There have been many books written about Steve Jobs’ skill as a presenter. Jobs is widely acclaimed as the ‘gold standard’ of presenters. And he certainly was outstanding. But the Apple co-founder was only human, and he made mistakes and missed opportunities just like the rest of us. So before you try to make yourself over as the next Steve Jobs there are a few things you should know.
You’re not Steve Jobs. Jobs was a celebrity. He could deliver presentations to thousands of people while dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt, and sneakers. He was only one of a handful of people who could pull that off. Mark Zuckerberg can do it. Richard Branson can do it in a dress. But even Donald Trump wears a suit when speaking to a large group. You probably should, too.
Steve Jobs always had a friendly audience. Whether addressing an audience of Apple employees (friendly), a group of developers and techies at a product launch (friendly), or students at their university commencement (awestruck), Steve Jobs didn’t have to worry about hecklers or skeptics. His audiences were very receptive. You probably won’t be so lucky. Most of your audiences will be skeptical at best and hostile at worst. That’s business.
Steve Jobs made mistakes. While launching the iPhone, Jobs announced that Apple was introducing three products, in this order: a widescreen iPod with touch controls (loud applause), a revolutionary new mobile phone (wild applause), and an internet communicator (huh? – a smattering of subdued applause). Jobs should have mentioned the internet communicator second – always bury the weakest item in the middle. The phone should have been last, so he could have built up the anticipation and emotion to the max. It probably wouldn’t have made much difference because it was Steve Jobs and people were dying to get their hands on that phone, but the response would have been even stronger if he had saved the best for last.
Steve Jobs missed opportunities. One was when he introduced the world’s thinnest notebook computer, the MacBook Air. Jobs, always the showman, took the sleek new product out of an interoffice mail envelope and unveiled to the world it for the first time. The only problem was the image projected behind him was of an interoffice envelope. That made the grand reveal somewhat anticlimactic – people saw it coming. Here’s what he could have done:
Imagine Jobs is about to introduce the MacBook Air. Suddenly, a man in a familiar brown deliveryman’s uniform wanders onto the stage and interrupts him.
Deliveryman: “Excuse me, I’m looking for Steve Jobs….”
Jobs: Looks at audience in disbelief, as if there could be someone on the planet who doesn’t recognize him. Pregnant pause. “I’m Steve Jobs.”
Deliveryman: “OK, I need you to sign right here.”
Jobs: “I’m in the middle of an important presentation, can’t this wait?”
Deliveryman: “No sir, it’s urgent – I have to deliver this right now.”
Jobs: “Sigh. OK.” [signs for the envelope]
Deliveryman: “Thank you. Have a nice day.” [exits stage left]
Jobs: [opens envelope] “Introducing the new MacBook Air.” [super-crazy applause]
This may seem like nitpicking, whether to mention a particular thing second or third on a list, or whether the deliveryman gimmick would be better than just picking up an envelope yourself. But Steve Jobs had a much more forgiving audience than most of us will have. We have a tougher time standing out and getting our message across, so we have to nitpick.
Steve Jobs had a flair for the dramatic, but even he could have done better. So don’t worry if you’re not the best presenter. You can keep learning. You can learn a lot about presenting from Steve Jobs. Including this: There’s always room for improvement.