Wow! Investor Day at Le Camping

April 1, 2011

Yesterday was Investor Day for the first group of 12 start-ups at Le Camping, the Paris-based accelerator of which I am increasingly proud to be a mentor and pitch coach. And it went extremely well.

Now I’m rather biased since I coached all the speakers, so here are some comments from less biased people:

The @lecamping pitches were collectively the best I’ve seen out of an accelerator program in EU. Very slick and well prepared.

– Michael A. Jackson, experienced VC and number 3 in the Telegraph’s list of 100 most influential tech investors in Europe

We were half-expecting a poor crop of too-French startups: long-winded pitches, too much emphasis on making money and too little on product and vision, stunted ambitions, products for the French market only…

Instead what we had was the opposite: a crop of amazing startups that wouldn’t look out of place one bit in Y Combinator’s best crop or in any top VC’s portfolio.

– Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writing in Business Insider

Very positive feedback from @lecamping Investor Day from my team. Congrats to the Campers!

– ISAI, one of France’s most important early-stage investors backed by PriceMinister founder Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet

Super Travail @lecamping by #siliconsentier ! Des tres bons Management & Pitchs ! #congrats de @jainacapital

(Translation: Great work @lecamping by #siliconsentier! Great management and pitches! #congrats from @jainacapital)

– Jaina Capital, another of France’s leading investment funds, backed by Meetic founder Marc Simoncini

Overall pitch quality is excellent #lecamping and these are not native speakers – very impressed!

– David Bizer of HackFwd Talent, a leading pre-seed investment fund

All the pitches went very well, some better than in rehearsals and some perhaps not quite as well but still good enough to rock. I was particularly pleased that everyone took on board my last few pieces of advice to take their pitches from good to great – here are a few examples:

1. Adapt your content to meet your audience’s objectives.

They all nailed this. The key investor questions were all answered in each of the 8-minute pitches:

– What do you do?

– What’s the problem you solve?

– Why do you solve it better than competitors?

– What’s your vision?

– Why are you the best people to make this work?

– What are your financial forecasts?

– How much money do you need?

– What are you going to do with it?

They all finally understood the importance of talking about their team members and explaining why they were worth investing in, and they all did it very well.

2. Vision.

They also understood the importance of thinking big and showing ambition, since investors usually look for big wins not small wins. Perhaps the best example of this was Grégory from PurchEase whose ambition attracted positive tweets – here’s what Business Insider had to say about his vision:

After giving projections 2 years out, the founders said: “I could give you bulls—t 5 year financial forecasts, but I’d rather give you my vision: in 10 years, there’s gonna be a billion dollar company handling millions of customers and their purchases—we want to be that company”

That’s what we’re talking about.

3. Passion.

Now this was an area where they all made significant improvements. When Cyril Dorsaz from Beansight said he was excited about working with a great team, he sounded like he really meant it. Every single presenter had improved within their own style to a point where they were credible as leaders and as entrepreneurs.

Even though there was a world of difference in styles between the fairly restrained but professional style of Sébastien Lefebvre from Mesagraph and Philippe Langlois from P1 Security on one hand, the smooth salesmanship of Bora Kizil from Zifiz on the other, or even the cool relaxed style of Benjamin Hardy from Kawet, each of them was perfectly suited to their company and their approach, authentic, and communicated clearly and powerfully.

As a coach, I certainly don’t try to make everyone pitch in the same way, with the same style or storyboard. I just try to make them pitch as best they can in their own style, and choose a storyboard which suits their key messages. It would have been very boring if we’d seen 12 almost-identical pitches.

4. A great conclusion.

Again, they all worked hard on the conclusion, and this was one of the real strong points – the call-to-action was hardly there at all a few weeks ago, but this time it was crystal-clear. As a fine example, Bora brought the 12 pitches to a close with a very strong conclusion aimed right at the investors:

So that’s Zifiz: we’ve got a huge market opportunity, a fantastic product and a great team. The only thing missing [short dramatic pause] is you. Thankyou.

Beyond these four points, there were other great improvements though. Fabienne Rousseau from Itipic blew me away with the clarity of her speech, which improved remarkably over the last month. Clément Cazalot from docTrackr integrated a striking but fun introduction which immediately showed the problem they solve. And Benjamin from Kawet showed the greatest improvement of the lot, integrated a brilliant video to advertise what their product does, and because he had worked very hard at his pitch, he was even able to improvise a few funny remarks which the audience loved. Proof that the more you prepare, the better you are able to improvise.

