TEDx Paris 2011 – An inside (re)view

January 19, 2011

Over a month ago, while we were preparing the speakers for last weekend’s fantastic TEDx Paris 2011, Prof Francine Leca asked us:

But why do you all do this, and for free?

As the conference drew to a close, and Prof Leca brought the audience to its 2000 feet, I wrote her a short message explaining simply:

You are the answer to your own question.

It was simply an amazing experience to be involved with so many remarkable people, speakers and organisers, who were all full of the TED spirit which is a thirst for knowledge, discovery, meaning and above all sharing. Francine Leca is an astounding lady whose charity has saved the lives of 1600 children whose hearts would not have let them live without an operation their families could not afford. She gives and keeps on giving. What could be more TED than that?

I also had the opportunity of working with many of the other speakers, some more than others, but even the little oratory tips clearly helped. One speaker stopped crossing his arms and another stopped clutching his head and umming, just in time for the big event. Judging by the many tweets, nobody found the presentations amateurish, and some even claimed that they were so polished as to be not very French. This shows how much the speakers worked at their delivery as well as their content, and some did make a huge effort.

Some did not want or need coaching. Etienne Klein speaks in public all the time, and passionately hates rehearsing, so there was no point forcing rehearsals on him – but he showed that he didn’t need any help. Catherine Vidal needed no help either, although she did take the time to rehearse with us to be sure she was hitting the right notes. Francine Leca improvised well around a defined framework, but a rehearsal would have eliminated one slight mix-up on the slides.

On the other hand, rehearsals and preparation certainly helped a number of talks. The first time I heard Etienne Parizot, I understood precisely nothing, but I gave him the idea of opening with 3D TV – something people can relate to – and suggested using a prop to explain his concept. He ended up using a different prop (a large cardboard box) which worked excellently, and while his talk was still quite hard to grasp because of the subject matter, the structure was clear and his enthusiasm transported the audience with him into his four-dimensional virtual reality.

Judging by all the comments and tweets, Etienne’s was among the more popular talks of the day, and that’s simply down to strong preparation using powerful storytelling techniques, and a very visible passion for his subject. If only more speakers showed that much passion.

Likewise, the bestselling novelist Bernard Werber was very interested in any ideas and tips to improve his talk, and it ended up being almost unrecognisable from the first draft. Most of the ideas were his, but he benefited from bouncing them off the team members and integrating our suggestions in some cases, and while like most people he didn’t enjoy rehearsing, he realised how much it was helping him to improve his talk. Again, a little more rehearsing might have helped, but overall he did a fine job especially considering he’s not a regular public speaker.

Bernard was another person I felt honoured to work with, and we ended up talking about writing and communicating. It turns out that his method for constructing novels is very similar to the Ideas on Stage method for creating presentations, and he gave me all sorts of writing advice. It is often said that you get out of something what you put into it. I put plenty into TEDx Paris this year, but boy did I get a lot out of it.

In terms of the slides I created for the speakers, my greatest satisfaction was with those for the renowned journalist and editor Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber. They were clear, simple and attractive, with relevant images, and it was easy for Jean-Louis to handle them and talk to them. We had worked them carefully to have only a small amount of text on each slide, just the key messages, and it was wonderful to see that all those key messages were tweeted and retweeted verbatim.

My overall impression of this edition of TEDx Paris was strongly positive. Of a huge number of tweets, very few were in any way negative, and while different people seemed to appreciate different talks, that’s fine – there was something for everyone, and a whole bunch of fantastic ideas and approaches to take away and share.

The music (from Irma and Djazia, as well as Jacques Dupriez) was excellent, the line-up of speakers was remarkable, and the organisation was top-class (note: I coached speakers and helped with slides, that’s all, so I’m crediting Michel, Sylvain, Xavier and their team and not myself). All in all, an extremely memorable event. TEDx Paris is now an event to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait for the 2012 edition.

We all left the theatre buzzing with ideas, full of energy and motivation, and determined to do something, anything, to share that energy and make the world a better place. That is what TED is all about. As Bernard Werber said at the end of his talk, “Everything good that will happen to our children will be conceived by somebody who’s alive today. Maybe one of you.” Now there’s a call to action…

Photo credits to Olivier Ezratty – his excellent gallery is here.


The Magical Missing Ingredient

October 28, 2010

I saw a talk recently which ticked many of the important boxes for a good talk. It was well-constructed, the speaker knew her talk exceptionally well without needing notes or slides, there were persuasive points, she spoke clearly and with good use of pauses, and there was a clear message.

