The french (presentation) revolution

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Guest blog post submitted by Annabelle Roberts @abelleroberts

Annabelle RobertsWhen I moved to France almost seven years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that this country left America in the dust for so many things. Cheese? Far superior. Pastries? No contest. Public transport? Again, us North Americans were beat and I couldn’t do anything but admit it the first time I took the ultra-fast TGV train from Paris to Lille.

It wasn’t until I started working in a French company as a communications coach that I felt better, like maybe there was a bit of justice in the world. Clients would come in needing help with high stakes presentations and they would whip out a set of slides that could only be classified as PowerPoint 1.0. At first I thought they were isolated incidents, but I was seeing it again and again and again. So, I officially knocked the French off the pedestal they had been on in my mind as they had serious work to do when it came to presenting, speaking to an audience and getting a message across to a crowd. On this one, the Americans 1, the French, 0.

From what I’ve observed, French businesses are at the beginning of what could be called a “Presentations Renaissance” so I sought out hubs of activity where this enlightenment was particularly apparent. I found one such hub when I mentored at Paris’s best known start-up incubator Le Camping.

It was while I was working with my little Campers, as they’re called, that I noticed a difference in their presentations and those of my corporate clients. Their pitches were shorter, more to the point, more personal, interactive and sometimes even funny. Regardless of how many times they’d pitched their business to press and investors, they would always take the time to adjust the tone/language to the public that they had in front of them.

They would still do very “French” things like spend three slides on their degrees and internships and try and jam their projections for the next five years into a seven-minute pitch which is where I would come in, but there was definitely a difference between what I was seeing from these bright-eyed engineers and developers and the executives and middle managers I was getting paid to coach at work. As was the case in the USA, the realization that “There is a better way” was rising up from this start-up community and working its way up from the bottom of the business pyramid to Fortune 500 companies.

In big business, the French don’t have many exemplary cases that are really embodying what will hopefully become the new norm. Partly because when someone is CEO of a company, discretion reigns, and partly because a “show” for a product launch or another big event that will involve a presentation is still considered “very American” (even if it works).

We do however have one recent example of someone who is daring to do things differently. He is getting results and it made waves here in France. Xavier Niel is the CEO of a huge telecommunications group called Iliad/Free. In January 2012, he announced that they would launch a mobile service that would undercut all other players in the Mobile market by half.

In front of 200 journalists, as well as a substantial public watching online, he did what is not done in France: He was the mascot of his message and his passion was apparent. He spoke to the public like peers and started off his presentation with a quirky, amusing video as opposed to the all-so-French Table of Contents that is at the beginning of so many presentations here. His slides were much more visual than we’re used to in the Hexagon and refreshingly bare bones for France.

He dared to be himself and people talked about this launch for this reason. Although he went on for way too long if you ask me, it’s an encouraging start for the French! Watch Mr. Niel below and contribute your two cents in the comments. I’ll make sure they’re heard this side of the Atlantic. XavierNiel_Free_Keynote_HD by Annie83

Note from Nancy: The French renamed Resonate. The French translation is called Vibrations.