Steve Jobs gave one of his best Macworld keynotes Tuesday in San Francisco in spite of a very minor technical glitch — a clicker problem that he recovered from well — and a seven-minute snoozefest by one of his honorable guest speakers. I've broken my comments on Steve's latest keynote into at least two post. I will not comment on the content of the presentation except to say that Steve was smart to limit his keynote to essentially one topic, the new Apple iPhone. Many presenters fail before they even start because they include too much information or cover too many topics. This is true whether the presentation is a 90-minute Macworld keynote or a 5-minute status report. You can go deep or you can go wide; it's nearly impossible to do both well. Choosing what to focus on and completely letting go of the rest (for that moment at least) is one of the hardest things to do.
A Singularly boring presentation
As Steve Jobs often does in his Macworld keynotes, he asked execs from a few key corporate partners to come up on stage and say a few encouraging words. This year there were three. First up was Google's CEO, Dr. Eric Shmidt, followed soon after by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang. A bit later Cingular CEO Stan Sigman took the stage. Both Schimdt and Yang were enthusiastic and energetic speakers who kept their comments upbeat, simple, and brief. When Stan Sigman came up on stage, however, the atmosphere soon changed. Stan Sigman strolled slowly across the stage, hands in his pockets, in a manner you might expect from, say, a legendary football coach from the SEC about to face the press before the big game. He spoke slowly with a friendly laid-back manner, and at first he spoke from the heart. Then the cue cards came out, the head went down, and it was all down hill after that.
Watch the Macworld keynote in Quicktime on the Apple website. (Go to the 1:34:40 mark in the video to watch Stan Sigman's speech, or catch Mr. Sigman's speech in this ten-minute clip on YouTube.)
Above: One of these presenters is not like the other. (Sometimes the nonverbal cues can tell you the whole story.)
How effective was Sigman's talk? One way to determine his effectiveness is to see what reporters covering the event live in San Francisco typed on their keyboards as they attempted to quickly summarize the key points as they occurred. Here's what the reporter for MacDailyNews pounded out on his laptop for each of the three guest speakers:
• Google CEO Eric Schmidt takes stage: "If we merge the companies we can call it Applegoo, but you can actually merge without merging." Working well together...
• Jerry Yang - Yahoo! - onstage: wants an Apple iPhone
• Stan Sigman, CEO of Cingular, onstage... blah, blah, blah, and blah...
It's a bad sign when people summarize your speech in four "blahs." Here's how other news sites responded as the speech was occurring live:
Engadget: "Man this guy is a total snoozer...We've immediately dropped back into cue card keynote mode, stats on Cingular, stores, distribution, yada yada... Huzzah, he's off stage!"
MacUser: "...being treated to a very long and not particularly scintillating speech from Cingular's CEO."
Macobserver: "His speech is painfully bad...."
Rex Hammock: "He introduces Stan Sigman who demonstrates how truly bad a CEO can blow a presentation by pulling out 4 x5 cards and reading the worst canned speech of all time — whoever at Cingular let this guy on the stage should be fired."
Shortly after the keynote ended, I received this note from Michael Amend, a PZ reader in Germany:
"Garr -- I'd like to point you to a remarkable event: the keynote of Apple introducing the iPhone. What makes it remarkable though is not the (unbelievable) product announced by Apple, but the incredible and noteworthy nosedive the overall performance took as soon as the CEO of Cingular, Stan Sigman, was on the stage...."
Even Seth Godin is wondering why Mr. Sigman was so unremarkable (or remarkably bad).
Just a case of "Old School" vs. "New School"?
After the Cingular CEO was done Jobs thanked him for his time on stage and then said that "We come from pretty different worlds..." Jobs was referring to the two very different industries that Apple and Cingular/AT&T come from. Yet Jobs could just as well have been talking about their two different communication styles as well. The approaches of Schimdt (Google) and Yang (Yahoo) were a good fit with Jobs' style. Having the Cingular CEO follow those three Silicon Valley fat cats provided quite the juxtaposition in communication styles...and it was not pretty.
