Book Review: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

by Dr. Luanne Fose - The Tweed Geek on February 7, 2013

Steve Jobs Holding an iPod Shuffle

Many of you know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Apple fan. My devotion is not recent like many who have jumped onto the Apple bandwagon with the advent of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. (Don’t I sound uppity?) No… my roots are deep and truly loyal, going way back to when Apple, Inc. was just a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eyes and I continued to hang on in support when Apple was floundering in the early 90′s. Yes, I have been an Apple fan since 1983 when I acquired my first Apple IIE to program music theory ear training software. Even at my Cal Poly job interview in 2001, I told the recruitment committee that if I couldn’t work from a Mac everyday, then I wouldn’t take the job (and I meant it). I honestly couldn’t imagine waking up every morning to the start-up sound of a PC (although if I had composed that lousy little sound and received a royalty, I would be sitting on millions right now).

So, you can imagine my joy in 2006 when I was fortunate enough to attend a MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs would be giving the keynote. I arrived at the conference center rather late that morning since I had thought that my ticket would only grant me a seat in the auxiliary room where Job’s presentation was to be piped in on a large screen. Many of the ticket holders for the main room had camped outside of the convention center the night before in order to secure a seat near the stage. However, to my great surprise, when I went to enter the auxiliary room, the doorman informed me that my ticket was for the MAIN room containing Apple executives, programmers and press and that my magic ticket would allow me to watch Steve Jobs present “live.” You would have thought I had won the lottery – I was so excited! I ran to the main room out-of-breath and grabbed a chair near the back (actually, truth be known, I stood on the chair like a groupie to take pictures of Jobs appearing on stage) and I quickly called my partner to exclaim, “I’m in the main room, I’m in the main room! Steve is walking in right now!” No Apple fan could have been happier than I was that day.

Besides the hype that is traditionally Apple whenever the company introduces new products or sales figures to shareholders, I couldn’t help being pulled in by Job’s charisma. In his standard attire of a St. Croix black mock turtleneck, blue jeans, and running shoes, you would not think he could captivate the audience’s attention the way he did. I soon realized that it just wasn’t the coolness of the product he represented but the powerful way in which he presented that had you on the edge of your seat.

Rumors have it that Jobs would rehearse with his crew for hours on end three days before any of the MacWorld Expo keynotes. Every “i” was dotted and every “t” was crossed to make sure that everything went off in the keynote without a hitch. In fact, in 2002 Jobs designed Apple’s presentation software, Keynote, as an alternative to PowerPoint to allow him to present in the manner that at the time was uniquely him — a very graphic-oriented, story-telling style that incorporated a bare minimum of text. After the experience at MacWorld Expo, I began changing my approach to slide presentations and although I did switch to using Keynote (because I like the intuitive interface and the way it handles media better than PowerPoint), I’ve determined that captivating an audience like Steve Jobs has little to do with the type of presentation software you use and everything to do with how you craft and deliver your story.

 In his book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, Carmine Gallo comments on Steve Jobs’ charisma:  “… Jobs is a magnetic pitchman who sells his ideas with a flair that turns prospects into customers and customers into evangelists. He has charisma, defined by the German sociologist Max Weber as ‘a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary people and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.’” Gallo believes that Jobs’ charisma is accessible to any ordinary person as long as you understand how to craft and deliver a presentation in the way that Jobs did. Personally, I believe there is more to charisma than that, but certainly Gallo’s presentation tips that reflect upon Jobs’ style can take a mediocre presenter and make them stand out from the crowd.

Unlike his archrival Bill Gates, Jobs’ presentation slides are simple and uncluttered. Gallo points out that your presentation slides should mirror your narrative; making them complicated will not provide an enhancement to your message, so keep it simple. This juxtaposition between the two tech kings is clearly illustrated in the images shown below, which compare the slide presentations of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Jobs largely avoids mind-numbing data, stats, and jargon in his presentations, which is what Bill Gates was primarily about. As Gallo points out, “A Steve Jobs presentation is strikingly simple, visual, and devoid of bullet points. That’s right – no bullet points. Ever.”

bill gates more complexity

bill gates & bullet points

Steve Jobs at MacWorld Expo

Jobs designed Apple products to be easier to use by eliminating features that had normally been buried deep in the software, while at the same time making the interface more intuitive. In his interview with BusinessWeek in 1998, Jobs shares, “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Jobs’ goals of hardware and software design simplification at Apple also translate into the manner of how he designs his presentation slides and how he speaks to an audience.

