Presentation Skills in Three Acts and One Apple

Mar 09 2011

Apple must have been relieved to have Steve Jobs back (if briefly) for their latest new product introduction (iPad 2).  Although he looked a little frail, he still commanded the stage, using presentation skills that all researchers can also use, including many tricks from Hollywood.  In The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, Carmine Gallo summarises these skills in three acts (like all the best plays and presentations).

Create a Story

Always start with the story, and always start the story with a plan.  Planning a presentation is best done in analog (ie long before you open your presentation software), by reviewing your material and creating a coherent narrative around the key insights and ideas.  Use a sketch pad and draw a mindmap of your key ideas, or take your data sources and lay them out on the table sorting and arranging them into the key messages that they are able to support.  The narrative should be driven by the ultimate goal - what is the most important question to your audience, and how do you answer that question?  Put more bluntly, “why should your andience care?”.

When you have your answer, consider how it can be reduced into a headline (in last week’s presentation, it was “2010: The Year of iPad”.  Headlines should be twitter-like (140 characters or less), and linked to three key messages (three key points and three acts work best - ask Hollywood!).  The headline and the three key messages will form an ‘elevator speech’ which you can use to provide a 30 second summary to your client if you need to!  Make use of metaphors and analogies (I will write more on this in a series of articles on consumer psychology over the next month), and introduce antagonists (competitors) and heroines and heroes (consumer, brand) in the best style of Hollywood (and Bollywood).

Steve Jobs also uses a ten minute rule which is a good guide to breaking up your presentation into ‘digestible’ pieces, separated by intermissions.  Ten minutes of material is enough for your audience to reflect on and digest before moving on.

Deliver an experience

Create an emotional connection between yourself and your audience by engaging them with your material. The first rule of engagement is simplicity (as with Apple’s product designs), and Jony Ive who designed many of them (including the iPad) has said that ‘what we remove from the devices is just as important we keep in’.  The same is true of presentations, which benefit enormously from the removal of clutter and material not relevant to the main message (headline).  Steve Jobs also does this with his slides, which rarely feature more than a few words, and sometimes consist of a simple image or single number to maximise impact.  Latest research shows that bullet points are ineffective in communicating ideas, as our minds do not work in linear ways, but think in stories, analogies and connected ideas.  By all means have a script and words to speak (written as you speak), but that does not mean they have to be on your slides, which will benefit from the use of visual imagery to support your messages - visual images are remembered much better than words.  Einstein said that ‘if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough’ and this is a great principle to follow in presentations.

Steve Jobs is also very good at presenting numbers, which he likes to ‘dress up’ in the sense that he provides full context for the audience to properly understand their meaning.  When he talks about the size of a product he provides context (if the new iPod weighs 7 ounces, that means you can put it in your pocket; hence ’1000 songs in your pocket’).  Numbers only have meaning when they are made relevant to your audience.  Steve Jobs makes good use of props which are a great way to engage, and researchers can too. For example use video and audio clips (especially if you’ve been talking for 10 minutes!) and bring sample products with you to share with your audience.

Practice, practice, practice

Steve Jobs spends hours and hours (and sometimes weeks and weeks) refining and rehearsing his presentations.  While we don’t all have time to do this, it is important to practice your presentation before the main event, and to use the practice as an opportunity to improve and edit your material.  Your physical presence is important (around 50-70% of the impression you make on your audience), so deliver with authority and confidence and practice so you can appear effortless on the day.

Most importantly, toss the script!  When you know your material well, you can talk to your audience and not to your slides, creating good eye contact and creating a lot more impact!  If you have fun, then they will too, and you will have successfully delivered an insanely great presentation.


The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience by Carmine Gallo (2009)

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