Andrea Pacini is the author of the best-selling book Confident Presenter, a presentation coach and Head of Ideas on Stage UK. He specializes in working with business owners, leaders and their teams who want to become more confident presenters. Since 2010 Ideas on Stage has worked with thousands of clients around the world, including organizations like Microsoft, Spotify, eBay, The World Bank and over 500 TEDx speakers. Andrea is on a mission to stop great ideas from failing just because of the way they are presented. His vision is to help hundreds of thousands of business leaders inspire their audiences, increase their influence, and make a positive impact in the world.

Episode Notes

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PolicyViz Podcast Episode #248: Andrea Pacini

Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I am your host, Jon Schwabish. Are you interested in improving how you deliver your presentations? Are you interested in creating better slides and learning what not to do with your slides? Well, this episode of the podcast is for you. I’m very excited to have Andrea Pacini join me on the show. Andrea is from Ideas on Stage where they work with presenters from a whole host of sectors, and Andrea is going to talk about how to improve the way you present your information particularly on some of the coaching that they do at Ideas on Stage. So I’m very excited to talk with Andrea. I was on the Ideas on Stage podcast just a couple of months ago. It was great to have him join me on this show. So with no further ado, let’s get right to it. Here is my conversation with Andrea on this week’s episode of the PolicyViz podcast.

Jon Schwabish: Hey Andrea, good to see you. Welcome to the show. How are things?

Andrea Pacini: Great to see you too, Jon, great to see you again thanks for having me.

JS: Yeah. How are things?

AP: I’m good, very good everything okay, what about you?

JS: It’s getting cooler here in Virginia, which is fine, I’m good with the fall. So I’m perfectly happy to have a little bit cooler here. So I’m excited to have you on because you very kindly invited me to your podcast, and we talked more about data visualization, so I think this is a good sort of partnering episode, because we’ll talk about presentation skills, which is what you do over Ideas on Stage. So I thought maybe we just start with introductions, your background, and how you got to Ideas on Stage and what your role is there.

AP: Yeah, sure. So I’m the head of Ideas on Stage, UK. I’m in London, so I look after our clients in the UK . You know Phil Waknell, who looks after a client in France, he’s based in Paris. And in terms of background, Jon, the reason why I do what I do, and also the reason why I ended up then with Ideas on Stage is because when I was a little kid, growing up in Italy, I grew up in a family of very small business owners, my parents have always been running their own very small business together, they still do; and so, as a kid, I saw their challenges, because raising four kids while trying to run a business is not easy, but I also saw their spark and entrepreneurial mindset and proactive approach to life; and so, that’s why I always wanted to be an entrepreneur to run my own thing. Now, in reality, that remained a dream for a long time, because before doing what I do now, I tried many things, all of them failed; but it was useful, because in that process, what I realized was that there are so many great ideas that fail, not because of the ideas themselves, but just because of the way we present them, and that’s why Jon, to cut it short, eventually, that’s why I became a presentation coach. That’s why today my mission is to stop great ideas from failing just because of the way they are presented. And at Ideas on Stage, our vision is to help hundreds of thousands of business leaders, inspire their audiences, increase their influence, and why not make a positive impact in the world.

JS: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about those business leaders, do they come to you generally with a specific presentation and a specific problem, or are they just coming to you and saying, look, I want to be a better presenter – I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both. And then what I’m really curious in, and I think we should spend much time talking about it is the coaching aspect of things, so what does that look like, what’s that process like? And then, I’m going to sort of quiz you on some of your, like, top and bottom, like, things that people do. But yeah, who are the folks that are coming to you all, and then, what does that coaching look like?

AP: Yeah, so it’s, as you said, a bit of both, so when it comes to one to one coaching with entrepreneurs, business owners, business leaders, either they come to us because they have an important presentation coming up, and they want to be prepared for that presentation; so we prepare that presentation together from any perspective, message, visuals, the way they deliver the message, so it’s the content, which is the more – we do work on the content, which I believe is the most important thing, but it’s also about how you deliver your content. But you don’t have to have an actual presentation coming up. Often we have people who come to us because even if they are not working on a particular presentation, they simply want to improve their general presentation skills, because for them presenting is an important part of wall of what they do. So these two situations, then also we work with groups, so we run presentation skills’ workshops for groups of people, again, who want to improve or even transform their ability to pitch, present, and communicate their ideas.