Why, then, did I feel it wasn’t a great talk? It’s because there was a missing ingredient, and without it, the talk felt like an eclair without chocolate, or a balloon with no air.

So what was this magical missing ingredient? Herself. There was nothing personal at all in her talk. Why was she talking about this topic? Why did she care? The listener had no idea. Her theory and second-hand examples were not nearly powerful enough.

People don’t want you to spout facts or talk about things that happened to other people. If you’re not the best person to talk about your subject, choose another subject – or another speaker.

Let me illustrate the alternative. This morning I watched a fantastic TEDx talk which had a massive personal element. Scott Stratten (of Unmarketing fame) talked at TEDx Oakville about himself, his family, and things which happened to them. He talked about this story with passion and real emotion, and truly invested himself in his talk.

Watch and enjoy – and try not to cry.

Right, now you know what I’m talking about. Could you imagine that talk being anywhere near as powerful if Scott had talked about these same things happening to someone else? Of course not. Scott had a message for us, and he got that message across by engaging our emotions.

He laid himself bare. This was extremely naked presenting. Scott talked about things he did and felt which he’s not so proud of now – his human failings. He spoke with genuine emotion about his son, his ex-wife and his girlfriend. He didn’t just relate facts – he brought us into his story and made us feel what he was feeling. That’s the magical ingredient which all too often is missing. Scott was the absolute best person to talk about his subject, because it was HIS subject.

He also used some very good techniques, which I’ll mention in passing:

  • An amusing opening, about him and Justin Bieber – which also served to introduce him as a well-known social media influencer for those who weren’t aware
  • Frequent repetition of key themes (“being a big deal isn’t a big deal”, “you just keep going”)
  • No distracting slides – this story didn’t need any
  • A clear conclusion which speaks directly to TED audiences (“I think that’s an idea worth spreading”)

CONCLUSION

The magical ingredient for your talk is yourself. Think of your talk as a balloon, and yourself as the air to pump it up. Make sure you put enough of yourself into it, your own experience, your passion, your emotions, your convictions and even your failings, and the balloon will fly.

However, don’t pump it up too much with “look what I did, look how great I am” – otherwise the balloon will burst. Nobody wants to hear someone talk about how fantastic they are. If you give a great talk full of passion, experience and personal emotion, and have the strength to show your human failings, they’ll realise for themselves how fantastic you are.


Presentation Pitfalls #8 – Reading instead of connecting

September 6, 2010

The speech was fantastic, one of the best I have heard. It must have taken a long time to craft. It was a masterpiece of motivational and inspirational rhetoric.

The speaker’s voice was deep and powerful, well suited to the stage, and carried well in the large marquee thanks to the excellent sound system. He spoke slowly, carefully and clearly.

There were no visuals, but the speech didn’t need any. At least there were no sub-standard visuals to distract us from the speaker and his message.

Sound good so far? Of course. So what made this one of the most painful speeches I have sat through in recent years? Read the rest of this entry »


Presentation Pitfalls #7: Slide synch (or lack of)

September 1, 2010

“And the winner is…” called the presenter as he carefully opened the ceremonial envelope. The huge room was filled with silent yet eager anticipation.

He then paused, wondering why everyone was suddenly talking, laughing and groaning, then dutifully took the card from the envelope, and read out the winner’s name.

What could have gone wrong? Slide synch, that’s what.

While the speaker was fiddling with his envelope, someone else advanced the slides too quickly, and revealed the winner’s name to all but the speaker before the envelope had even been opened. Doh! Not only did this make the speaker look silly, it made everyone think less of the organization of the event, both for the Powerpoint slip-up and for even using ceremonial envelopes when the winners were already on the slides. 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 »


Event: zen & the art of the pitch

June 15, 2010

Garr Reynolds on stageI am delighted to announce that on June 25th, Garr Reynolds will be joining us in Paris for a memorable show: zen & the art of the pitch.

Presentation experts need no introduction to Garr. As the author of the excellent Presentation Zen and the recent follow-up Presentation Zen: Design, Garr has a worldwide following and universal respect.

Garr will headline this event with a keynote entitled: “Presentation Zen Design: the art of presenting naked”. If you are in Paris – or could be – on June 25th, you absolutely have to be there.

BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE HERE – BEFORE THEY RUN OUT!

