6 Presentation tips from a Steve Jobs keynote
January 17, 2008
Macobserver reported that Jobs's keynote Tuesday in San Francisco was not one of his "expectation-shattering presentations." They quoted Your Mac Life host Shawn King saying that "Jobs's performance seemed a little off." But as a commenter on the website said "...if Jobs had announced contact with an alien civilization, it wouldn't have 'shattered expectations.'" The downside of having a reputation for being "insanely great" at anything is that expectations will surely rise for you to top your last performance (your last product, your last album, your last book, etc.). This is a good problem to have, but it is a real challenge nonetheless. Product announcements aside, Jobs did a very good job on stage as usual Tuesday. Maybe not his best performance ever (there were a couple of minor glitches and the Apple TV hunk could have been shorter), but still it was very good. You can watch the entire presentation here on the Apple site. If you do not have the time, then watch this edited tongue-in-cheek-version of Tuesday's Macworld keynote below which condenses the content down to 60 seconds.
6 takeaways for aspiring presenters
As with all Steve Jobs presentations, there is much we can learn and apply to our own unique situation. There are many things I like about Jobs's style on stage,* but here are just six.
(1) Develop rapport with the audience. Jobs walks out on stage all smiles without any formal introduction over the PA. He welcomed everyone and then quickly (very quickly) reviewed what a fantastic year 2007 was for Apple without visuals or a script. "I just want to take a moment to thank you..." CEOs often say these kinds of things, but in this case it seemed very natural, humble, and heartfelt. Right off the bat he was acknowledging the importance of the audience and that they are they important ones, they are who this presentation is for. For our unique situations too it is important to establish rapport right from the start. Mingling with the audience before your talk helps; this way you're not a stranger.
More than just a "thanks for coming."
(2) Give them an idea of where you're going. You do not need the ubiquitous and infamous agenda slide, but give people an idea where you're going, a bit of a road map of the journey you're taking them on. In Jobs's case he gave a simple welcome, built a little rapport with a humble thank you, and then boom!: "I've got four things I'd like to talk about with you today. So let's get stated." He did not say what the four things were (you may wish to be more specific), but just knowing that there are four major parts helps the audience.
Jobs structured his talk around four parts and one theme.
(3) Show your enthusiasm. Sometimes you may want to curb your enthusiasm, but most presenters show too little passion or enthusiasm not too much. Yes, a presentation on medical treatments by a researcher is different than a CEO's keynote, but in each case the appropriate level of enthusiasm can make all the difference. In just the first few minutes on stage Jobs used these words: Incredible, extraordinary, awesome, amazing, revolutionary. You can disagree with him. You can say he is over the top; call it hype if you want. But Steve Jobs believes what he says. He is sincere. He is authentic. The point is not to be like Steve Jobs, the point is to find your own level of passion and bring that honest enthusiasm out in your work for the world to see.
(4) It's not about numbers, it's about what the numbers mean. A business keynote by a technology company is different from a scientific presentation at a conference, but isn't it always about what the numbers mean rather than just the numbers themselves? So your cholesterol is 199, the national average. Is that good or bad? Up or down? Is "average" healthy or unhealthy? And compared to what? When Steve Jobs talks about numbers in his keynotes he often breaks them down. For example, 4 million iPhones sold Jobs said is the equivalent of "20,000 per day" since the units went on sale (though this says nothing about the current sales trend, etc.). 20 percent market share? In and of itself that does not mean much, but the meaning becomes clear when he compares it to others in the field.
4 million or 20,000 per day...
(5) Make it visual. Jobs also does a good job of using visuals to show how something is bigger, faster, cleaner, whatever, such as when he used a pencil to show the relative size of the MacBook Air's internals. Jobs also goes to much effort to give meaning to how thin 0.16 inch and 0.76 inch really are by comparing them visually with a competitor's thin notebook. Is 0.76 inch really thin and compared to what? (And of course, everyone outside the USA is saying "wait, how many mm in an inch?") I don't know if the MacBook Air is a great notebook or not, but everyone will sure remember that it is "really thin" even if they forget the 0.76 and 0.16 inch figures. People may forget the number, but they will remember that the MacBook Air fits easily in a standard office envelope (they remembered all right).
"The world's thinnest notebook—what's that mean?"
Jobs compares his idea of "thin" with current ideas of "thin" in the marketplace today. X means Apple wanted to do "better" than this.
1.20" and 0.80" is pretty thin...
but the MacBook Air is much thinner (in green).
MacBook Air's thickest part is still thinner than the competition's thinnest part.
The internal hardware is very small. How small? This small.
(6) Save the best for last. People will make an assessment about your performance in the first two minutes, so you have to start strong. But you have to finish even stronger. People remember most the first part and the last part of your presentation. The middle stuff is important, of course, but blow it at the start or at the end and all may be lost. This is why you have to rehearse your opening and your closing so much. And save your strongest stuff for the end. In Jobs's case he saved the MacBook Air for last—the 4th thing he wanted to talk about.
The 4th part of his talk...
saving the best for last. "There's something in the air" was the theme in this keynote. This was that something.
* (Yes, I am aware of this. I have seen Jobs be pretty cool with a friend of mine--who was not an employee--and pose for a picture, but it is not his thing by any means. My points about Jobs are concerned only with Jobs the presenter on stage, not with the man off stage that does not really like his picture taken with fans.)