And lastly, the visuals were excellent: simple, with large font sizes, a minimum of text, striking images, good example videos, and plenty of black slides. I even have to praise PrepMyFuture, who produced the best slides I have ever seen which include a comic font – yes, I advised against using it, and still would prefer a different font, but it worked well enough and they used few enough words that it didn’t really matter. Great use of images.

I haven’t mentioned everyone but they all did so well and I am honoured to be a part of Le Camping. Alice, Aaron, Omar, Shawn and the whole team did a fine job making it all run so smoothly, finishing right on time (astounding for any event in Paris, let alone one like this), and giving an extremely professional impression.

Pierre Morsa and I received many compliments afterwards from entrepreneurs and investors alike about the value Ideas on Stage had added, and while of course that’s very welcome, the real praise should go to the entrepreneurs who put in the hard work and the people at Le Camping who made it all possible. They showed the power of a great pitch, and gave themselves a real chance to get funding. And if they raised the bar for all future pitch events, that can only be good news for us.

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…



Review of TEDx Paris Universités 2010

October 19, 2010

Not all of France’s students were demonstrating against the planned raising of the retirement age this Saturday. While thousands were in the streets of Paris fighting like Canute against a tide which is going to come in sooner or later, others were in the nearby Cité des Sciences at the first (and likely not the last) TEDx Paris Universités event.

A small reminder for those who haven’t yet been bitten by the TED bug: TED is the world’s leading conference featuring great presentations by leading stars, scientists and thinkers about practically anything interesting – any ‘idea worth spreading’. No speaker, no matter how important, has more than 18 minutes. The format is so successful that there are now many independently organised events called TEDx events, run under the TED umbrella and following the same format.

This one was organised by a group of students from various Paris universities (hence the name), but it was the first TEDx event anywhere to feature a mix of student speakers and ‘professional’ presenters.

I was there not only as a spectator, but also as a sponsor, since Ideas on Stage lent its support to the event to help prepare the presenters and fine-tune some of the slides. It was a wonderful experience to see such enthusiasm from the organisers, the volunteer helpers and the six student presenters.

There are some great photos of the event on Flickr.


There were a number of very interesting talks, but the most interesting thing to come out of the day from a presentation perspective was this very simple fact on which my business partner Pierre Morsa and I agreed wholeheartedly:

There are two categories of presenters: those who prepare, and those who suck.

Luckily, most of the presenters prepared very well, and none better than the six students who took the stage, each for 9 minutes. Their stories and visuals were well-prepared and they knew them perfectly, and they worked hard at their delivery. They had also worked hard to make the talks interesting and in some cases amusing.

One of the ‘professional’ presenters, Romain Lacombe, worked very hard at his talk and rewrote it at least twice (to my knowledge) after trying it out and receiving feedback. The end result was a great improvement, and showed the value of hard work and careful preparation.

Some other ‘pro’ presenters were also very good. I think in particular of Dominique Sciamma, who prepared well and asked for feedback, and who had created a very interesting talk. Michel Puech also gave a good talk at the end, although it was just as well Pierre Morsa had a chance to rework his slides, which in the end looked as good as text-based slides can. And a special word for Charles Mollet, the ringmaster, who spoke engagingly and convincingly, and is clearly at home on the stage.

Most of the other talks were good without being amazing, but there was one which almost sent me to sleep. This was the presenter who refused to rehearse, who refused to share his slides in advance, and who refused even to share the content of his talk beyond the title. It was hard to watch someone so brilliant deliver such a mind-numbing talk which might have worked in a lab but not at TED. Worse still, he set the bar very high with a title which was all about making science sexy. Yeah, right. I’ve seen sexier snails.

This amazingly talented scientist demonstrated how not to speak engagingly, how not to adapt to your audience, how not to use visual aids, and how not to construct a storyline. It’s quite remarkable that he managed to fit so many lessons into only 16 minutes. Pity they weren’t the ones he wanted to give. Yet he wasn’t a below-average speaker. Most talks are this boring and badly-constructed, and often with even worse slides. But not at TED.