Now, in terms of the coaching, you asked about the process, now the way it works is this, it doesn’t really matter, so if you have an actual presentation coming up, then the coaching is based around that particular presentation. So as we prepare that presentation together, there’s also a coaching element, so that even after the presentation, you can go back to the process and apply over and over again to all your future presentations. That’s how we like to work. If you don’t have an actual presentation coming up, what we like to do is we create a test presentation together with a client, so we want to make it practical, relevant to them, not theoretical; and we ask our clients to think about a scenario, a typical scenario, which means, okay, who is your audience normally, and what’s your topic, what do you want to talk about. So we start from the scenario and we create a test presentation, and the process is this, there are five steps for us, Jon. The first one, we call it foundation; the foundation of the presentation process is about understanding your audience, knowing how to analyze your audience, their needs, and the context, because if we don’t do that, it’s very hard to create a presentation which is relevant to them, and we have frameworks to do that. The second step, we call it ideation, so we need to understand, and this is part of the coaching, we need to understand, and we need to know and practice how to generate ideas, how to identify key messages, we need to brainstorm in a structured way thinking about what do we want our audience to know after the presentation, what do they need to feel after the presentation, what do they need to do, what actions do we want them to take. So that’s the ideation phase.

The third step is creation. Once we have ideas, we need to be able to translate these ideas into a clear and engaging storyline. A storyline is a presentation structure from the beginning to the end. So at the beginning, how do you capture the audience’s attention? How do you communicate your key messages in a clear way? All the way to the conclusion – you want to conclude in an effective way with a clear punch line. So that’s the creation phase. Then step number four: illustration. This is not always needed; for example, you are very strong when it comes to slide design yourself or so from a data visualization perspective, we don’t have to, but often, using a tool like PowerPoint or any other tool, it doesn’t make any difference, but we need to do it well, we need to avoid the typical death by PowerPoint, as you know. And then, the last piece is the connection element, which means that presenters need to be able to make a good connection with the audience, and so, we work on that delivery skills as well. So first, it’s the message, then it’s the visual aspect, if needed, and then it’s the way you deliver your message. Jon, and then, I’ll stop here is the when we think about presentation skills, many people immediately assume that we’re talking about delivery, and delivery is an important aspect, but for me, it’s 20%. 80% is your message. If you don’t have a compelling message, which is simple, clear, relevant to the audience, it doesn’t matter how beautiful your slides are, it also doesn’t matter how good you are from a delivery perspective.

JS: Right. And it sounds like this five-step process is really, like if I summarize it, it’s about strategizing, right? It’s about building that strategy as opposed to what I think probably most people do, which is they open PowerPoint or Google Slides, and they just start making slides but they don’t set up this strategy to think about what they want to show or say and how they want to say it. So, when you work with folks, how do you maybe rein them in a little bit from saying, oh, we just got to go and make the slides, and that will be okay, and then, I could just talk through them, like, how do you pull people back? Because I’m guessing that’s most people’s sort of like instinct is I’ll make the slides, and then, I’ll just kind of talk through them.

