Saturday, 5 March 2011

iPad 2 launch sees another classic presentation performance from Steve Jobs

As the founder of the world’s second biggest company and inventor of truly ground-breaking technology products, Steve Jobs has plenty of plaudits to his name. Arguably, though, it is his Presentation Skills that mark him out more than anything else and his famous ‘keynotes’ have undoubtedly played a big part in Apple’s success.

I train the business community in Presentation Skills by combining traditional best practice with the Rules of Magic – principles for directing attention, persuading and convincing that come naturally to the best magicians and prove equally effective in business. When it comes to inspirational examples in the business world Jobs reigns supreme, matching the finest magicians with his every move and, importantly, doing so consistently.

Here are just some of the techniques he deployed to devastating effect at the launch of iPad 2.

Gaining attention – I usually urge the people I am coaching to do something a little different at the outset of their presentation; give their audience a surprise that seizes attention. Jobs did that simply by turning up. No one expected him to be there, so just by walking on stage he created a surprise and generated a whole lot of warmth in the process. Furthermore, the flak that Apple had taken in the build up for apparently being lax in their succession planning was swept away in an instant – and all the more so by keeping his presence completely secret. Rule 19 of the Rules of Magic states that people put much greater value on something they have worked out for themselves. Turning up and making it self-evident that he is in reasonably good health was so much more powerful than any amount of corporate pronouncements. Crucially, he didn’t make a big deal of it – Rule 18 says that doubts may be increased by over-stressing – he simply said: “I didn’t want to miss today”, so heightening the sense of anticipation.

Pacing – Rule 11 states: Attention is sustained by variation, which shortens mental time. Here the content was beautifully chunked throughout, with clear headings and timely changes to other presenters and videos. Pauses – one of the presenter’s most useful weapons - were also used to masterful effect, allowing key points to sink in and signalling applause cues.

Repetition (Rule 16: Sustained impact depends on transferring information to long term memory) – needs to be stealthy if it is to be effective and here Jobs used repetition partly as a means of showing his excitement and partly as a way of bridging from other presenters as he underlined the points they had just been making. And as with all Apple keynotes a couple of themes were used repeatedly throughout with short, memorable messages.
  • ‘Post PC’ was the term used to elevate the importance of the iPad and to link it into an innovation threesome with the iPod and the iPhone.
  • ‘2011 - year of iPad2’ was the message used to bat away the competition and bring the presentation full circle from its start point.

Graphics were, as usual, deceptively simple and highly effective as a result; if they had just managed to make all the bullet points one-liners (always so much more impactful) they would have been perfect.

Lack of jargon – as Jobs returned to the stage after demonstrations of extraordinary new features and apps he referred to them several times as ‘stuff’. How refreshingly straightforward!

Addressing what is inevitably on the audience’s minds – iPad 2 comes in both black and white, but there is a little history to consider here; white versions of iPhones were announced but proved hard to find and created frustration among some loyal customers. So rather than brush a niggle from the past under the carpet, Jobs addressed it by announcing: “It will be available in black and white (short pause) from Day One (slight twinkle in the eye)”.

Audience-facing messaging – the presentation showed much consistency in style and layout, for instance with the use of the same easy chair that says so much about the way that many people like to use their iPads. The big difference between this keynote and last year’s, however, was that Apple now had real knowledge about how the iPad could be used rather than simply the aspirations on which they launched. So the presentation soon moved to focus on scenarios such as hospitals and schools in which the product was being used to great and often unexpected effect. They let their customers do the talking for them and once again let Rule 19 (people put more value on someone they have worked out for themselves) support their communication.

Closing – We have already seen how Jobs got off to a great start and he played a blinder with the other most important part – the climax (Rule 13 says: Firsts and lasts are remembered.) As well as bringing the 2010 – Year of the iPad full circle, he also summed up the key points in a concise manner, supported by a perfectly-paced video. So he went out with a ‘bang’, but also used a technique favoured by showmen of old – he brought attention back for a final quiet moment between himself and his audience, which he devoted to a round of applause for the team behind the iPad 2 – and then their families.

Welcome back Steve and, once again, take a bow and accept all the applause that is due to you.

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