The presentation secrets of Steve Jobs. 10 tips to help you sell your ideas the Steve Jobs way


By Mr. Carmine Gallo.

In his international bestseller, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, Carmine Gallo reveals the techniques that have turned the Apple CEO into one of the world’s most extraordinary corporate storytellers. For more than three decades, Jobs has transformed product launches into an art form. Whether you are a CEO, manager, entrepreneur, business owner, sales or marketing professional, Steve Jobs has something to teach you.

A Steve Jobs presentation is an extraordinary event. Unlike most presentations which leave audiences confused and bored, a Steve Jobs presentation is intended to inform, educate and entertain. Here are ten ways to adopt his techniques in your very next presentation.

Plan in Analogue

Steve Jobs made his mark in the digital world of bits and bytes, but he plans presentations in the old world of pen and paper. A Steve Jobs presentation has all the elements of a great movie – heroes and villains, stunning visuals and a supporting cast. And, like a movie director, Steve Jobs ‘storyboards’ the plot. Before you go digital and open PowerPoint, spend time brainstorming, sketching or white-boarding in the early stages. Remember, you are delivering a story, the narrative. Slides complement the story. Neuroscientists have found the brain gets bored easily. Steve Jobs does not give his audience time to get distracted. His presentations include demonstrations, video clips and other speakers. All of the elements are planned and collected well before the slides are created. One side note – Steve Jobs does not use PowerPoint. He designs slides in Keynote, Apple’s presentation software. However, the software program is not nearly as important as creating and delivering a compelling story, which both tools allow you to do successfully.

Create a Twitter-Friendly Description

Steve Jobs creates a single-sentence description for every product. These headlines help the audience categorise the new product and are always concise enough to fit in a 140-character Twitter post. For example, when Jobs introduced the iPad, he said it was “a revolutionary and magical product, more capable than a smartphone and more intimate than a laptop”. This one sentence gives the listener a lot of information in just 100 characters. One of my personal favourites occurred in January 2008, when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. “What is it?” Jobs asked rhetorically. “In a sentence, it is the world’s thinnest notebook.” That one sentence speaks volumes. Jobs will fill in the details during his presentation and on the Apple website, but he finds one sentence to position every product. Your listeners need to see the big picture before the details. If you cannot describe your product or ideas in 140 characters or less, go back to the drawing board.

Introduce the Antagonist

In every classic story, the hero fights the villain. The same holds true for a Steve Jobs presentation. In 1984, the villain was IBM, known as Big Blue at the time. Before Jobs introduced the famous 1984 television ad to a group of Apple salespeople, he created a dramatic story around it. “IBM wants it all,” he said. Apple would be the only company to stand in its way. It was very dramatic and the crowd went crazy. Branding expert Martin Lindstrom says that great brands and religions have something in common: the idea of vanquishing a shared enemy. Create a villain that allows the audience to rally around the hero – you and your product.

A ‘villain’ does not necessarily have to be a direct competitor. It can be a problem in need of a solution. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in January 2007, his presentation at Macworld focused on the problems mobile phone users were experiencing with the current technology. The iPhone, he said, would resolve those issues. In February 2010, Jobs positioned the iPad tablet by first taking a few minutes to describe the problem consumers were having viewing email, photos, videos and books on smaller PC-like devices called netbooks. By setting up the problem, it opens the door for the hero to save the day.

Focus on Benefits

Your listeners are asking themselves one question: why should I care? Steve Jobs sells the benefit behind every new product or feature, and he is very clear about it. Why buy an iPhone 3G? “It is twice as fast at half the price.” What is so great about Time Capsule? “All your irreplaceable photos, videos and documents are automatically protected and easy to retrieve if they are ever lost.” Even the Apple website focuses on benefits with top ten lists like “10 Reasons Why You Will Love a Mac”. Nobody cares about your product. They only care about how your product or service will improve their lives. Make the connection for your customers. Help people achieve their dreams and you will win them over.

