A commonly cited statistic, repeated on day one of just about every communications course I’ve taken, is that people are more afraid of speaking or presenting in public than they are of dying. I’ve never been able to find an official source for this statistic, but it’s indisputable that most people recoil in terror at the thought of giving a presentation, whether it’s to an audience of five or five thousand.
Steve Jobs obviously does not share this phobia. His stage persona during keynote presentations has been carefully crafted to convey to audiences his enthusiasm for whatever it is he’s discussing that day. Whether you call it the “reality distortion field” or just good public speaking ability, Jobs’s skills as a speaker are seemingly unmatched in the realm of CEO presenters.
Carmine Gallo is one of many communications experts who’s scrutinized Jobs’s presenting skills; in fact, he has literally written the book on the Apple CEO’s style, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, which we reviewed last October. Rather than shell out for the whole book, though, you can get a nice synopsis of the key aspects of Steve Jobs’s presentation style from Gallo himself in the YouTube video below:
The points Gallo makes are simple to follow, and pretty much identical to both what TUAW gleaned from reviewing his book and what I learned in the communications courses I took in college. Interestingly enough, the presentation skills Gallo enumerates are also very similar to basic skills needed in essay writing: present a clear topic, outline what you’re going to talk about, provide readers/audiences with clear transitions, make statistics relevant to your topic and to your audience, and so on. Underlying all of these ideas is one unifying principle: keep it simple.
Gallo is far from the first person to analyze Steve Jobs’s onstage skills. Back when I was taking a course in Business and Professional Writing, I came across a post from Presentation Zen comparing the different styles of Apple and Microsoft presentations. Presentation Zen makes the observation that Steve Jobs uses his Keynote slides as a primarily visual medium, with very few words (often only a single phrase) per slide and a minimum of graphics. Jobs uses Keynote slides to emphasize his key points without drawing too much audience attention away from where it belongs: on Jobs, the presenter. By contrast, Microsoft’s presentations are an all-too-familiar iteration of the “PowerPoint Hell” we’ve all suffered through at one time or another, whether in a college course or a business meeting: reams of text on the slide, confusing graphics, busy slides, and masses of bullet points that draw your attention away from the presenter and have you spending half the presentation just trying to read the slides.
I’ve deliberately emulated Steve Jobs’s presentation style for several of my own presentations since reading the Presentation Zen article, and by doing so every speech I’ve given has been successful in three key ways: alleviating any public speaking anxiety I may have felt, keeping the audience engaged and enthusiastic about the topic, and most importantly, getting the point of the presentation across without being a massive bore. Given that Jobs has an industry-wide reputation as a phenomenal showman, it certainly can’t hurt to swipe some of his presentation tactics for your own speeches – although be aware that the black turtleneck and jeans look doesn’t work for everyone.