AP: Yeah, you’re right, and it’s one of the key mistakes we see that the very first thing most people do is they just open PowerPoint or, again, any other presentation tool, and they put together some slides. We know that that’s not the first step. And yes, so it’s part of the education that you need to do with your audience, with your network, with your clients, potential clients, and part of that education is making people understand that if they want to become more confident presenters, more impactful, more effective communicators, a lot of people think that confidence comes from either wishful thinking, innate self-belief, or natural talent, or a lot of people think that, again, it comes just from your delivery skills, but no, confidence has nothing to do with that. Confidence comes from what you stand, the strategy, the process, there’s a structured way of thinking about presenting, and not following that structure, the process is often what creates discomfort when we are in front of an audience. It’s also what often creates fear of public speaking, for example. And also, part of the education is for people to understand that confidence also comes from familiarity, has nothing to do with PowerPoint. Familiarity means that the more familiar we are with a certain situation, the more we do certain things, the more confident we become at doing those things, including presenting, speaking in public. For example, Jon, some time ago, I watched a video of Kobe Bryant, he was answering some questions, it was an interview, and one of the questions was, Kobe, how is it possible that every time I see you playing, you always look so confident. And he said, the only reason why you think I look confident is because when you see me doing certain things, I’ve done those things 1000 times before. And he said, confidence comes from preparation. And the process that we talked about is part of that preparation. So it’s about trying to make our audience understand that that’s what really makes a difference.

JS: Right. So I’m curious about the part of the coaching, where you help people actually speak better. So I completely understand this. If I strategize and I plan and I have a goal in mind, and I have all of the foundations and ideation I have all that, and I’m more familiar with my content already with those, I’m going to be a better speaker, how do you help people when they want to take it to that that next level, like, what are the techniques, what are the strategies, what are the exercises you do with folks when it comes to just standing on a stage, you’re the CEO of some Fortune 500 company, and you want to be the Steve Jobs of the world, right, what does that sort of coaching look like when it comes to the actual standing in front of an audience and speaking?

AP: Yep, so that’s the delivery side of things. So how can we improve our delivery skills, and the way we do – and then, I’ll give you some practical techniques. The way we do it is whether we are working on an actual presentation or a test presentation at some point as part of a coaching program, we encourage our clients to deliver that presentation in front of us, in front of me or some of my colleagues, and then, we provide feedback for improvement based on a framework that we use. Now, we have a method at Ideas on Stage, we call it Presentation SCORE – score like scoring like in football or soccer in the US. Now, SCORE stands for five principles: Simple, Clear, Original, Related to the audience, and Enjoyable. And so, all of the delivery techniques are based around this framework. Now, Simple, for example, the way you speak simply is one of the things you can do is you need to learn to use simple language, simple words, simple sentences, conversational language, everyday language, and there are exercises to work on that. Also, avoiding verbal fillers, filler words, things like um, err, for example, if you want to avoid verbal fillers, the only solution is awareness, you need to be aware of whether or not you are using any kind of verbal fillers, like actually you know, I don’t know, that’s why I’m watching your presentation. And so, to make you aware, either you work with a presentation coach, or you can record yourself, and you can watch the recording, and you can count, for example, as a practical exercise, you can count, or you write it down, how many times you use any kind of verbal fillers. And then, it’s just a matter of practicing, practicing, practicing. If you practice while being aware of something, it’s going to be easier to avoid it. These are a couple of things.

JS: Before you go on, I want to reinforce that because when I first started doing sort of bigger presentations, one of the things I did, I had – I was invited to give sort of a talk, I was pretty nervous about, we had a like big DataViz conference, and was the first time I actually recorded myself, I just used the voice notes app on the iPhone, and exactly what you just said, I could count immediately within the first 30-45 seconds of listening to myself just practicing, I could pick up those ahs and ums right away, and just like you said, you could hear yourself and it is difficult. I think everybody agrees, it’s difficult to listen to yourself, which is why I think working with you and your team is so valuable, right, because I don’t have to listen to my recording, you can give me the live feedback. But you can immediately hear yourself with those verbal filler words or verbal tics and just counting them I think is such a good tip for people, and it doesn’t have to be particularly difficult to do, you just record yourself on whatever, we all have these recording devices all over the place, and then, just listen to yourself and you’re set to go. So anyway, sorry, I wanted to interrupt because that’s such a great lesson I think people can take away. Okay, so verbal tics, so that’s one thing.

AP: The other one was also using simple language.

JS: Right.