Provide a Roadmap

Nearly every Steve Jobs presentation is divided into multiple parts, typically three or four. When Jobs returned from a health-related absence on 9 September  2009, he told the audience he would be talking about three products: iPhones, iTunes and iPods. Along the way, he provided verbal guideposts such as, “iPhones. The first thing I wanted to talk about today. Now, let us move on to the second, iTunes.” The number three is a powerful concept in writing. Playwrights know that three is more dramatic than two; comedians know that three is funnier than four, and Steve Jobs knows that three is more memorable than six or eight. You might have twenty points to make about your product, but your audience is only capable of holding three or four points in short-term memory. Give them too many points and they will forget everything.

If three is such an important number, why does this article have ten points? Because it is a written reference tool that is not intended to be delivered verbally. If this information were delivered verbally, we would stick to three key takeaways. Remember, Steve Jobs will send his audience to the Apple website for more information, but he only delivers three or, at most, four key takeaways in a conversation.

Sell Dreams, Not Products

Charismatic speakers like Steve Jobs are driven by a nearly messianic zeal to create new experiences. He does not sell computers. He sells the promise of a better world. When Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001, he said, “In our own small way we are going to make the world a better place”. Where most people see the iPod as a music player, Jobs sees it as tool to enrich people’s lives. Of course, it is important to have great products, but passion, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose beyond the actual product will set you and your company apart.

Jobs is also passionate about his customers and he is not afraid to wear that passion on his sleeve. During a presentation in 1997, he concluded by saying, “Some people say you have to be a little crazy to buy a Mac. Well, in that craziness we see genius and that is who we make tools for.” Cultivate a sense of mission. Passion, emotion and enthusiasm are grossly underestimated ingredients in professional business communications, and yet passion and emotion will motivate others. Steve Jobs once said that his goal was not to die the richest man in the cemetery. It was to go to bed at night thinking that he and his team had done something wonderful. Do something wonderful. Make your brand stand for something meaningful.

Create Visual Slides

Apple products are easy to use because they eliminate clutter. It is a design philosophy that applies to every Steve Jobs presentation. There are no bullet points in his presentations. Instead, Jobs relies on photographs and images. Where the average PowerPoint slide has forty words, it is difficult to find seven words on ten of Jobs’ slides. The technique is called picture superiority – information is more effectively recalled when text and images are combined. Neuroscientists are finding that when information is delivered verbally, people will remember about ten per cent of the information 72 hours later. Their retention rates soar to sixty-five per cent if that information is presented verbally and visually at the same time.

Steve Jobs always thinks about presenting information visually. When he unveiled the Macbook Air, he showed a slide of the computer fitting inside a manila inter-office envelope. That image was worth a thousand words. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Jobs once said. Be sophisticated. Keep it simple.

Make Numbers Meaningful

In every Apple presentation, big numbers are put into context. This is a technique that Jobs has used effectively for many years. In 2001, Apple unveiled the iPod, an MP3 player that was capable of holding five gigabyte of storage. Now, few people at the time – or even today – could tell you exactly what you can do with five gigabyte. Jobs created meaning out of the statistic. He said a five-gigabyte music player could hold 1,000 songs. What made iPod even more unique was that 1,000 songs could fit in your pocket. The iPod description became one of the most famous marketing taglines in corporate history – 1,000 songs in your pocket.

This reminds me of a recent campaign launched by Cisco Systems to promote its new CRS-3 router. Routers are inherently boring pieces of metal – until someone makes them meaningful. Cisco advertised the new router by saying that the CRS-3 could stream every movie ever made in four minutes. Nobody would ever be able to do that, of course, but that did not matter. What mattered was that Cisco placed a giant number (322 terabytes) in a context that made sense for everyone.

