Q&A with Author of “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”
What makes Steve Jobs such a special presenter, and what can CIO.com readers borrow from Jobs' vast skills? Communications coach and author Carmine Gallo shares his insights and favorite Jobs YouTube clips.
As many others have also noted, perhaps today’s model of presentation perfection is high-tech’s uber-presenter and the subject of Gallo’s book (now available): Apple’s Steve Jobs.
In The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, Gallo examines Jobs’ gifted public-speaking skills and offers a “ready-to-use framework to help you plan, deliver and refine the best presentation of your life,” Gallo notes on his website. “It’s as close as you’ll ever get to having the master presenter himself speak directly in your ear.”
CIO.com Senior Editor Thomas Wailgum recently spoke with Gallo about what makes Jobs so special, how much Jobs actually practices his craft, and what CIO.com readers can borrow from Jobs’ presentation talents. Also included in the interview are instructive YouTube videos of the Apple pitchman in action.
CIO.com: You write in the book about the importance that simplicity and minimalism hold for Steve Jobs in designing Apple products. How does that concept carry over into his presentations?
Carmine Gallo: Steve Jobs once said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” You can see this approach in how he designs his slides. The slides are stunningly visual and minimalistic. He’s not afraid of empty space. Sometimes, there’s only one word or a simple photograph.
There are 40 words on the average PowerPoint slide. It’s difficult to find 10 words in seven slides in a Jobs presentation. This is called “Picture Superiority.” You see, neuroscientists are finding that information is more effectively recalled when the ideas are delivered as text and pictures instead of text by itself. Jobs has elevated presentations to an art form.
CIO.com: What’s one thing that Jobs does, which very few people notice, that is critical to his presentation success?
Gallo: Jobs describes every product or new feature with a one-line description that can fit in a Twitter post. By doing so, he helps you mentally categorize the product. He gives you the big picture before filling in the details. For example, when Jobs introduced MacBook Air in January 2008, he could have said something along these lines: “Today we’re excited to launch a new, thin, light ultra-portable notebook computer with a 13.3 inch wide-screen display, a full keyboard, a backlit display and five hours of battery life.”
Instead he simply said, “MacBook Air. The world’s thinnest notebook.” If [a person watching] wanted to learn more, they could visit the Apple website after the presentation, but if they only remembered that one thing—world’s thinnest notebook—it would tell them a lot. Now, Google for “world’s thinnest notebook” and you will find more than 30,000 links to the phrase.
Audiences are looking for a “headline,” a way to position the new product in their own minds. One of my favorite product descriptions from Jobs occurred in 2003, when he introduced Keynote presentation software for the Mac. He said “Keynote is a presentation app for when your presentation really counts. Oh, and Keynote was built for me!” The slide behind Jobs simply read, “Built for me.” He then launched into the details of the software but you only needed the one takeway—a presentation application built for Jobs.
CIO.com: PowerPoint software always causes contentious debate about its merits. How does Jobs use it to his advantage?
Gallo: Well, let’s be clear. Steve Jobs uses Apple’s Keynote presentation software, a very elegant tool.
The vast majority of presentations, however, are created on Microsoft PowerPoint. My book is software-agnostic, which simply means it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Mac or a PC, whether you use Keynote or PowerPoint. The point is that both of these tools can compliment your story.
PowerPoint is not evil as some have suggested. Guy Kawasaki once told me that PowerPoint is a tool. Those who think it’s evil don’t know how to use it. Now that we know that information is more effectively delivered with pictures instead of words, PowerPoint becomes a very effective tool for delivering new or abstract information. For example, when Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001, he said it would allow you to carry 1,000 songs in your pocket—the “headline.” And to show you just how small it was, he said “iPod is the size of a deck of cards.”
It’s been years since I saw that presentation but I remember what he said. Why? Because the slide showed a deck of cards. Pictures trump words.