So here’s my advice to event organisers everywhere: if a speaker refuses to rehearse with you, kick him or her out. Quickly. Nobody is too good to rehearse. Steve Jobs rehearses for weeks before one of his big events. TED is a big event. People expect fantastic presentations. And very often, even at the main TED conference, the best talks don’t come from the biggest names.

This event was no exception. The student speakers did the best job – all six of them. We had good PowerPoint slides, better Keynote slides, and two excellent Prezi visuals, all supporting well-constructed talks. In some cases, they could still have benefited from speaking more slowly, but that will come with age and experience.

The best thing though was that they had such passion, and none more so than Halim Madi who deservedly won the contest as best student presenter. His prize: a trip to Palm Springs for the 2011 TED Active event, and a chance to bring his talk to California – and personal coaching from Ideas on Stage to help him translate his talk into English and (of course) rehearse.

As the news coverage of the ongoing pension protests shows, French youth is not short of passion. It was extremely encouraging to see these students put so much of theirs into making this event such a great success. Congratulations and well done to them all: Alexandre Koenig, Elise Melon, Bruno de Saint Ange, Pénélope Liot, Sophie Charlotte Chenard, Victor de Noailly, Edouard Jacquet, Anatole Douaud, Quentin Blanchard, Nicolas Vergnet and all the many many others who were involved, plus the student speakers Alexis Bergès, Arthur Bodolec, Cécilia Durieu, Clément Cazalot, Victor de Noailly and of course the winner Halim Madi. You should all be proud of yourselves.

Now roll on TEDx Paris in January 2011… the bar is set high.

First reactions from ‘zen & the art of the pitch’

June 26, 2010

I have just returned home from Paris after a brilliant day.  Our event, ‘zen & the art of the pitch‘, appears to have been very well received judging by the various reactions in the twitterverse, and I hope we’ll see some posts soon from the many bloggers in the audience.

As the temperature outside touched 30°C (86°F), the temperature inside the theatre was uncommonly hot, and that was probably the biggest difficulty we had. The 3G reception wasn’t as good as it was when we first visited the theatre, so that restricted the tweets to a lower number than we might have had.  Those, however, were the only major negative points, and everything else ran like clockwork.

Of course the highlight was Garr Reynolds (blogger and author of Presentation Zen). Garr gave a typically exuberant, animated and enjoyable performance, and conveyed a huge amount in the space of an hour of ‘The art of presenting naked’.  He got a well-deserved standing ovation, and completely sold out the advance copies of his latest book, ‘Presentation Zen : Design’ in French which is due for release on July 6th. He also spent a long time signing books, and was thoroughly exhausted by the end. Garr really gave his all, and it was appreciated by everyone. Garr is not just extremely talented, he is a truly great guy too.

The other parts went well too. Laurence Onfroy (founder of TemptingPlaces) conveyed some very important learnings from her pitching experience, and as the New Entrepreneur of the Year in France, she was in a great position to help the many entrepreneurs in the audience to think about how they might pitch differently, by seeking to make a connection with people, adapting on the fly to make sure you are meeting their expectations, handling time carefully, and getting people to pull information from you rather than pushing it at them.

Pierre Morsa’s talk about ‘Death by Twitter’ went down very well, using true stories to show how social media are affecting presenters and leaders, whether they embrace social media or not, and how authenticity and sincerity, together with reactivity, are keys to making the best of social media.

Judging by the Twitter feed (#zenparis) my introduction went down very well too, even though I dared to talk about football and crack a few jokes at the expense of the unfortunate French team!

For me, though, the most positive point of the evening was the audience. With a little over 60 people there, the room could have been fuller, although it appeared quite full as it was. It was just the right number of people for the breaks and the cocktail reception, allowing plenty of networking. More important than the quantity though was the quality. This was a fantastic audience of people who value design and presentation, who mostly already embrace social media, and who are open to learn more. I had far more pleasure exploring pitching skills with 60 or so people like that than I could have with 500 people who were only mildly interested.

So I’d like to say a big thankyou to Laurence for her great talk, to Pierre for his part and all the hard work he put into organising the event, a huge thankyou to Garr for accepting our invitation to headline the event and for bringing it home so expertly, and finally thanks so much to everyone in the audience, who made the event special for us all, none more than me.  It will be a pleasure to see you again at future events.

I look forward to reading the various blog posts over the coming days, and invite everyone to enter a comment here with a link to your posts so we can all read them.

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