has this got to do with a blog about presenting?

One of the greatest skills of a presenter is storytelling, part of which is the art of using analogies and metaphors to bring meaning to your message and create some emotional reaction in the audience which aids understanding and retention.

Therefore I am taking this opportunity to use the iPad to bring home four important lessons about presenting.

Firstly, people like the iPad because it is simple and easy to use. How many presentations are simple to understand and easy to remember? Not so many. Aim to make your presentations clear. If you try to catch too many rabbits, you won’t catch any – likewise, if you try to communicate too many messages or too much detail, you might not communicate anything for very long. Concentrate on the key 2-3 messages, or one if you can manage it; communicate them simply and clearly; and find ways to make them easy to remember.

Secondly, people like the iPad because it looks and feels cool. How many presentations look cool nowadays? Would Al Gore have had such success with An Inconvenient Truth if he’d used a typical corporate presentation rather than the cool and clear one created by Duarte Design (perhaps the best decision Gore ever made)? Don’t settle for a boring presentation – if it looks and sounds boring, your audience will be bored, and they won’t remember much except being bored.

Thirdly, people like the iPad because they don’t have to work too hard. They don’t have to worry about viruses, worms, malware, spyware, regular OS updates and patches, etc… it just works. Is it a good idea for a presenter to make the audience work hard to understand his or her intellectual language, or read that small text, or make sense of a complex graph? No – audiences don’t like to work hard, and they resent being expected to work hard. Make it easy for them – speak clearly, use everyday language and simple charts – and they will pay more attention, have more brainpower available to think about what you’re saying, and respect you more.

Fourthly, people like the iPad because it’s fairly small and light. Likewise, keep your presentations light. If it can be said in 10 minutes, don’t take half an hour. Often the shortest presentations are the best – as exemplified by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, or TED where no talk is longer than 18 minutes. If you have to speak for longer, break it up with videos, exercises, Q&A sessions, or any other trick you can find to maintain the audience’s attention and avoid a 2-hour monologue.

    The iPad is cool, simple, light and user-friendly. Test your next presentation against these criteria, and you’ll be doing yourself – and your audience – a huge favour.

    [APRIL FOOL] Ro-bama Revolutionizes Presentations!

    April 1, 2010

    Ever wonder how Barack Obama manages to look so much more professional and convincing on stage than off it?  Or did you wonder how the British Tories managed to find a great speechmaker in David Cameron having not had one for a generation?

    The answer has finally been revealed: they use presentation robots.

    Developed at Osaka University in Japan, humanoid robots have been around for a few years, getting more and more realistic all the time.  The extent of their use in the public sphere, however, will shock and astound you.

    The first test use of a robot to make a public presentation was at Obama’s now-legendary Democratic Convention speech in July 2004.  The results were beyond even the creators’ wildest dreams: a man coming from nowhere had imposed himself as a leading Presidential candidate in the space of a single speech.

    Realising the power of a great speaker and the brilliance of this Ro-Bama, the Democratic Party had to have it, and they signed an exclusivity agreement which would block the Kansai boffins from creating any robots for the Republicans.  We all know the results: Ro-bama wiped the floor with the all-too-human John McCain.

    On the other side of the Atlantic, the Tories went one step further, and actually bought a robot to lead the party.  Want to know what David Cameron did before leading the Tories?  Of course the spin doctors fabricated a nice life story, but really his only history was as bits of metal in a Japanese lab.  Ever see him with a bad hair day? Now you know why.

    Naturally this opens up major ethical and social questions.  Is it appropriate for us to be led by robots?  Will this lead to a Matrix-like society where humans are merely used for our productive ability, in complete subservience and ignorant of what’s really happening in the corridors of power?  Or won’t it actually make any difference?

    There are many advantages of using robots to make speeches, at least.  You can program them not to um and ah. You can ensure they don’t read your slides. You can also set them to use an appropriate level of eye contact with your audience. If every presenter could master those items, the world would be a less boring place.

    So perhaps we will see more and more robots being used to replace boring and amateur presenters. Next time you see your CEO making a presentation, check whether it all looks just too polished. Maybe you have a robo-CEO too.

    But remember: the technology still has its limitations.  When French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the Japanese for a robot to make his speeches, they had to decline.  Even the masters of miniaturization couldn’t make a speaking robot that small…

    [EDIT: Just in case anyone didn’t realise the date of this post, it was on April 1st 2010… Any truth in this post is entirely accidental!]

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