Next on the impressive list of speakers is Laurence Onfroy, founder and CEO of TemptingPlaces, who was recently voted New Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 by readers of “Le nouvel entrepreneur” magazine.  Laurence’s talk, “Pitching for Success”, will cover the important lessons she learned about pitching your business to customers, suppliers and investors.

Last but not least, presentation coach and co-founder of Ideas on Stage Pierre Morsa will deliver a fascinating talk entitled: “Death by Twitter: how social media can kill your talk – and how to avoid it”. This is a must-see for any entrepreneur and business leader, and promises to be very entertaining as well as instructive.

(In case you’re wondering, I’ll be there too, introducing all these great speakers.)

The theme is all about pitching or selling your business, your ideas and your value proposition, and while we expect it to appeal especially to entrepreneurs, there’s plenty to entertain and inform anyone who uses presentations to sell or persuade. If you’ve never seen Garr speak before, this is your chance – don’t miss it.

Important note: the whole event will be run in English.

The event will conclude with a cocktail reception – one of many things the French do best – which will be a great opportunity to network, and perhaps get signed copies of Garr’s books.

Tickets are now on sale here and places are very  limited – we expect them to sell out very quickly, so mark your diaries and get your tickets before they run out.

Place: La Comédie Saint-Michel, 95 boulevard Saint Michel, 75005 Paris, France

Date: Friday June 25th, 2010

Time: 4.30pm-7.00pm, followed by a cocktail reception.  Doors open at 4.00pm for a welcome coffee.

Tickets: on sale here


Speaking internationally

May 19, 2010

This month, Pierre Morsa and I ran a seminar for executives at HEC Paris, all about International Presentation Skills. It is a fascinating and all-too-rare subject which I recommend any speaker to spend time learning about.

(Incidentally, this was our first training event under the Ideas on Stage banner – our new company aiming to be the foremost presentation specialist in France. More on this soon.)

I won’t attempt to summarize a whole day’s seminar in one post, but here are a few snippets which will be relevant to anyone who has to make a presentation in English to a group comprising non-native speakers of English.

Overall there are two particular barriers in this situation, which likely won’t appear to the same degree if a native English speaker is addressing other native English speakers from the same country:

  1. Different cultural filters
  2. The language barrier

We all have our own filters which colour how we see things. As the French writer Anaïs Nin put it, “We don’t see things as they are – we see them as we are.” There is a very strong scientific basis for this, but I won’t go into detail on the Reticular Activating System here. The simple point is that people from culture X share many filters, whereas people from culture Y share other filters which may be different or polar opposites.

For example, in most Western cultures, direct eye contact is seen as a sign of strength and respect. In Japan, direct eye contact is considered most impolite in many circumstances. In some countries, burping or belching is considered very impolite, whereas in others, it is a sign that you enjoyed your meal. In many countries, a dog is a friendly pet whereas in others, a dog is a nice meal. Why? People in different cultures are conditioned to see things in different ways.

As a speaker, you always need to put yourself in the place of your audience, and see things from their point of view. When your audience comes from a different culture – or multiple different cultures – this is more difficult, but also more important. By understanding your audience and tailoring your presentation to them, you will make yourself easier to understand, you will show respect for their culture, and you will avoid falling into traps such as making jokes about mad cows in India…

As for the language barrier, this is where non-native speakers of English have a major advantage over most Anglo-Saxons.  Whereas native speakers tend to speak quickly and use a very wide vocabulary, non-native speakers will usually speak more slowly, and will usually use a far more limited vocabulary, which is much closer to the vocabulary known by the non-Anglo-Saxon audience.

This is the principle behind Globish, a term coined by the French businessman Jean-Paul Nerrière to denote a very simple version of English, with only 1500 words, which is used widely between non-native speakers to communicate in English, which is often a lingua franca between people from different countries.

The key point for Anglo-Saxons to remember is that they are not trying to impress anyone with their immensely rich vocabulary – they are trying to communicate a message. It is therefore vital to use simple words and language, repeat and paraphrase regularly, check understanding, and above all, speak slowly and clearly with plenty of pauses.

This is a huge and important subject, which could easily have filled more than a one-day seminar, so this post is an extremely high-level summary. I repeat my recommendation to learn more if you ever need to present to non-Anglo-Saxons in English, whether you are a native speaker or not – and if you would like Ideas on Stage to come and organise a seminar for your company (in English or French), we’d be delighted to hear from you (email: info@ideasonstage.com).


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