The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 0 comments

presentation-secrets-of-steve-jobsThe Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

by Carmine Gallo

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo aims to capture the traits and techniques of the former Apple CEO that made him an engaging – and often mesmerizing – public speaker, and distil them into a guide that is interesting, informative and applicable. The text walks the narrow path between admiring biography and insightful presentation guide and occasionally loses its focus – straying too far either side of this line. However, for the most part, it provides a well-balanced mix of the two, moving fluidly between anecdote and application, offering genuine, instructive guidance for those looking to capture some of Jobs’ keynote magic.

Gallo paints the picture of Steve Jobs’ success as a presenter very differently from how it is perceived by many. While the world saw Jobs as a naturally-gifted showman, something of a one-off with charm, charisma and flair that others could not hope to match, Gallo takes a more practical, analytical view. In his view, Jobs’ skills were formidable, but they were learnt, practised, refined and repeatable. It is this premise from which the book springs. Gallo uses each of the book’s 18 chapters to explore a different facet of Steve Jobs’ style – looking in detail at each element, providing examples of its use, why it worked so well and how it can be replicated.

The Rule of Three

The book is divided into three ‘acts’, which each contain half a dozen or so ‘scenes’. The acts guide you through the creation of a presentation chronologically, while the scenes contain key insights and pointers to help you along the way. The first act deals with ‘creating the story’ – looking at how Jobs crafted his message so that it was emotive, easy to understand and easy to remember. The second looks at ‘delivering the experience’ – creating slides, moments of drama, and looking at ‘soft skills’ involved in effective delivery. The final section: ‘refine and rehearse’ walks you through the benefits and necessity of rehearsing, and provides techniques for doing so effectively.

Together, the chapters work as a tonal guide rather than a step-by-step walkthrough. Gallo suggests rather than instructs but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The text is focused on altering your attitude and approach to presentations; encouraging you to create presentations as Steve Jobs would, rather than to create one of Steve Jobs’ presentations.

We begin by ‘creating the story’, pulling together the right information, in the right way, for the right audience. This section is the most interesting and useful of the book’s three acts. While the showmanship and obsessive rehearsing (discussed in later sections) may be beyond the reach (or out of the comfort zone) of many readers, there is much in the analysis of Jobs’ messages that can be easily and beneficially transplanted.

Gallo recognises Jobs’ power as a storyteller. We are accordingly implored to identify the hero and villains of our message – to outline the current problem or challenge (the villain) for our audience and introduce our offering as the valiant hero that will save the day, leading us to a better world. Along the way, we should make it easy for our audience to follow, guiding them to see things how we see them (and how we want them to see them). Creating short, snappy headlines, answering the question that means most to them, and providing a route as to where we are going are all part of making the story as easy as possible for them to follow, to understand and to share.

Gallo has collected together ideas common to much of Jobs’ work. He presents them in anecdotal form, then moves on to discuss how the idea can be applied, and how he has successfully done so in his own work. The formula works well, and makes for an interesting and informative read with the right balance of analysis and advice. Gallo’s tone is motivational and uplifting – as you would expect from this kind of guide – and he strikes the right note in terms of the subject matter: enough depth for Apple fans, and enough background for newcomers.

The middle act of the book focusses on delivery. It is here that we are walked through specific examples of Steve Jobs’ stagecraft – how he presents information in such a way that transforms ‘prospects into customers, and customers into evangelists’. Chapters centre around simplifying information, contextualising figures, using dynamic language, and introducing guests and props. Where this chapter could have slid into an ‘ode to Steve Jobs’, Gallo is careful, keeping the text grounded and relevant to the audience and their expectations. That being said, there are occasions where the author’s adoration for Jobs overtakes the guidance, and we are occasionally left wondering what the point of this is – or how we’re supposed to apply this to our world. However, these are few and far between, and for the most part Gallo is practical, writing to his readers’ expectations.

To anyone who has paid any interest to Apple over the past few years, the traits that Gallo picks up on will not be surprising. Much of what Jobs was renowned for – his simple straightforward language, his energy and enthusiasm, his elegant slide designs and dramatic reveals are all represented and discussed in detail. What is particularly interesting however, is how Gallo has managed to distil these down into applicable direction that is specific yet general enough to work for any reader. As a package, Steve Jobs’ approach to presentations is unachievable, and many would be put off trying to reach his level. However, by breaking his technique down into manageable chucks, Gallo offers hope and a real solution to those wanting to improve their skills.

The final section reveals the work and dedication that is needed to pull off a presentation with Steve Jobs’ level of finesse. Presenting without notes, dressing correctly and knowing material inside out is not new advice, but it is relevant and important.

Well-crafted but limited

It would have been easy for this book to become a fanboy’s list of everything that was great about Steve Jobs. Likewise, it would have been just as easy to write another guide on how to make your presentations better. Neither would have added much to the crowded marketplace. Instead, Gallo takes the best elements of both and weaves them together into a unique and inspiring title.

As a whole, Gallo’s text is excellent at what it does. The formula of taking an iconic figure and breaking down traits of his success for everyone to use works really well. However, as a guide to creating more effective presentations, it falls short on detail. Because Gallo is limited by the source material available – essentially, media-focused high end product launches – there is not enough information for readers in more common (possibly) mundane situations.

More guidance on the best way to structure different types of presentation would have been useful, as would advice on how to tailor these techniques to different environments. Furthermore, while Gallo expresses the importance of using pictures instead of words, and few words if they must be used, he talks little about how graphics and diagrams can further strengthen a message, if they are used correctly. Having said that, the book is advertised as a guide to the presentation style of Steve Jobs, and does not claim to do more. As such, these omissions are more a missed opportunity to be more thorough than a flaw of the book per se.

The effectiveness of the text will really come down to whether the techniques employed in media-focused, high profile product launch keynotes will have any traction in lower-key, everyday business environments. Presentations around the world deal with matters that are more complex, more involved and generally less sexy than a revolutionary mobile phone launch. Does this book work for them?

Beneath the flair, the drama and ceremony, Gallo (and Jobs’) key messages – to simplify, polish and enthuse – resonate with all readers. Much beyond that however, will be lost and is simply too far removed from many business situations. That being said, if readers only take away these three central lessons, the improvement in their presentations will be dramatic. The book is worth reading simply to be walked through these three points, and to learn how to apply them effectively in your own work.

In Conclusion

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo captures the things that were great about Jobs, that made him an engaging and mesmerising presenter, and presents them in a way that is not only interesting but applicable to the everyday business environment. Gallo’s advice is not revolutionary – in fact a lot stems from common sense – but this kind of advice has rarely been packaged in this way: with genuinely inspirational source material that readers can so easily relate and aspire to.

For fans of Apple, the book provides an insight into their hero’s work ethic, unpicking the individual elements that made him great at what he did. For newcomers, it is a well-written and informative guide to presenting, if not the most thorough or exhaustive guide on the shelves.

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