CIO.com: Does Jobs ever mentor coworkers or friends on how to present better? What a class that would be.
Gallo: Jobs expects excellence from himself and others. His presentation style is now part of the culture. Apple’s VP of marketing, Phil Schiller, performed admirably at Macworld 2009 when Jobs was absent for health reasons. He did everything that Jobs would have done. The presentation included visually striking slides, demonstrations and a commitment to the rule of three.
CIO.com: What’s that?
Gallo: We learn best by absorbing information in chunks, and chunks of three seem to work best. Comedians know that three is funnier than two, playwrights know that three is more dramatic than one, and Jobs knows that three is more persuasive than five.
Jobs divides every presentation into three parts. Schiller did exactly the same thing, saying “I have three new things to tell you about today….” So while I don’t think Jobs “teaches” his people how to present better, they have learned by having a seat next to the world’s greatest corporate storyteller.
CIO.com: What is the one thing that readers can steal the Jobsian School of Presentations?
Gallo: A Jobs presentation is intended to inform, educate and entertain. Business professionals tend to forget that last part. People get easily bored. Jobs doesn’t give you time to get bored. He builds the drama.
There’s always one moment in a Jobs presentation that I call the watercooler, or “holy smokes” moment—that part of the presentation that everybody talks about the next day. For instance, in January 2007, Jobs said that he had three revolutionary products to introduce: a widescreen iPod, a revolutionary mobile phone and an Internet communicator. He repeated this several times. Finally he said, “Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. They are one device and we are calling it, iPhone.”
Most presenters would have launched right into the introduction of their product. Not Jobs. His presentations are theatrical productions, complete with heroes, villains, stunning backdrops, a supporting cast and that one memorable moment that was worth the price of admission.
CIO.com: Any interesting stories or observations from the book which are really telling about Jobs’ presentation abilities?
Gallo: Are you ready for this? I don’t think Steve Jobs is a naturally gifted speaker.
Think about it. Nobody is born knowing how to deliver a presentation. Jobs rehearses and rehearses to get everything just right. It’s not uncommon for him to be practicing on stage for four hours at a stretch in the days before presentations. I also believe that Jobs has become a more polished speaker over time.
Author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out that it takes someone 10,000 hours to gain world-class expertise in something—be it sports, surgery or music. That’s about three hours a day over 10 years. Well, Steve Jobs has improved dramatically every decade. He started sharing ideas with his friend and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak in 1974. Ten years later, in 1984, he gave one of the greatest presentations I’ve ever seen—the introduction of the Mac.
Fast forward about a decade later, in 1997, when he returned to Apple after a leave of absence. He was a much more polished presenter, losing the lectern and not reading from notes as he had done in 1984. Now, fast forward to 2007, the launch of the iPhone at Macworld. From start to finish, it was his greatest presentation. Steve Jobs is not a natural. He works at it.
CIO.com: In his recent presentations, how has Jobs done in “managing” the effect that his appearance (due to his illness) has created? Has he done a good job in dealing with that? What can our readers take away from how he handled this tough situation?
Gallo: Jobs is comfortable and confident in his own skin. He’s the same presenter regardless of his weight.
On Sept. 9, 2009, when he returned to the world stage after having a liver transplant, he was noticeably thinner but he had more energy and enthusiasm than most presenters. He’s also self-deprecating, which helps. He said he had to gain about 30 pounds so he’s eating a lot of ice cream. That’s funny and it makes him seem more human. I also think his illness has made him more introspective.
After his scare with pancreatic cancer, he gave an emotional commencement to the Stanford grads of 2005. People forget that it was a beautifully crafted speech. There are parts of that speech that still give me goose bumps. He said: “You’re time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s’ life&don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
That speech changed my life. It reminded me that what I had chosen to do—leave daily journalism to pursue my heart’s desire—was indeed the best path for me. I’m not sure if Jobs would have given the same speech had he not had a near-death experience.