Top Posts of 2010

December 20, 2010

It’s been my first full year of blogging, and I’m pleased to note that readership has been steadily increasing, so clearly some people appreciate my mix of tips, thoughts and the odd rant about presentation skills.

Now that 2010 is almost over, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you all for making it worthwhile: thanks for the comments, the retweets, the encouragements and the ideas, and thanks just for reading. If I’m able to make even a tiny difference to your own presentation and communication skills and the way you share your messages with other people, then I’m doing good and feeling good about it.

Since most of you have joined my merry band in the second half of 2010, you may have missed some past posts. So here is my Top 10 of 2010, rated only by hits, and excluding the few posts about events which are unlikely to be so relevant any more.

Top 10 of 2010

  1. One Slide To Rule Them All – my Tolkien-meets-tech presentation parody was a clear winner. Which shows the power of a good story!
  2. Handouts 101 – a guide to handouts, an often-overlooked but vital subject for any presenter
  3. Presenting Naked – my thoughts on being authentic in your delivery, putting down your weapons and removing barriers, and connecting deeply with your audience. I was honoured when Garr Reynolds included an abridged version of this post in his brilliant new book The Naked Presenter!
  4. The World’s Best Slide – this is where I shared the slide you should consider including in every presentation you make, perhaps more than once…
  5. The World’s Best WHAT Contest? – my rant at SlideShare’s ‘World’s Best Presentation’ contest which perpetuates the meme that a deck of slides is a presentation instead of just a support. Great discussion here including some of the top entrants in the competition.
  6. Steve Jobs launches iPhone 4 – my review of the big Apple event, with important lessons and even one or two improvement areas
  7. The Magical Missing Ingredient – all about putting yourself into your presentation, with a great TEDx example from Scott Stratten
  8. Presentation Pitfalls #4 – Banish Bad Slides – PowerPoint isn’t the enemy, but slideware apps have killed presentations by making bad slides too easy to create
  9. The Investor Pitch – Set The Right Objectives – before you can create a great pitch, you have to work out what you aim to achieve…
  10. Don’t push – make them pull – one of my favourite posts, on why communication works better when the audience actively pulls it

There are some others which you may well have missed, perhaps because by the time you discovered Phil Presents they were deep in the archives, and hence they never made it to the hit parade. So here are five of my favourite posts which I felt deserve some more airplay:

  1. Context is King – you need to step into your audience’s shows, work out what they know, and use that to teach them something new
  2. Slide Abuse, and other dependencies – how we have become dependent on technology, and need to break the habit – especially when presenting
  3. The Four Aims of Presentation – short, simple but very powerful – get these right and you’ll be a better presenter
  4. Go Out With A Clap – about the importance of a strong conclusion, and why it’s vital that the audience knows when to clap
  5. Speaking Internationally – the challenge of speaking to audiences from different cultures

I hope you’ve enjoyed going through all this, and I look forward to communicating with you again in 2011. Let me know if you have ideas for some articles…




Don’t push – make them pull

November 18, 2010

This week I’ve been giving a training course with Ideas on Stage, and we’ve had a fantastic group which has participated very actively. It’s been a great exchange.

When you attend a presentation, lecture or course, how often is it really an exchange? Most times, it’s just a question of the lecturer / presenter / speaker broadcasting something to the audience, and hoping that they will take some of it in. Yet we don’t usually internalize very much when we merely hear something, particularly when it is pushed at us.

Communication is a two-way street. Connecting with your audience and making your presentation a real communication in which they play an active role can enhance the experience immeasurably. Here’s why.

  • People take in more when they are truly attentive. This doesn’t happen much when you are bombarding them with boring bullets. However, when they are actively participating in an exchange, they are far more likely to be paying attention.
  • ‘Pull’ communication is far more effective than ‘push’. That is to say, when people actively listen for information, they are more likely to take it in than if you push something on them. It’s the difference between selling on the telephone to somebody who called you, and trying to sell to somebody whom you cold-called. You have to make your audience want to pull the information from you. For example, raise questions in their minds which they will want answered, and then they will listen for the answers.
  • Furthermore, when your audience is in ‘pull’ mode, they are preparing a suitable hole in their minds into which you can slot your message; and when they participate in the discussion by asking clarifying questions or directing a conversation in a particular direction, it is so they are sure to receive the answers they need to allow your message to fit into their reality tunnel.