AP: Also, if you want to speak clearly, we work with our clients to help them from time to time, slow down, or even better pose – we need to have the courage to pose. Dale Carnegie said, apparently, that silence is one of the most eloquent things in the world, and I love that quote, because you have silence and eloquence, which is all about speaking. So it looks like a contradiction, but it’s not. Silence is very powerful in communication. So I’ll give you a practical technique for you, Jon, for our listeners, if you want to train yourself to slow down to pose before or after an important message, because there are benefits, you give your audience time to digest your key messages, you give yourself time to think about what to say next; every time you pose, for example, after a key message, that increases the impact of what you’ve just said. And an exercise is this, as you deliver your next presentation from time to time, when you think that it would make sense to pose, then try and exaggerate the pose by saying a word of your choice, it could be PolicyViz, for example, just any word of your choice, and you say three times. And then, you continue with your presentation. And then, after another pose, you say the same word three times. The idea is to exaggerate it – of course, that’s not what you want to do in the real situation, but as a rehearsal exercise, you want to exaggerate it, because if you don’t, and if you’re not used to it, then in the real presentation with the adrenaline and everything, you will lose the pose. Whereas as an exercise, if you exaggerate it, it’s going to be easy for you to find the right balance in the real presentation. So that’s another technique.

Another one, for example, another principle is related from a delivery perspective means it has to be your delivery, it has to be connected, related to the audience. How can we make a good connection with the audience? Well, eye contact, for example. So we work with a client, depending on what the scenario is, the way you make eye contact in person is different from the way you make eye contact online. But the principle is the same, we need to make eye contact, so we work on that. Also, body language, posture, gestures, hand gestures, the more you move your hands, the more dynamic you are as a speaker and everybody likes dynamism. But we need to understand what – these two things, Jon, when you have a conversation with a friend, for all of us, whether we are aware, we are not, we do move our hands, and that’s because we know the audience, we know a friend, we know what we’re talking about. As soon as the dynamic is a little bit different, more formal, we’re giving a presentation, often these two things start taking on a life of their own. We don’t know what to do with them. So we work with our clients to show them what they can do with the hands.

And then, there are also things like to make your delivery more original and enjoyable, you can change your voice, you can change the way you use your voice, and this is because you want to avoid being a monotonous speaker, nobody likes monotonous speakers. You want to become a dynamic vocal speaker, you can be dynamic with your body language, you can be dynamic with your voice, and there are exercises – and then, I’ll stop here, Jon – for you to learn how to change your voice, to make it more original and enjoyable. And the key is, to, all of us, we have our own monotone, our own standard tone; and sometimes, from time to time, during a presentation, we need to find ways to move away from a standard tone, otherwise, it’s monotonous, it’s boring. To do that, you need to make it pop. So, for example, if you want to emphasize a word, or a phrase, you can make it pop, you can punch the most important words. Now, I’m punching the word punching. You can make certain words longer to emphasize them. Now, I’m making the word longer, longer. You can over articulate certain words; again, now I’m over articulating the word, over articulating. You can increase your volume. If you want the audience to pay attention to your important message, you can go up in volume, and you can achieve the same benefit by going down in volume. Why? Because anyway, you are going away from your standard tone. So you see these are all, of course, this is advanced communication skills, it does take time and practice, but these are the kind of exercises we use, we do when we work with our clients.

JS: Yeah, those are great. So I think I got most of them down, so we’ve got simple plain language, we’ve got avoiding those ahs and ums, those filler words, filler phrases, we’ve got adding pauses, we’ve got connecting with the audience through eye contact, body language, and we’ve got changing your voice, articulating louder, quieter. All right, this is great. The other thing I wanted to ask you about was stories and storytelling. You’ve mentioned it already a couple of times. This is one of the places I find when I work with people, they get a little, I’m not sure, frustrated, worried, nervous about maybe their stories aren’t as engaging or as interesting, and I think a lot of people feel like, you know, the stories they need to tell in their presentation need to be some sort of like universal truth, right, it needs to be like the story that people are going to tell their kids and their grandkids. And so, I’m curious about how you work with your clients and your team to help folks tell stories and what, and how you just think about storytelling, and what that means in the context of these primarily kind of business presentations, where I’m guessing, stories kind of have a particular meaning or approach.

