Even legendary jazz artist and master performer, Wynton Marsalis, couldn't help but be impressed by Jobs' presentation skills. Just seconds before Marsalis raised his trumpet to play, he paused and said (without a direct mic)..."That was a great presentation." The audience laughed at what was clearly a spontaneous gesture. Marsalis and his band were the "encore" to Steve Jobs' special presentation and media event in San Jose, California yesterday (October 12). And Marsalis was right: It was a great presentation...as usual.
Presentations are conversations
What has always made Steve Jobs such a great presenter is that he seems relaxed and informal in tone and style (yet gracious), as if he were having a conversation with a group of friends at home in the backyard. There are no magic tricks to his success nor is his effective style the result of years of dramatic study. Yes, his slides are simple and stunning, and his speaking synchs perfectly with the visuals. That's very important. But the essence of his masterful style is something many (most?) people can achieve in their own unique way. The secret is to communicate in front of a large group the same way you do everyday when you are talking with your spouse or your best friend down at the local Starbucks. The key is to look at presentations as conversations.
Let your personality shine through
When you talk with your friends about something of deep, mutual interest, do you speak to a deck of bullet points on a slide? Do you pace slowly, cautiously...boringly through your dialog? Do your friends or coworkers at the water cooler fall asleep while you talk. I doubt it. Most people — even those who give some pretty bad, sleep-inducing PowerPoint presentations — are (at least relatively) interesting and alive when they are in conversations at work or with friends.
So what happens in presentations? Why do otherwise interesting and intelligent people become so dull and seemingly disconnected during business presentations, class lectures, or while presenting at a conference? The causes, of course, are many. This website is dedicated, at least in a small way, to putting a spotlight on some of the causes and exploring solutions. In the end, it is up to every professional to become aware of their strengths and weakness and act to improve, improve significantly. While I never offer panaceas, one thing that will help is if you approach the delivery (though not the preparation, of course) the same way you do a conversation with friends. You have a unique personality...let it come out naturally in your presentations. You'll be amazed at the difference.
One more thing...
Speaking of letting your personality come out, what was interesting to me about Steve's presentation this week was the way he joked around and was having such fun making goofy faces and laughing at himself while demoing the new iMac built-in camera. The fun he was having clearly was felt by the audience as they were laughing right along with him.
Three acts, one more thing, & an encore
Steve started his presentation by saying that "...like every classic story, I've divided it into three acts."
Act I was on the new iMac and after reviewing how great the current iMac has already been he kicks it up by introducing the new iMac, focusing on three clearly defined areas: (1) New iMac is thinner, (2) The video camera is now built in, (3) New Front Row feature with remote.
In Act II Steve introduces the new iPod which now plays video content. But before he introduced the new iPod he reviewed the "old" iPod's history of success and really built it up, instilling a feeling of "the iPod is already great...and it just got better."
In Act III Steve talks about the new iTunes (iTunes 6) reminding people that iTunes 5 was just released a few weeks ago. He broke the iTunes section into four parts with part four being the "landmark deal" with ABC/Disney to make TV shows available for download via iTunes and played on your new iPod.
Take a look at some of the slides behind Steve in the photos below to get a feel of the Zen-like simplicity of his visuals. He has great visuals and a natural interaction with them. But the real key is his ability to connect and have an interesting conversation with the audience.
Latest U2 iPod TV ad.