This last part takes quite some understanding, but to simplify it, imagine that each person’s mind is like a jigsaw puzzle made up of all their beliefs and memories. Anything new needs to fit in with the rest of the puzzle, otherwise it will be rejected – or distorted into something which does fit. To get your message to slot in, you need to find a piece of their puzzle, and shape your message so that it fits next to this existing piece.

That’s very hard for any presenter, particularly when you have a large audience, although you can increase your chances by putting things in terms they are more able to relate to – for example when Steve Jobs launched the iPod and talked about “1,000 songs in your pocket” rather than the number of gigabytes which aren’t especially meaningful to most people. We can all relate to songs and pockets – just as you can most likely relate to a jigsaw.

Nonetheless it is far easier if your audience can do that hard work for you. All you have to do is to involve them as equal partners in an exchange so they want to pull your messages. Far better than throwing jigsaw pieces at them in the wishful hope that one of them might stick.

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.

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!

Three Easy Ways To Improve Your Next Presentation

August 24, 2010

There are many books you should read if you want to become a truly great presenter, and you may want to follow some courses with a presentation specialist so you can practise in a friendly environment with honest impartial feedback from peers and professionals.

However, if you have an important presentation coming up, you might not have time to do all these important things between now and then. Fear not, for all is not lost. Here are three simple ways you can improve your next presentation. Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting Naked

August 18, 2010

Later this year, Garr Reynolds will unveil his latest book, The Naked Presenter, which promises to be a fascinating read. Before my many female readers get too excited, I should clarify one thing: just as Jamie Oliver does not cook without clothes on (at least not in public), Garr’s book is not about taking the stage literally naked.

Ahead of the book’s publication, Garr asked his many followers what presenting naked means to them. This post is my contribution to that discussion.

I’d like to start with an analogy. In medieval times, a knight would go into battle with a sword and shield, and wearing heavy armour. Fighting naked would mean hand-to-hand combat with no armour.

Presenting naked is about taking off your armour, putting down your sword and shield, and facing your audience, ‘man to man’ as it were. It’s about removing anything which is there only for the benefit of the presenter, and not for the benefit of the audience. It’s about being authentic, being true, being you – and laying yourself open for all to see. Read the rest of this entry »

In Defence of Tony Hayward

July 29, 2010

It would be an exaggeration to say that there has been nearly as much newspaper ink used to criticise Tony Hayward, outgoing CEO of BP, as there has been oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s the kind of thing you’d expect ‘Wayward Hayward’ to say after all his recent gaffes.

He’s not had an easy time of it all, has Tony. He has had a thankless task trying to handle the response to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. And indeed, there’s been little in the way of thanks.

He points out that while BP tries to do all it can to contain the leak and the spilt oil, and to clean things up, and to put in place a huge fund to compensate those whose livelihood is affected by the spill, actually the jury is out on who is actually responsible for the explosion – and he gets attacked mercilessly by those in the US who are trying to deflect blame away from those US companies who were also involved in this rig.

He tells the media what his experts are telling him about the extent of the leak and the likely damage, and then he gets blamed when it turns out they were giving him bad data. (Does anyone seriously think he was out there counting the leaking barrels himself? Or believe that he intentionally suppressed data to downplay the extent of the leak, knowing full well that the truth would soon come out anyway? Really? It’s not as if he’d have been able to sell any stock during such times so he wasn’t just trying to buy some time and prop up the share price. He’d already sold a third of his stock before the explosion anyway – which begs other questions, which I won’t go into here.)

He spends months away from his family in the US working on the response (in addition to his day-job – leading one of the world’s biggest companies isn’t exactly a picnic), yet on the one day he spends with his family back in the UK, he gets heavily criticised for taking his children to watch a regatta. He’d probably have been pilloried if he’d taken them to a playground, and the journos would probably have followed him wherever he went.