AP: Yeah, sure. So storytelling, first of all, let’s talk quickly about why it’s so important, and the reason why it’s so important is because if we look how our brain works, now, we all know that people remember stories much more than just facts and figures. Now, don’t get me wrong, facts and figures, very important, but we need to touch both areas of people’s brain, we have the logical side, and we address that with facts and figures; but we all have the emotional sign as well, and we address that with storytelling, analogies, anecdotes, things like that. Now, you’re right, a story doesn’t have to be the once upon a time type of story. It could be a personal story, something that happened to you. I’d give you three categories if you want. You have personal stories, so something that happened to you, it could be a very simple example, very brief example, it could be a story about other people, so something that happened to somebody else. Of course, Jon, if it’s connected, if the story is connected to the point you want to get across, that’s the key – storytelling is not about telling a story for the sake of it. We want to tell a story to make a point, because we know that when we do that, people will remember the story and the point we want to get across.

So personal stories, stories about other people, stories of success, so, say, for example, that you’ve already worked with a client, an organization, and they have already successfully implemented the strategy that you have in mind, the idea that you want to get across. Well, that’s a story. So if we think about it, there’s always a story to tell, and the problem with most presentations is that they are 99% facts, and then, if we are lucky, 1% is story. It’s a bit unbalanced. So one of the best ways for us to make our presentations more original and enjoyable, two principles of the SCORE method is to use stories. And then, let me give you, and also, for listeners, a practical framework that they can apply when it comes to telling stories. You mentioned that people find it uncomfortable sometimes to tell stories, one of the reasons why that’s the case is because whether we are aware of it or not, but we always make it about us – we’ve done that, I did that, we achieved that. And this is uncomfortable for you as the presenter, but it’s also uncomfortable for the audience. You don’t want to make it about you, you need to make it about them, about the audience.

The best framework I found, especially when you wanted to share a case study, for example, a story of success, comes from a book I read some time ago by I think Mike Adams, Seven Stories Every Salesperson Must Tell, and apart from salesperson, it’s a universal framework that you can apply in many different contexts. And by the way, any presentation is a sales presentation if we really think about it, but we can talk about it later if you want. Now, the framework is this, four steps, setting, complication, turning point, resolution. Setting is as simple as time and place. So if you say you are in front of an audience, for example, last year, we worked with the name of the client in Virginia, or in London, so time and place. As soon as you start with a sentence with time and place, the audience knows that you are about to tell them a story, to give them an example. Then, complication, here you want to briefly explain the complication from the perspective of the client. That’s the key. It’s not about you. So these are the challenges, the obstacles, the problem that the client or whatever you’re talking about was facing before they met you. Then turning point, here, yes, you have an opportunity to talk about what you’ve done with the client, for example, if we take this example of a client, and so, you have an opportunity to explain how you’ve helped the client.

But then the other key here is the fourth step, the resolution. This is again the resolution from the perspective of the client. So this is the success, the outcome that the client has achieved, this is what they achieved. This is what they did, not what you did, and that’s the key. This is something that also, Donald Miller talks about in his book, Building a Storybrand. He says that you are not the hero of the story, your client or your audience is the hero of the story. That’s why we need to make it about them. And once we understand that our role, as Miller says, our role is not the role of a hero, our role is the role of a guide who gives the hero, the client, the audience, a plan, an idea, an insight, a product, a service that helps them solve the complication and get to the resolution, once we understand that, then everything changes from a storytelling perspective.

JS: Terrific. That’s great. So I think folks have a good, hopefully, have a good sense of why stories are important, how to at least think about framing their stories, and then, they can go forward. And, of course, I’ll put links to all the books you just mentioned and Ideas on Stage on the show notes for the episode. One last thing I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned PowerPoint. Obviously, the tools don’t really matter, they’re all more or less the same, but I’m curious about some of the tools that you and your team use that listeners might either want to try or add to their arsenal. So are there, aside from, you know, I’m sure it’s PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, are there other tools that you’re using, other design tools, other resources that you’re using that folks should put onto their list of things that they should look into?

