Phil Waknell on How to Captivate a Million Minds - The Ideas on Stage Podcast

by Andrea Pacini

Andrea and Phil

In this episode of the Ideas on Stage podcast we spoke with our very own Phil Waknell.

Phil Waknell is one of Europe’s leading experts in the new art of presenting, and speaks regularly at major corporations and conferences about better business communication. He teaches business presenting at HEC Paris Executive Education, Europe’s leading executive business school, and is the author of Business Presentation Revolution.

Phil has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and TED(x) speakers to prepare and deliver high-impact presentations, as well as coaching leaders at many of Europe’s top companies, delivering seminars and workshops around the world, and acting as Master of Ceremonies for major international events.

His clients include Pierre Fabre, Orange, EDF, Microsoft, Sanofi and Kering among other leading international corporations. Phil works fluently in English and French, and he has lived and worked in five countries, giving him a very international outlook.

Prior to co-founding Ideas on Stage in 2010, Phil spent many years in leadership positions in Procter & Gamble and Hewlett-Packard, and holds an Executive MBA from HEC Paris.

In this episode we talked about his journey to a million TEDx views.

Transcript

Congratulations on your TEDx Talk surpassing a million views! How does it feel to reach such a wide audience?

It feels humbling. The view count is beyond what I imagined, but more importantly, it’s about making a difference, not the fame or wealth.

Have there been any memorable interactions with people impacted by your talk?

Yes, one that stands out is when a teacher in Japan used my talk to inspire her students. It had a profound impact on a quiet student, who later won a public speaking contest.

What led you to share the Audience Transformation RoadmapTM in your TEDx talk?

Influencers like Seth Godin and Simon Sinek inspired me to share impactful ideas broadly. Sharing the Audience Transformation RoadmapTM aligns with my mission to make a significant impact through simple, powerful concepts.

How important is rehearsing for a successful presentation?

Rehearsing is crucial. It’s not just about memorising words; it’s about internalising your message and feeling confident in your delivery. Proper rehearsal helps manage pacing and improves the overall impact, ensuring that you’re comfortable and the presentation resonates with the audience.

Can you explain the key moments in a TED Talk that every speaker should focus on?

Every TED Talk should captivate the audience from the beginning, maintain their interest through compelling content, and end strongly to encourage further thought or action. Specifically, the title must grab attention; the introduction should hook the audience immediately, and the conclusion needs to inspire them to think, discuss or act on the talk’s message.

Did you have to handle any unexpected situations during your talk?

Yes. At one point during my talk, the audience unexpectedly began applauding at a moment that wasn’t the planned conclusion. This led to a bit of confusion as the MC, thinking I had finished, walked onto the stage. I had to quickly and gracefully handle the situation by indicating to the MC and the audience that the talk was not yet concluded. Staying composed and adapting swiftly was key to maintaining control of the presentation and ensuring it continued smoothly until the actual end.

Did you have to deal with any technical issue? 

Yes, the countdown timer was off, which is crucial for timing the presentation accurately. Without it, I had to rely solely on my practice and intuition to gauge the timing. Remaining calm and adjusting my pacing on the fly was essential. This adaptability allowed me to deliver the content effectively, despite not having that critical piece of visual feedback.

Phil, you are well known for creating special moments in your presentations that leave a lasting impression…

I focus on what I like to call MAGIQ moments, which stands for “Makes A Great Impression Quickly.” These are instances within a presentation that captivate the audience with their drama, insight or emotional depth. Creating these moments involves employing powerful visuals, surprising facts, or interesting stories that reinforce the core message memorably. For example, Jamie Oliver once demonstrated the amount of sugar in school milk not just with a graph, but by dramatically pouring a wheelbarrow full of sugar cubes onto the stage during his TED Talk. This vivid illustration powerfully underscored his point, making the data tangible and unforgettable. Such tactics are what I aim to include into my presentations to maximise impact and deepen audience engagement.

Looking back, is there anything you would change about your TEDx talk?

Reflecting on my presentation, I might have used fewer slides to allow more space for the audience to connect with me. Also, the lighting on stage affected the appearance of my suit, which I didn’t anticipate. These are minor elements, but tweaking them could improve the overall experience. 

What advice would you give to aspiring TEDx speakers?

Aspiring TEDx speakers should focus on the value their talk can bring to the audience. It’s essential to share knowledge generously and ensure your topic offers unique and insightful perspectives. Align your talk with the theme of the TEDx event and reach out to event curators with a well-thought-out proposal that genuinely contributes to the discussion.

How should potential speakers engage with TEDx curators?

Speakers should propose talks that provide fresh perspectives and fit seamlessly into the event’s theme. Understanding what the curators are looking for and how your talk can add unique value is crucial. This alignment increases the likelihood of selection and ensures that your talk resonates with the audience and the event’s goals.

Could you explain some of the strategies that aspiring TEDx speakers can use to get selected?

Many TEDx events use a community voting system to select speakers, which encourages local participation and democratises the selection process. Aspiring speakers should consider entering these competitions, as they provide an excellent platform to showcase their ideas and gauge public interest.

For example, I entered the TEDxSaclay competition myself and was selected through community voting rather than leveraging professional contacts. This approach validated the public’s interest in my ideas and made the achievement feel even more rewarding. I’m grateful for the support and believe it was a testament to the relevance and impact of my talk.

Where can listeners connect with you online?

The best place to find me is on LinkedIn. I’m active there and always open to engaging with people interested in effective communication. 

As we wrap up, what final piece of advice would you give to our listeners about public speaking and presentations?

The most important thing to remember is to provide real value – think of it as ROI, Return on Investment. When you speak, you are asking for your audience’s time, so ensure you deliver content that is worth their investment. If your audience feels they’ve gained valuable insights, they are more likely to engage with you again.

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