Communication
May 7, 2012

Heros and Villains: The Steve Jobs presentation approach

The Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs
By Carmine Gallo,
McGraw-Hill, 238 pages, $27.95

When Steve Jobs unveiled the new iTab earlier this year, the Internet site carrying his talk crashed from the hordes of people wanting to watch his speech. In part, that was from the incredible buzz over the new Apple tablet, and the desire of techies to see it first. But it was also a testimony to the fact that Jobs is a powerful presenter, someone who knows how to wow a crowd.

And he doesn’t do it with the standard deck that government executives construct. He doesn’t pile bullet point upon bullet point. His slides, in fact, generally have few words. He uses numbers, but only in a memorable way, providing comparisons that make them potent. He’s an artist, not a bureaucrat, his presentations a stage show rather than a logical argument. And we can all learn from him, even if we don’t have sleek, gleaming thin gadgets to show off at our presentations.

“Do not let your ideas die because you failed to present them in a way that sparked the imagination of your listeners. Use Jobs’s techniques to reach the hearts and the minds of everyone you hope to influence,” communications consultant and BusinessWeek.com columnist Carmine Gallo writes in The Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs.

Jobs has created presentations software for Mac users, Keynote, but that’s not where he starts his work on a presentations. And, of course, he wouldn’t be caught using Microsoft’s PowerPoint software. He starts, instead, with pen and paper. He sketches out his main ideas for the theatrical production he is planning and how he can make them come alive. He plans a story.

Most of us, of course, don’t do that. We might have some general thoughts and material collected for the presentation, but we begin by opening up a slide in PowerPoint. A blank format appears that contains space for words – a title and a subtitle – and there’s also space for bullet points.

“The software itself forces you to create a template that represents the exact opposite of what you need to speak like Steve!” advises Gallo, who urges you to save your bullet points for your grocery list.

He outlines nine elements for a great presentation that like Jobs you must grapple with at the planning stage:

Headline: What is the one big idea you want to leave with your audience? It should be short – in a Twitter era, Gallo suggests 140 characters or less – memorable and written in a simple, subject-verb sequence. When Jobs unveiled the iPhone, he declared: “Today Apple reinvents the phone!” It was a headline for his audience and for the media watching.

Passion Statement: Jobs is passionate about what he has created. In fact, he displays an infectious, almost giddy enthusiasm for his products – like a little kid in a candy store. Centuries before Jobs, Aristotle, the father of public speaking, highlighted this element of presentations, explaining that successful speakers must have “pathos,” or passion, for the subject. Gallo suggests spending a few minutes developing a passion statement by filling in the following sentence: “I’m excited about this initiative [or program, or project, or feature] because it _________.” Once you have identified the passion statement, he urges you not to be bashful. Share it.

Three Key Messages:
Write out the three key messages you want your audience to receive. Don’t look at your notes. The messages should easily come to mind, if you know your subject and audience. If you have more than three messages, pare it down. If you flood your audience with too many key messages, none may get through – or only the lesser messages. Jobs is a stickler for this three-pronged approach. He’ll break the presentation down into three sections, or his product description into three features. His products invariably have a legion of features he could extol, but he usually limits himself to three. “Three is the magic number,” insists Gallo. “Every great movie, book, play and presentation has a three-act structure. There were three musketeers, not five. Goldilocks encountered three bears, not four.”

Metaphors and Analogies: Metaphors and analogies help people to understand your ideas, and can make them more down-to-earth. Jobs once said: “What a computer is to me is the most remarkable tool that we have ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Metaphors may seem scary – bullets seem much easier – but metaphors stick in people’s minds. And they are common. We often use metaphors from sports, for example, or popular games. Gallo urges you to challenge yourself to come up with unexpected ones that will jolt your audience. Analogies are similarly effective. Here’s one from Jobs on how many people say iTunes is their favourite application for Windows: “It’s like giving a glass of water to someone in hell.”

Demonstrations: Jobs shows how the gadget operates. Can you bring your initiative to life in some way, making it real for your audience?

Partners:
Jobs shares the spotlight with partners. He doesn’t hold the stage alone, but brings up people he is working with to explain the value of his latest gem. In September 2005, Jobs announced that all of Madonna’s albums would be available on iTunes, and then she appeared by webcam to emphasize the point. When he served up the new iPad, a representative of The New York Times was present to describe how people could use it to read newspapers.

Customer Evidence and Third Part Endorsements:
In technology, some techies love to be the first to get their hands on the latest gadgets. But for most products and new initiatives, people want to hear testimonials about how effective the idea has been elsewhere. If you can get third-party endorsements, it boosts your case.

Video Clips: Very few presenters incorporate video into their presentations but Jobs plays video clips often. Sometimes it’s just employees talking about how much they enjoyed working on a product. Or he shows television commercials. Why not a testimonial or third-party endorsement by video – or one of your staff talking enthusiastically about the new idea and how it will change things? “Including video clips in your presentation will help you stand out,” stresses Gallo. But keep them to no more than three minutes.

Flip Charts, Props and Show and Tell:
A presentation needs more than slides. Use whiteboards, flip charts, or the new iPad. Bring props, physical objects that accentuate your presentation. These will help to spice up, and visualize the story you sketched out at the initial stage.

In his storytelling, Jobs sketches out a common villain in his presentations that the audience can turn against. At one point, it was IBM, which he warned could dominate the computer industry, then Microsoft. When he introduced the iPhone, Jobs began by noting that the most advanced phones are called smartphones but then insisted they weren’t so smart, running through all their limitations. The enemies that day were all the other so-called smartphones.

He then reveals the conquering hero, the product he has developed to slay the villain – the iPhone, when he was discussing smartphones. In government, you have to be careful in naming individuals or entities as enemies, but certainly when government programs are announced they are intended to solve some major problem, so the concept applies. Describe the villain and proclaim your project the conquering hero.

One more thing. Jobs uses zippy words. He steers clear of jargon, and talks in the same words his audience uses at home. That may not be appropriate for y

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