AP: The best tool I use, and I would recommend everybody to use it, is just a blank piece of paper. That’s the most important tool. John Cleese said that we don’t know where we get our ideas from, but what we do know is that we don’t get them from our laptops, we don’t get them from tools. So for me just a blank piece of paper, a whiteboard, posting notes, a flip chart, these are the best tools. Garr Reynolds talks about planning analog, the importance of planning analog in preparation for your presentations instead of going digital. Now, having said that, one tool, which is not strictly connected to presenting, it can be used depending on the context, I use it, for example, when we have brainstorming sessions with a client, so we said at the very beginning as part of the process, you want to generate ideas, Miro is, I guess, you are familiar with it, it’s a great tool for brainstorming to generate ideas for creativity. So, if you want to have one tool, this is the one that comes to mind.

JS: Yeah, that’s a good one. Yeah, I mean, I’m with you, I mean, I work analog, I like to write and sketch, I do tell people that analog for them could mean a Google Doc or a Word Doc. I mean, I think a lot of people feel better working on their laptop. I mean, I’m with you that, like, drawing is the way to go, and sketching and just writing things down, but I think for a lot of people, maybe they’re not ready for that. And so, the thing that I recommend is just don’t start in PowerPoint, even though one could argue that PowerPoint is a great sketching tool, because it’s blank canvas, but I think you’re just too inclined to add bullet points, right, and start building these, like, whatever, sort of PowerPoint or Google like pushes you towards. I think starting with that blank canvas, as you mentioned, is a better way to start.

AP: I agree with you 100 %, yeah, it could be a Word document, Google doc, absolutely. And you’re right, the issue, the temptation if you want, when we open up PowerPoint, or a presentation tool, is that we are incentivized to follow the tool, to follow the template, insert a title here, insert some bullet points here, add an image here. No, we want to start with our message, and then, we want to ask ourselves, first of all, does it make sense to illustrate the message, because who says that we need to use PowerPoint all the time.

JS: Right.

AP: If the answer is yes, and only if the answer is yes, then we can come up with ideas for us to be able to support, reinforce, and amplify a message for the audience to be able to understand and remember it better, and those ideas, a 100% of the time, have nothing to do with the tool with a template.

JS: Yeah. Excellent, great stuff, great lessons here. So before we go, where can folks find you, where can they find Ideas on Stage, and where can they find more resources or get in touch with you to help them improve their presentation skills?

AP: Thank you, Jon, I appreciate it. So our website, our company website is For me, personally, the main platform I use on social media is LinkedIn, so they can find me there with my name. And one free resource that could be useful for your listeners is the Confident Presenter Scorecard, which is an online tool that people can take to very quickly assess their current presentation skills. It’s a self-assessment exercise, it takes less than three minutes, it’s free. You just need to answer a few questions, and then, you get a score from zero to 100 %. The tool tells you what the score means for you, and it also identifies opportunities for improvement. When you complete the scorecard, then after that, you also get access to other free resources like our web presentation skills, web classes, you get access to a copy of my book, for example, for free, Confident Presenter. And the link for that is our website,, like the method we talked about, S-C-O-R-E.

JS: Terrific. Well, I will put links to all this stuff, so folks can check it out, a lot of great content, a lot of great learning that they can do. So Andrea, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been great chatting with you, great seeing you again, and yeah, I really appreciate you chatting with me.

AP: Thank you, Jon.

And thanks, everyone for tuning into this week’s episode of the show. I hope you enjoyed that conversation. I hope you’ll check out Ideas on Stage, and check out some of their resources and materials. And, of course, on the PolicyViz site, I have an entire section dedicated to presentations, under the Better Presentations tab on the website. You can check out different resources, downloads, PowerPoint templates, worksheets, all the stuff that you’ll need to improve how you present your information, your data, and your analysis. So until next time, this has been the PolicyViz podcast. Thanks so much for listening.

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