Steve Jobs & Bill Gates Text Analysis Comparison Speaking of the way Jobs spoke to an audience: Seattle Post Intelligencer tech reporter Todd Bishop wrote a blog article  in which he compared the transcripts of four presentations in 2007 and 2008 where Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were the keynote speakers. Implementing the online software tool UsingEnglish.com, which analyzes the comprehension of language, Bishop compared the presentation styles of Jobs and Gates. The results discussed in that blog post clearly demonstrate that Jobs speaks in a simpler style than Gates, especially in terms of the Gunning Fog Index, which measures the number of years of education that a person needs to grasp the content. Gunning Fog Index for Jobs: 5.5 (the middle of 5th grade); Gunning Fog Index for Gates: 10.7 (the middle of 10th grade).

Carmine Gallo points out that most presenters create “slideuments” – documents that mask as slides. “Slideuments act as a crutch for mediocre presenters who read every word on the slide, often turning their backs to the audience to do so. Jobs does have a script – largely in his head. His slides, which are highly visual, act as a prompter. Each slide has one key idea and one key idea only.” As Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design and author of Slide:ology, points out, “It’s laziness on the presenter’s part to put everything on one slide.”  Even so, I can’t tell you how many presentations I have sat through with massive amounts of data on a slide while the presenter read the slide to me – unfortunately, it’s the hallmark of our academic institutions (Ugh!).

Most people would agree that Steve Jobs reached his peak in presentation performance at MacWorld Expo 2007, when he introduced the iPhone to the world. If you have some time, sit back and learn from the master by watching the Top 10 Steve Jobs Keynote Moments (as proposed by Ranker.com). My personal favorite for sentimental purposes is #3 when Jobs demos the first Apple Macintosh computer in 1984 and the audience goes wild over a talking computer.

So… if I could summarize the most important point of this book, it is this: Use the visuals on your slide to prompt you to deliver just one key theme – one main message – per slide. This means that the visuals become of utmost importance when preparing your slide presentation! Spend more time looking for just the right image instead of throwing up an image as an afterthought. Expand that image so that it takes up the majority of your slide space and let the picture say the “thousand words” you had hoped to convey to your audience.

My Favorite Tips from the Book

(Pretend that I am using a visual with one slide per tip here):

1. Storyboard on pen and paper first, then move on to using your presentation software.

2. Answer the one question that matters most to your audience and focus upon it.

3. Create Twitter-like headlines that fit into 140 characters or less.

4. Use the “Rule of 3″ (i.e., 3 main message points) to develop a road map for your audience.

5. Data is meaningless without context. Make your statistics come alive in a context that is relevant to the lives of your listeners.

6. Avoid bullet points.

7. The use of white space is an art too infrequently used. White space is your friend like rests are the friend of a musical composer.

8. Learn to create visually aesthetic slides with only one theme per slide.

9. Use “amazingly zippy” words (e.g., awesome, amazing, cool, unbelievable, etc.)

10. Include a demo in your presentation (if possible) and deliver it with pizazz.

11. Plan a surprise for your listeners (in Jobs’ case, this was his “one more thing” addendum to every presentation).

12. Don’t tire your listeners. Human attention spans are short. 10 minutes is a good length to shoot for.

In conclusion, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is a book I continue to go back to and read over again. It’s a pleasant read and provides growth for my personal academic career goals. This one is definitely worth adding to your personal library!

~ Dr. Luanne Fose (The Tweed Geek)

References:

Carmine Gallo, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (New York: McGraw Hill, 2010)
Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2008)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar J.R. February 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Thanks for the very well done review. I think some excellent points are made, especially about the use of graphics and keeping slides uncluttered.