Use Zippy Words

Steve Jobs speaks in plain English. In fact, he has fun with words. He described the speed of the iPhone 3G as “amazingly zippy”. Where most business presenters use words that are obtuse, vague or confusing, Jobs’ language is remarkably simple. He rarely, if ever, will use the jargon that clouds most presentations – terms like ‘best of breed’ or ‘synergy’ have no place in a Steve Jobs presentation. His language is simple, clear and direct. Legendary GE CEO Jack Welch once said, “Insecure managers create complexity”. Exude confidence and security: speak simply.

Reveal A ‘Holy Smokes’ Moment

Every Steve Jobs presentation has one moment that neuroscientists call an emotionally charged event. The emotionally charged event is the equivalent of a mental post-it note that tells the brain, remember this! For example, at Macworld 2007, Jobs could have opened the presentation by telling the audience that Apple was unveiling a new mobile phone that also played music, games and video. Instead, he built up the drama. “Today, we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device… an iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator, an iPod, a phone, are you getting it? These are not three devices. This is one device!” The audience erupted in cheers because it was so unexpected, and very entertaining.

One More Thing… Practice, A Lot

Steve Jobs spends hours rehearsing every facet of his presentation. Every slide is written like a piece of poetry, every presentation staged like a theatrical experience. Yes, Steve Jobs makes a presentation look effortless, but that polish comes after hours and hours of grueling practice. Steve Jobs has improved his style over time. If you watch video clips of a Steve Jobs presentation going back twenty years (available on YouTube) you will see that he improves significantly with every decade. The Steve Jobs of 1984 had a lot of charisma, but the Steve Jobs of 1997 was a far more polished speaker. The Steve Jobs who introduced the iPhone in 2007 was even better and the Steve Jobs who introduced the iPad in 2010 was better still. Nobody is born knowing how to deliver a great presentation. The skilled speakers hone that skill with practice.

Practice also helps you overcome problems which inevitably arise in even the best prepared presentations. On 7 June 2010, Jobs had a serious and embarrassing Wi-Fi problem to deal with. While demonstrating the functionality of the new iPhone 4, the network connection failed and Jobs was standing on stage watching a demo go awry. “Our networks in here are always unpredictable, so I have no idea what we are going to find,” Jobs said. “They are slow today.” Once it became obvious that the network connection would not work, Jobs never missed a step. He did not get flustered nor angry (offstage is a different story). Instead, his intimate knowledge of every inch of every slide allowed him to comfortably move on to another feature he was going to discuss, in this case photographs. Less prepared speakers would have been stopped cold.

Anyone can learn to present the Steve Jobs way. But it takes confidence. It takes confidence to put one word on the slide as Jobs often does, or no words and just a photograph. It takes confidence to avoid obscure business language and to replace that language with simple, clear and expressive words. And it takes confidence to have fun on stage instead of using presentations to deliver the same old, tired and confusing messages. By thinking about presentations differently, practicing and having confidence, you can turn a stale presentation into an astonishing experience. Be astonishing. Be electrifying. Use your story to light up the room.

Mr. Carmine Gallo is the communication skills coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a sought-after keynote speaker, seminar leader, media training specialist, crisis communication specialist, presentation expert and communications coach. Mr. Gallo is a former CNN business journalist and a current columnist for BusinessWeek.com and author of several books. He can be contacted via www.carminegallo.com.

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Comments

  1. As always, a knock-out article from ABS. Selling dreams instead of products comes back to Simon Sinek’s idea of the “why” of your business. If you haven’t seen his Ted Talk, Google it. Along with implementing all the notes above, the key to presenting (boring presenters please take note) is ENERGY, and plenty of it!

    • Simon Sinek’s “why” idea is indeed fantastic! We are familiar with the video and from memory, Sinek also refers to the strength of the words “I believe” insofar as people connect with others who share beliefs. Thanks for your feedback Nikki! This article has certainly helped to improve the quality of presentations in our own office! The success of Steve Jobs has often been attributed to his ability to present his information in an extremely compelling way; the article helps us to understand the mechanisms that make the presentation so compelling!

  2. “In our own small way we are going to make the world a better place.” Probably an ideal and a value that every organization should adopt. Doing so would be likely to drive greater engagement!

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