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?


Animate Your Audience – Not Your Slides

September 6, 2011

Last week’s post about why I don’t recommend Prezi got a lot of people talking, and the consensus seems to be that even if you do find some uses for Prezi, the use of excessive animation is at best distracting and counterproductive, and at worst actually nauseating for the audience.

Animation should only be used when it helps the audience to understand a point – i.e. the movement or effect should be meaningful. Text does not need to fly in from all parts of the screen – it can just appear, or fade in, at the right time. Building up a slide point by point is fine and in fact often highly recommended – just don’t have things moving around for no reason.

‘Animation’, of course, means different things. It doesn’t just mean moving things around on the projector screen. While that kind of animation should be strictly rationed, another kind should be strongly encouraged. That’s the animation of people: specifically, you and your audience.

As you communicate with your audience, you need to be animated. I don’t mean that you should be jumping all over the place like Steve Ballmer on hot coals. But in your movement, your body language and your intonation, you need to be animated in order to keep people awake, and more than that, to animate your audience.

Move around the stage (if possible) with clear, deliberate movements, stopping in certain places, speaking for a while, then moving to another part of the stage. This has the effect of breaking up what you are saying into ‘verses’, each of which is easily digested. Make sure, therefore, that you are moving at logical break-points in your speech, and not in the middle of a paragraph. Each movement then awakens the audience to the beginning of a new ‘verse’, so it does not seem like one long monologue.

It also won’t seem like a monologue if you animate your voice. There so many ways you can modulate your voice – faster vs slower, higher vs lower, louder vs softer, excited vs dead-pan, one accent vs another, etc. – that there is no reason at all for you to use exactly the same voice (speed, pitch, volume etc.) throughout. That’s called monotony, and there’s a good reason why it is synonymous with boredom.

At the end of the day, your aim is to animate your audience. The more awake they are, the more interested they are, the more likely they are to listen to your message and do something with it afterwards. So get them involved. Get them to think. Ask them questions. Ask them to do little exercises in pairs. Ask for a show of hands on a particular point. Ask them all to stand up, and then sit down if they meet a particular condition, e.g. “you may sit down if you have never seen a boring presentation” (continue with additional conditions until only a few are left standing).

If you and your audience are more animated than your slides, then you’re doing something right. If however you spend all your time worrying about animating your slides, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Animate your audience – not your slides.


Two Reasons I Rarely Recommend Prezi

August 30, 2011

There has been a lot of talk in the last year about Prezi, a new slideware application which is an alternative to the established Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote.

Prezi is different in that it gives you one big canvas, and allows you to zoom in and out, and pan around, while still including photos and videos. The developers talk about the many uses of non-linear presentations, and the limitations of slide-based competitors.

Now I’m all for innovation, and Prezi is a fine idea which is quite well-executed. You can criticize it for the limited built-in fonts or various other technical points, but in general, what it sets out to do, it does well.

Sadly, when it comes to live presentations, I am not a fan of what it sets out to do.

For me, the visuals you use when presenting need to do three things. They are there to help you to communicate your message:

a) more effectively

b) more interestingly

c) more memorably

You could well argue that a cool and eye-catching show on the wall will be more interesting than a set of bullet points, and you’d be right. It’s possible that you could use Prezi to produce visual effects which are especially memorable.

The trouble is that you don’t really want people to remember your visual effects. You want them to remember your messages, and the visuals are merely hooks on which they can hang those memories. When the hook gets more attention than the message, you have the beginnings of a problem. It’s not because an all-zooming, all-twisting, all-panning Prezi visual is more interesting than a set of bullets that it is the right solution. A blank wall is better for communication than a set of bullets too.

I always say that visuals should be simple and clear. They should help the audience to better understand the message the speaker is trying to communicate. They should also take as little of the audience’s attention as possible, and only when necessary. Most of the audience’s attention should be on the speaker, and where nothing needs to be projected to enhance the spoken message, that’s exactly what should be projected: nothing.

And this is for me the main difficulty with Prezi, as well as with highly-animated slides created with other slideware apps. The main challenge of the Presentation 2.0 revolution is not to banish bullet points to the dustbin of history: it is to reestablish the connection between the speaker and the audience, while using the best modern techniques to enhance that communication.

I contend that using Prezi – in most cases – will in fact make this worse, not better. There are two key ways this happens.

  1. While preparing a presentation, I ask presenters to focus as much as possible on their audience, to ensure they gauge the audience’s needs and expectations right, target their messages properly, use appropriate language, and ensure their audience will be able to receive and understand the presenter’s key messages. While the big problem with some slideware apps is that it is too easy to produce bad slides, the problem with Prezi is that to make it all look exactly right and design a fantastic-looking visual treat, it takes a very long time. I have seen this happen. The result is that the presenter is focusing too much on the visuals, and not enough on the audience. This can lead to beautiful visuals, but a failure to communicate effectively. That is one way in which the use of Prezi breaks the link between the presenter and the audience.
  2. During the presentation, it is important for the audience to focus as much as possible on the speaker. This way, the speaker can create a connection with the audience, and convey meaning through the exchange with the audience, through their body language and through their passion. If the audience spends all its time looking at the projector screen, rarely looking at the speaker, that connection is lost, and the speaker might as well not be on the stage at all, and instead just record a voice-over. I’ve seen some fantastic Prezi visuals. But they are just so eye-catching, particularly with all that movement, that they become the star. I believe that is counter-productive unless your sole objective is to impress the audience with your ability to create stunning visuals. (And enough people have now seen enough Prezi shows for the novelty to have worn off.)

So there are the two reasons I don’t recommend Prezi: it stops the presenter from focusing on the audience before the presentation, and stops the audience from focusing on the presenter during the presentation. It therefore goes against everything I teach.

There are good examples of the use of Prezi. TED’s Chris Anderson gave a fine talk with Prezi – but because he toned down all the animation, in a laudable attempt to avoid having the audience look only at the slides, there was nothing there which couldn’t have been done equally effectively with Keynote or PowerPoint. In fact, in all the really good Prezi-backed presentations I’ve viewed (and I’ve viewed many), the other tools could have been just as effective.

So there’s the irony. Prezi is a great tool for producing stunning swirling visuals which don’t help communication; whereas if you choose to use it in a way which doesn’t stop communication, you might just as well use Keynote or PowerPoint instead. The one situation where I think Prezi is simply brilliant is for producing videos with a voice-over. That’s where you want the audience to focus on the visuals. It’s not what you want in a live presentation.

I’ll leave the last word to Guy Kawasaki: “If you need animation to make your presentation interesting, you must suck.” The answer is not animating more – it is sucking less.

In other words, the answer is not a cooler tool like Prezi – it is learning to communicate effectively with your audience. Focus less on your visuals and more on your audience, and you’ll be on the right track.


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