I am tempted to call this the difference between "old school" business presentations (stiff, dull, cue-cards, etc.) and "new school" business presentations (passionate, interesting, conversational, etc.). But that would be a mistake because what seems like a "new school" approach is really not new at all. And what appears to be merely a conservative "old school" approach has never been recommended. Even Aristotle, for example, thought a presentation (speech) was effective only if it connected with the audience at a visceral level. Emotion (pathos) was one of the necessary conditions for an effective speech.
On using notes
Reading from notes like Mr. Sigman did on stage is usually a very bad idea. Abraham Lincoln warned against using notes. "They always tend to tire and confuse the listener," he said. Another "old timer," 20th century communication guru Dale Carnegie, preached against the very same mistakes made by the Cingular CEO. Carnegie's advice from the 1930s is not new but it's as valuable today as it ever was. For example, Carnegie listed the following dangers to using notes (cue cards) in front of your audience (from page 62 of Public Speaking for Success):
• Notes destroy fifty percent of the interest in your talk.
• Notes prevent contact and intimacy with the audience.
• Notes create and air of artificiality.
• Notes make the speaker look less confident, less powerful.
• Make lots of notes in the preparation of your talk, but use them only in the event of a total emergency.
• If you must use notes make sure the audience does not see them. That is, "...endeavor to hide your weakness from the audience."
Above: At any time Steve can glance at the current slide (large monitors) and the next slide (smaller monitors). In this way the slides on screen are visuals for the audience and the same image on the monitor are cues for the presenter. If you know your material well this is actually not difficult to pull off smoothly. Demoing is a different animal, however. In the case of a demo, it is a good idea to have notes to yourself (which the audience can not see) to keep you on track so you do not leave something out. These are not notes about how to use the product (you surely know that or you would not be on stage) but rather on the what's next or "don't forget to show this," etc. Steve referred to notes at various times while demoing, but you could hardly tell unless you were watching for it (most people are looking at the screen during a demo). Spymac has high-rez pictures of the demo "cue cards" used by Steve at Macworld. (Thanks André).
Does it really matter?
You might say it does not really matter. So he's a boring speaker, that does not mean he's a bad CEO, right? Of course not. Stan Sigman is surely a smart, talented man, and a nice guy to boot. He may indeed be a model CEO, but he certainly is not a model public speaker. Mr. Sigman does not yearn to be in the public eye nor does he fancy himself a great communicator. "I would rather show what I can do rather than talk about what I can do," he said in an older interview. Fair enough, but don't business leaders also have to be great communicators? I respect his no-nonsense approach to the job, but killer presentation skills is not a frivolous thing. It matters.
My only point in highlighting his short speech was to show what the rest of us must never ever do. Like it or not, our customers, employees, and colleagues judge us in part on our ability to stand and deliver a successful talk. Stan Sigman's performance was a wonderful textbook example of what not to do. We must find our own voice and our own style, of course, but we must never make the same mistakes made by Mr. Sigman.
Most Apple customers did not know who Stan Sigman was before Tuesday. Now they know, and the first impression was not a great one. The difference in communication styles between the two CEOs is indeed worlds apart. According to an article from Reuters, this has some just a bit worried. (Below: excerpt from Will iPhone spark tech civil war? on the CNN International page).
Sigman...read stiffly from a script, pausing awkwardly to consult notes. By contrast, the silver-tongued Jobs wore his trademark black turtleneck and faded blue jeans...Jobs is one of the best showmen in corporate America, rarely glancing at scripts and quick with off-the-cuff jokes.
Business experts say such contrasts may extend to the broader corporate cultures of Apple and AT&T, straining the tight collaboration needed to launch such a significant product.
"When you try to put together two companies with very different operating styles, you open up a Pandora's box for executives to miscommunicate or disagree," said Charles O'Reilly III, Stanford University professor of management.
I hope the Apple and Cingular/AT&T deal is a match made in heaven and that the iPhone is a smash hit (I think it will be). But Stan Sigman did not do anything on stage at Macworld that made me feel more confident about the deal, in fact, if anything I feel less confident. And who says presentation does not matter?
Next: "Jobs, Gates, and Burns." Until then, see Bert Decker's blog for more on the Steve Jobs keynote. Also checkout this post called "Who advised Stan?" on DC-Connect.