However, the applicability of Jobs’s techniques may be somewhat limited in an academic environment. Jobs’s Apple succeeds by convincing customers that knowing less is genius. A University is about helping students to know more. A single slide that says “iPod” is graphically beautiful, but it does not teach. The first MS-Live slide shown above is cluttered and ugly, but one can learn something from it; it graphically shows the structure of a network. (Disclaimer: I’m no fan of Gates and prefer Apple’s PC’s over MS’s.)

Our challenge is very different from that of the Great Salesman: How do we teach our students complex topics with simple slides? How do we “wow” our students without dumbing the content down?

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avatar Dr. Luanne Fose - The Tweed Geek February 12, 2013 at 11:12 am

J.R.,

I agree on many levels with what you’re saying regarding the difference between academia and marketing, but I have also seen a majority of our faculty with way too many bullet points on a slide and it is very distracting to the learning. In such cases, students finish reading the contents of the slide long before the instructor even begins to discuss the content (this is largely due to the fact that the human mind can read faster than it can listen) . The result is that the students become bored and fidgety or distracted by a droning voice as a background to their reading (the instructor that they’re supposed to be engaged in listening to) or their brains are trying to navigate through the slide’s complications (e.g., the Bill Gates 1st slide above showing the structure of a network) rather than listening to what the instructor wishes to convey.

I am a huge fan of minimal slides (1 image) and extensive notes for each slide that explain the details for those who may need a refresher after class for studying purposes or for those who are not physically present to hear the presentation. I find it sad that many instructors post their PowerPoint slides in a LMS (such as Moodle) without notes and so a student then has to depend on the text that is on the slide itself. Frankly, I don’t think PowerPoints should be posted in a LMS unless they have narration or extensive notes. It’s funny how traditional instructors are worried that they’ll be “replaced” by online teaching, but then they offer such a poor substitute (the PowerPoint posted online) to replace their teaching presentation. UGH!

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avatar J.R. February 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm

If you look at a set of slides on the LMS and see lists of topics, it’s natural to imagine a monotonous Bill-like voice just reading them, and I agree that this happens too often (“ever” being too often). But for many of us, the slides were never intended to replace face-to-face interaction. Even the most gorgeous slides with copious notes (or videos, or anything else online) are a poor substitute for direct, two-way contact with a reasonably competent, motivated instructor. Bullet points are a starting point for a conversation, a cue for going to the chalk-or-whiteboard and doing a derivation, or a sign for the students do an in-class exercise to learn about one of those points. A real lecture is about looking each other in the eyes, asking each other questions, and developing a better understanding together. A monologue? I agree: Ugh.

Slides or notes on an LMS are there as a last resort for students who couldn’t make it to a lecture despite their best effort, and as a reference so they can recall the topics about which they learned in the lectures and exercises where learning took place. They don’t teach; they remind.

Surely you’d agree about the significance of being in the same room. Why were you so ecstatic to see Jobs in person? Why not be equally excited to watch the video?

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avatar Luanne Fose February 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I’m not sure which I would prefer: seeing Jobs in person from a distance at MacWorld or being able to have a private one-on-one conversation with him in an online course discussion forum. I think I might prefer the latter in terms of what I might learn. Although his personality is strong enough to come through in his writing, you might be right: the excitement of seeing your “hero” in person is a bit different than just standing face-to-face with an ordinary teacher (although many of my teachers have also been my heroes).

What I’m was trying to say is that many instructors think this is what online teaching is… just posting PowerPoints and readings online (boring and not any sort of dialogue or interaction between teacher and students or student-to-student). Since there is no chance in online courses to “look each other in the eyes” as you put it, there must be outlets for dialogue where the expert can mentor a student. This is why I love the idea of the flipped classroom at universities like Harvard that have well-known experts that every student wants to take a course with. It would be so much better to have a back-and-forth discussion with an expert than to just hear them lecturing at you.

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