He tries to walk a very narrow tightrope in his appearance before Congress, where they want lots of detailed answers, yet his lawyers would have warned him to say as little as possible that could be used later as the basis for a legal case against BP; and of course he gets criticised for being evasive even where he doesn’t know the answers, in which case the only proper thing to do is to admit that and not invent answers.

He tries to express how important the clean-up effort is to him and how he has a great sense of urgency to get it all sorted out – and he’s lambasted for being selfish and thinking only of himself.

Now, you could say he’s brought this partly upon himself, not only by being leader of a company which is held responsible for such a huge catastrophe, but also by saying careless things like “I want my life back” when 11 people lost theirs, and by attending a public event with lots of journalists when he spent his day at home. Many people do take that point of view, and this whole situation has shown just how important it is for a leader to be great at public relations, speaking in public, influencing, and inspiring confidence. Tony Hayward may be a fine manager (I don’t know and it’s not my business, but I’m not going to assume he’s useless because an idiot doesn’t usually work his way up to the top of an organisation like BP), but he’s not a slick and reliable public face for any company.

So yes, he could and should have been coached better on what to say and what not to say. But after a 25-year career with BP, culminating with three years as CEO where his record was not heavily criticised until the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, is it really fair to dismiss him as a duffer for letting slip an unfortunate sentence and for taking his kids out for a day? Did everyone dismiss Steve Jobs as dumb when he said “Just don’t hold it that way”?

I often like taking the side of the underdog, and in this case there seem to be few voices springing to Hayward’s defence, so let mine be one of them. While I am sure I’d have handled things differently in his situation, and while I know nothing about his role prior to the disaster or decisions he may have made which might have led to it (so I’m not trying to talk about or defend something I don’t know about, and I am certainly not defending BP or anyone else who might have been responsible for this disaster), here are some of the good things he has achieved as part of this whole episode.

  • He has accepted that there needed to be a scapegoat, and as CEO it needed to be him, so he was always going to have to step down after this situation was brought under control. Therefore he didn’t hide behind the scenes to leave Bob Dudley to handle the media: he not only put himself in the line of fire, he also drew all the fire towards himself, so that merely by letting him go, BP could then make a fresh start under Dudley. Imagine how much different it might have been if he had let Dudley (who was head of the Americas so in fact far more likely to be directly involved in drilling in the Gulf of Mexico than Hayward, and who was leading the response) handle Congress and the media, and take all the flak. Hayward would probably have had to go anyway, but BP would not have been able to promote Dudley to take his place.
  • He put his life and family on hold to be in the US almost permanently to handle response-related matters. That’s a major sacrifice, even for a CEO who is used to frequent international travel. Contrast this with chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg who popped in once to see what was happening in the Gulf – on the way back from his family holiday in Thailand. One of these two guys took his responsibility seriously.
  • He has given a great example of why leaders in the modern 24-hour news and social media world need to be excellent communicators just as much as great leaders and managers.

At the end of the day (and discounting anything that happened before the disaster, as per my disclaimer above), I think Hayward was the right guy in the right place at the right time. Every media lapse was eagerly seized upon by journalists and politicians baying for blood. Congress wanted someone to blame, and they got him. He’s English, he looks very public-school English in fact (so easy for Americans to dislike just by looking at him), and he behaves like one. He might as well have had a bullseye on his furrowed forehead. Frankly there might be a PR advisor at BP who is now celebrating the success of their master plan – make Hayward universally disliked and pilloried, drawing all the fire, and then once things are under control, pension him off and replace him with Dudley the white (American) knight. Someone might even have fed him that line about getting his life back, and advised him to attend that regatta.

Maybe this was a time when it was better to have a poor communicator than a great one. Either of them would have had to go, but Hayward’s going alone – someone else might have taken his whole team down with him. He’s done a better job for BP shareholders than many of them currently realise. And it’s like manna from heaven for communication coaches like me, because no leader wants to be tarred with the Hayward brush from now on…

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