How to change the world (or sell government) in three acts - Canadian Government Executive
Bookshelf with Harvey Schachter
January 5, 2015

How to change the world (or sell government) in three acts

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
Carmine Gallo
McGraw-Hill, 238 pages, $27.95
You can’t appear for your important presentations in a black turtleneck and jeans like Steve Jobs did. And you don’t have alluring electronic gizmos to talk about. So suggesting you might learn from the presentation approach of the hallowed Apple pitchman might seem ludicrous.

But Steve Jobs actually came from a field where presentations can be stultifying, laced with geek-speak and impenetrable technical concepts. In that sense, not all that different from government. And he captured attention with his passion, something that should be harder to do in business than government. So it’s worth giving attention to The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, as codified by communications consultant Carmine Gallo in a 2010 book.

“Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage. No one else comes close,” he wrote. “Jobs is a magnetic pitchman who sells his ideas with a flair that turns prospects into customers and customers into evangelists.”

Jobs didn’t so much plan presentations as theatrical events (and rehearsed as thoroughly as actors to control his stagecraft). The backdrops were carefully chosen. The pitch highlighted heroes and villains. And there was tension and dramatic build-up, as he took his audience through the equivalent of a several-act play. People left with a message that transcended just the barebone facts of the product he was unveiling. They left excited, aroused.

Gallo structures his book and the advice you must follow like a classic three-act play. In Act One, he shows how to create the story that will tie together your presentation and hopefully hold your audience spellbound. In the second act, he helps you to deliver the experience you have concocted thanks to some practical tips he has drawn from Jobs’s presentations. In the final act, he delves into how to refine and rehearse your presentation, shining the spotlight on issues like body language, verbal delivery, and making the scripted performance sound natural and conversational.

“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,” he urges.

Scene one is usually the most important in a play for setting the parameters and building the foundation for success. It’s also the core for presentations, as you create the story. It has seven elements:

Plan on paper: Jobs was handy with software – his company created one called Keynote for him to use in presentations – but he never rushed to open it. Beforehand, he visualized what the presentation would be like. Instead of being contained by the static computer templates of Keynote he sketched out his ideas elaborately on paper. Presentations expert Garr Reynolds has said: “There’s just something about paper and pen and sketching out rough ideas in the ‘analog world’ in the early stages that seems to lead to more clarity and better, more creative results when we finally get down to representing our ideas digitally.” You may not actually use the presentation software yourself, but make sure you and your helpers spend time initially working out what your main headline will be and the three key messages you want to share, as well as metaphors and analogies – foreign as they may seem to government talks – that will help you hold interest. Like Jobs, ponder what demonstrations might help your ideas come alive.

Answer the one question that matters most: While you are talking, your listeners are asking themselves one question: “Why should I care?” The talk is not about you, it’s about them. And answering that question, very early, grabs their attention and keeps them engaged. Jobs connected the dots for his audiences in simple, colourful language explaining why his new offering would be of value – to them. For his iPhone 3G, it was: “Just one year after launching the iPhone we’re launching the new iPhone 3G. It’s twice as fast at half the cost.” No buzzwords. Clear, concise, and compelling, answering why listeners should care.

Develop a messianic sense of purpose: Perhaps one of Jobs’s most important presentations was a one-on-one to persuade then PepsiCo President John Scully to join Apple. Scully was telling Jobs he wasn’t prepared to shift when Jobs asked: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” That pointed to Jobs’s messianic approach and his instinct to use zeal to convert others. Worth more than $100 million by the time he was 25, money wasn’t his motivating factor. He wanted to change the world with his tech offerings and his talks were intended to rally others behind him. In government, you have the capacity to change the world for the better or, at least, some part of it. Are you sharing that in your talks?

Create Twitter-like headlines: Jobs had a one-line description for nearly every product and it was crafted early in the planning stage not just in the period before launch. In a pre-Twitter age, he had a twitter-like impulse to write a catchy, capsule description that would capture prospective customers and the audiences he spoke to. For example: “MacBook Air. The world’s thinnest notebook.” Or: “Today Apple reinvents the phone!” Or: “iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.” With the iPad: “Better than the laptop, better than the smart phone.” And he usually repeated that nugget throughout his presentation, to make sure it wasn’t missed. Government may not seem to lend itself to such crystallization but that doesn’t make it impossible. Projects and programs you launch have a purpose. Can you convey it in just a few words? Can you find those few words early, when they might help you in developing the program as well as promoting it?

Draw a road map: He made his argument easy to follow by offering a preview, outlining at the start of the presentation what he planned to comment on. Usually his road map involved three elements, an easy number to keep track of for listeners. So he might break the entire presentation into three sections, or the product description into three features, or a demonstration of the product into three parts. His products usually had many features he could celebrate but he kept himself to an easy number to assimilate and remember. “Three is the magic number,” says 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.”

Introduce the antagonist: Jobs loved to conjure up a villain that the audience could turn against. At one point, it was IBM, which he warned could dominate the computer industry. Then Microsoft, of which he said with disdain: “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way. I mean that in a big way.” With the iPhone he attacked “not-so-smart” smartphones, which were too complicated to use. Gallo says establishing the antagonist early is critical to persuasion because our brains need a bucket – a category – in which to place the new idea. The antagonist gives your audience the big picture and then they can focus on the details.

Reveal the conquering hero: After introducing the enemy, he provided relief by revealing the conquering hero – his product de jour. For you, it’s your program, here to help your listeners and the public.

Once you create the story you need to figure out how to deliver the experience, which can also be helped with Gallo’s channelling of Steve Jobs. Finally, you must refine your presentation style and rehearse, which again can be improved with ideas from the book. Jobs was a talented presenter, who worked hard to develop his approach, and this book allows you to learn from his approach, which has applicability to more than iGadgets.

About this author

HARVEY SCHACHTER

Harvey Schachter is a writer, specializing in management and business issues. He writes three weekly columns for the Globe and Mail and The Leader’s Bookshelf column for Canadian Government Executive, and a regular column and features for Kingston Life magazine. Harvey was editor of the 2004 book Memos to the Prime Minister: What Canada Can Be in the 21st Century. He was the ghostwriter on The Three Pillars of Public Management by Ole Ingstrup and Paul Crookall, and editor of Getting Clients, Keeping Clients by Dan Richards. A McGill commerce graduate, Harvey spent more than 15 years in a variety of positions at The Kingston Whig-Standard, including editor and planning and promotions manager. He won two National Newspaper Awards for his writing and a national Owl Award for a marketing program he created at the newspaper.

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