How to Wow ‘Em Like Steve Jobs

The Apple CEO is well known for his electrifying presentations. Here are five tips to make your next talk just as mesmerizing — or close

Apple Computer (AAPL), now celebrating 30 years of innovation, has revolutionized the way we use computers and listen to music. Now its charismatic co-founder, Steve Jobs, has transformed the corporate pitch. Anyone who has watched a Jobs keynote will tell you he is one of the most extraordinary speakers in Corporate America. Jobs learned a long time ago that a leader must be a company evangelist and brand spokesperson.

As a communications coach and former business journalist, I have spent plenty of time with Apple executives and have watched my share of Jobs’ presentations. He is magnificent. But whether you are pitching a hot gizmo, such as the iPod, or a hot sub sandwich, a story is a story and your goal is to win customers. Here are Jobs’ five keys to a dazzling presentation.

Sell the Benefit
Steve Jobs does not sell bits of metal; he sells an experience. Instead of focusing on mind-numbing statistics, as most technologists tend to do, Jobs sells the benefit. For example, when introducing a 30 GB iPod, he clearly explains what it means to the consumer — users can carry 7,500 songs, 25,000 photos, or up to 75 hours of video. In January when Jobs introduced the first Intel (INTC)-based Mac notebook he began by saying, “What does this mean?”

He went on to explain the notebook had two processors, making the new product four to five times faster than the Powerbook G4, a “screamer” as he called it. He said it was Apple’s thinnest notebook and comes packed with “amazing” new features like a brighter wide-screen display and a built-in camera for video conferencing. It’s not about the technology, but what the technology can do for you.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
Jobs takes nothing for granted during product launches. He reviews and rehearses his material. According to a Business Week article on February 6, 2006, “Jobs unveils Apple’s latest products as if he were a particularly hip and plugged-in friend showing off inventions in your living room. Truth is, the sense of informality comes only after grueling hours of practice.” The article goes on to say that it’s not unusual for Jobs to prepare for four hours as he reviews every slide and demonstration (see BW, 2/6/06, “Steve Jobs’ Magic Kingdom”).

Keep It Visual
Speaking of slides, there are very few bullet points in a Jobs presentation. Each slide is highly visual. If he’s discussing the new chip inside a computer, a slide in the background will show a colorful image of the chip itself alongside the product. That’s it. Simple and visual.

Apple’s presentations are not created on PowerPoint, as the vast majority of presentations are. But PowerPoint slides can be made visual as well. It’s a matter of thinking about the content visually instead of falling into the habit of creating slide after slide with headlines and bullet points. I once worked with the vice-president of a public company who planned to show more than 80 data-heavy slides in a 40-minute presentation. Imagine how quickly his audience would have tuned out.

After I showed him just how visual his message could be, he went back to the drawing board, dismantled his existing presentation, and reduced it to about 10 image-rich slides. The next day a newspaper reporter wrote that my client had “wowed” analysts and investors. The stock rose 17% in the days that followed. Take a cue from Jobs and help your listeners visualize the message.

Exude Passion, Energy, and Enthusiasm
Jobs has an infectious enthusiasm. When launching the video iPod, Jobs said, “It’s the best music player we’ve made,” “It has a gorgeous screen,” “The color is fantastic,” and “The video quality is amazing.”

The first time I watch my clients present, I often have to stop them to ask if they are sincerely passionate about their message. They usually assure me they are, but they tend to lose energy and enthusiasm when they fall into “presentation mode.” Jobs carries his enthusiasm into his presentations.

There is no better example of Jobs’ passion than the famous story of how he convinced John Sculley to lead Apple in the mid ’80s by asking him, “Do you want to sell sugared water all your life or do you want to change the world?” The former Pepsi executive chose the latter and, although the pairing ultimately failed to work out, it reflects Jobs’ sense of mission — a mission that he conveyed consistently in the early years of Apple and continues to today.

“And One More Thing…”
At the end of each presentation Jobs adds to the drama by saying, “and one more thing.” He then adds a new product, new feature, or sometimes introduces a band. He approaches each presentation as an event, a production with a strong opening, product demonstrations in the middle, a strong conclusion, and an encore — that “one more thing!”

It’s Your Turn
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