Steve Jobs is one of the best executive-level presenters in the world and my personal favorite. I've commented many, many (many) times on his presentations here because we can learn a lot about effective presentations by observing Steve. Leaving the content of his keynote aside, Steve's presentation Tuesday was good, but not "insanely great" when compared to some of his past presentations. Although, to be fair, I probably hold Steve to an unrealistic standard, but that is only because he has set the executive presentation bar so high. He's the master.
There is one important thing that I did not like about Tuesday's presentation (concerning visuals), but I'll get to that tomorrow (can you guess what it is?). For today, however, I'd like to focus on what was good about the keynote. Thankfully though, Guy Kawasaki, who was in the audience for the presentation, has already written a good piece on the matter. Guy wrote his "Top 10" things he liked about Steve's presentation style on his blog, "Let the good times roll." I agree with Guy's list of positives. So, below I give you an edited version of the first seven of Guy's comments. To see the complete, unedited list of Guy's commentary, go to his post "Lessons from Steve's Keynote." Below, Guy's comments are in bold. My comments follow.
Seven (of ten) things Guy liked about Steve's presentation:
1. "Minimal text. Many slides had only one or two words."
2. "Extremely large font. If you were the 3,000th person at the back of the room, you could still read the slides."
Minimal text appearing in large sizes on screen is vintage Steve and is a technique you can use (at least in part) in your presentations. It's a little bit Takahashi, a little bit Lessig, and a little bit Godin, and Kawasaki. If you have some very technical detail you want your audience to absorb, that is probably best represented in the form of a distributed handout (the higher resolution of paper allows for greater visual detail). But for text, which should be used sparingly on screen, make it big!
Visual minimalism. Many of Steve's slides are similar to this one above.
3. "A handful of bullet items, and he “built” the bullets. They weren't all on screen to start with."
There were probably five-six slides which had bullet builds. But that is out of about 150 slides. When Steve did use bulleted lists, he actually built them so that they supported his words. Bulleted lists are OK if used very sparingly, but do not show the whole list at once (for obvious reasons). And keep animation simple. Use "appear" or a simple "fade in" not crazy fly-ins, pushes, etc.
In the slide above highlighting the new features in Keynote, the bullets fade in only when Steve gets to that point.
4. "Many, many beautiful screen shots..."
5. "Many, many beautiful images."
High-quality photos make a huge difference so long as they are not just decorative. Low-quality images, or images that merely decorate a slide, may detract. But appropriate, quality images? They can really help you tell your story or make your point. Apple uses screen shots because an OS and software apps are their products. How can you show your product or research?
The legendary communications expert, Dale Carnegie, talked about the importance of using pictures back in the 1920s (i.e., painting pictures with words), and multimedia learning research shows that people learn better with narration and pictures rather than narration alone. Humans make sense of the world though images, whether seen or described and imagined. One reason why many CEO presentations are so boring is because they stand behind a podium and rattle off phrases like "mission-critical paradigm shift" which is something no one can picture in their mind.
I use iStockphoto.com for many of my image searches. Great price.
Above: Steve reviews his points on iLife.
6. "Demos of software by the man himself — not calling upon some dweeb because the CEO isn't capable of using his own products."
Steve lets Apple product experts demo the pro applications, but it was refreshing to see him (again) have so much fun with the "i-apps." iLife and iWork, after all, are suppose to be apps "for the rest of us," for non experts. Having the CEO effortlessly glide through the apps adds a lot of credibility to the claim "this stuff is great and easy." Demoing, by the way, is very hard to do well. Steve makes it look easy, but it's harder than presenting for most people.
Above: Steve demos new features in iPhoto.
7. "Powerful use of guests: for example, the CEO of Intel (who was a very good sport and came on stage wearing a clean-room suit)...."
There are not too many executives who would do something as goofy as coming on stage (through a fog of dry ice and lights) in a "bunny suit" in front of thousands. He's a very good sport indeed. Frankly, however, the bit was just a little flat on video (perhaps it played better live). See the June WWDC keynote to watch a better talk by Intel CEO,Paul Otellini.
In the clean-room suit, the CEO of Intel. Right on, Paul!
Again, as far as Steve's keynotes go, this one was not as compelling somehow as others in 2005. For better examples, I suggest you look at the WWDC keynote and this special event presentation (and this one too).
Practice, Practice, Practice
If there is a secret to presentation excellence, it is this: practice (and practice some more). Whether you're a new young employee, a middle manager, or a seasoned executive, natural charisma will take you only so far (and it's no guarantee for presentation success anyway). You've got to practice. This is true today, and it was true eighty years ago when Dale Carnegie wrote this in How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking:
"Study the careers of famous speakers and you will find one fact that is true of them all: they practiced. THEY PRACTICED. And the men [and women] who make the most rapid progress in this course are the ones who practice the most."
— Dale Carnegie
Steve makes it look easy. But it's not. The keynote presentations are the result of a lot of hard work and preparation. Mike Evangelist, who left Apple about the time I did, has written a wonderful article for the Guardian entitled "Behind the Magic Curtain" describing his personal account of what it takes to pull off these Apple keynote presentations.
Don't forget to see the rest of Guy's list on his website.