Getting Your Message Across
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has often been cited as an extraordinary presenter – inspirational, energetic, engaging. While we may never be on the world stage or sell as powerful a brand as Apple, we can certainly take away a few pointers from Jobs’ presentations. See for yourself by downloading and viewing his Macworld 2008 keynote address at apple.com. If you’re a die-hard lots-of-text-on-slides type of presenter, you’ll need to see it to believe it. Or simply take a look at this list of Jobs’ best practices that can help you make your next presentation more powerful.
Don’t neglect the element of show: Include choreography, multiple media, guest speakers, entertainment and – most important – rehearsal. Jobs opens the Macworld presentation with one of the popular Mac vs. PC television spots. It clearly sets the stage for the tone and feel of the presentation. From there, his comments are perfectly choreographed with the images on the screen. Jobs reportedly rehearses his presentations for hours – and the results show.
Provide a roadmap: It’s helpful for listeners to hear where you’re going at the start, and then hear you link back to this roadmap during the presentation. It may sound simplistic, but the best presentation structure is: tell them what you’re going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you said. It will reinforce important messages and help listeners follow along. Jobs tells his audience that he’ll be talking about four topics – and as he touches on each one throughout the presentation, it’s indicated on the slide with a simple numeral – one through four.
Use compelling graphics to complement words: At the 2008 Worldwide Developers’ Conference, Jobs shows a simple three-legged stool to illustrate the three parts of Apple: the Mac, the music business and the iPhone. One note that may seem counterintuitive: Jobs typically presents in front of a giant screen that virtually fills the stage from top to bottom. You might think this would take the focus away from the speaker. Instead, the simple, impactful images help the audience home in on Jobs.
Keep slides simple: This is one of Jobs’ trademarks. An audience would be hard pressed to find one of his slides with more than 10 words. Most have one focal point in large type with 4-5 words of supporting text. The entire presentation is geared toward riveting the attention of the audience – and not to have them read text on slides.
When Jobs starts the presentation by saying “I have four things to talk about today,” there is one thing on the screen: the number one. Not four lengthy bullet points describing each topic, and not even four simple words. When introducing a new product called Time Capsule, the slide simply reads “Time Capsule,” accompanied by an image of the product. Again – not a lengthy list of the product features and benefits. That’s left to Jobs’ verbal description, which keeps the audience focused on the speaker and not on a busy slide resembling a laundry list.
Keep in mind that people read faster than you can talk – so if you’re showing them text on a screen, it’s a guarantee that they’re reading ahead and not listening to you.
Put numbers in context: When Jobs reveals that the company had sold 4 million iPhones, the screen reads simply: “4M.” But in the next breath and on the next slide, he breaks that down into a figure that’s easier to grasp: 20,000 iPhones sold every day. I have to assume those figures are rounded, and for a purpose. It’s simpler and cleaner to say “4 million” than 3,987,253 – with the added benefit that the audience will remember a simpler figure.
Use animation judiciously: While it may be tempting to use many of the 60 or so PowerPoint animation features just because they are there, you’ll see that Jobs’ slide transitions are simple, and bullets build with a simple “appear.” Slides and text don’t fly in, or dissolve, or spin. Again – this keeps the focus on the slide to a minimum, and the focus on the speaker to the max.
Make charts dynamic – but with a purpose: When describing iPhone market share, Jobs effectively uses a pie chart to tell the story of how the product captured share in its first quarter of distribution. But he doesn’t just show a static chart. Each piece of the pie chart builds as he tells the story of market share – with the result that the speaker controls the flow of information that the audience sees and hears. The effect: the animation actually aids the speaker in telling a powerful story.
Use pictures, not words: Do you have a new product to demonstrate? Jobs literally walked the audience through a full-screen simulation of new iPhone features. While most of us would be tempted to resort to a bulleted list of features, Jobs literally shows them to us – powerfully illustrating the old saw that “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
In summary, what sets Jobs apart is a technique that creates a laserlike focus of the audience’s attention on the presenter and the message – not on a parade of busy, text-filled slides they could have read to themselves at their desks. Whether you’re speaking to your management team, employees, or outside stakeholders, consider improving your delivery by taking a page from Steve Jobs’ book – or a slide from his PowerPoint presentation.