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Saturday January 16, 2010

Secrets of a captivating communicator

Review by CHOO LI-HSIAN


The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Author: Carmine Gallo

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

“Presentations have become the de facto business communication tool. Companies are started, products are launched, climate systems are saved – possibly based on the quality of presentations. Likewise, ideas, endeavours and even careers can be cut short due to ineffective communication. Out of the millions of presentations delivered each day, only a small percentage are delivered well.” – Nancy Duarte, presentation design guru who transformed Al Gore’s 35mm slides into the award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

WHEN you watch someone delivering a great presentation, ever ask yourself “Why not me?” More specifically, when you watch a Steve Jobs keynote presentation (and there are more than 35,000 of these archived on YouTube), ever wonder if you too can blow away your audience, like he does, and give people a high they will crave again and again?

Carmine Gallo’s answer to you is: “You can.” The author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience highlights that “Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage. No one else comes close. A Jobs presentation unleashes a rush of dopamine into the brains of his audience.” He has “transformed the typical, dull, technical plodding slide show into a theatrical event complete with heroes, villains, a supporting cast, and stunning backdrops.”

However, he is not a natural. Although he has always had a kind of theatrical flair, his style has evolved and improved since the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 (and who does not remember that iconic ad?).

He does this by being intensely focused on improvement, pouring over every slide, demo, and every detail of a presentation. Like all actors, he rehearses till he gets it right. Presenting like Jobs requires planning and practice.

This book captures the best of Jobs’ presentations and reveals, for the first time, the exact techniques that he uses to inspire his audience. You will learn how Jobs crafts messages, presents ideas, generates excitement for a product or feature, delivers a memorable experience and creates customer evangelists.

Whether you are launching a product, pitching to investors, closing a sale or even a teacher trying to inspire a class, you will be able to gain something from Jobs’ techniques.

The author also encourages readers to use the many clips featuring Jobs found on YouTube as a complement to techniques revealed in the book.

The book is structured like one of Jobs’ favourite metaphors: a three-act play. Act 1 consists of seven chapters that provide you with the practical tools (and great sidebar examples) to create a story behind your brand to win over your audience. The six chapters in Act 2 shows you how to deliver an exceptional experience by giving you tips on how to transform your presentations into visually appealing and memorable encounters.

Act 3 spans five chapters that help you refine and rehearse your presentations, tackling topics such as body language, verbal delivery, and how to make “scripted” presentations sound natural and conversational. It even addresses your choice of wardrobe.

Whilst words like “seductive”, “magnetic”, “captivating” and “charismatic” have been commonly used to describe Jobs, other terms used, typically related to his interpersonal traits, are less flattering.

So, the author does qualify at the start of the book that this is a book about Jobs the communicator, not Jobs the boss.

The book is not a biography of Jobs nor is it a history of Apple. Gallo first wrote a column about Jobs and his presentation skills for BusinessWeek.com that become hugely popular around the world; appealing to Mac and PC owners alike who wanted to improve the way they sell themselves and their ideas. The rest is history.

What the book does focus on and sets out to do, it does well. Throughout the book, one important key question is subliminally asked: “What am I really selling?” As neuroscientist Gregory Berns once said: “A person can have the greatest idea in the world – completely different and novel – but if that person can’t convince enough people, it doesn’t matter.”

The question is whether you have the skill to turn seemingly boring items into exciting brand stories i.e. “create something esoteric or meaningful out of everyday products.” Only a handful of leaders have this skill.

Examples provided include Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz who does not just sell coffee; he sells a “third place” between work and home. Then there is Cisco CEO John Chambers who sells more than Internet enabling routers and switches, he sells “human connections that change the way we live, work, play and learn.”

Consistent with this, Jobs does not just sell computers (one of Jobs’ most famous metaphor being “the computer is equivalent to a bicycle for our minds”); he sells tools to unleash human potential. The book reminds us that the usual bullets and numbers format in a typical PowerPoint template should be avoided as “it is the story and not the slides” that will capture your audience’s attention.

I especially like how emphasis is placed on use of tools more commonly used in creative writing such as metaphors and analogies as well as the use of good Twitter length headlines that stick, e.g. “Apple’s Skinny Macbook is Fat with Features.” Also the advice on how to make numbers meaningful, e.g. “Stores 1,000 songs” not “Has 5 GB of memory.”

As Gallo puts it: “Remember, your widget doesn’t inspire. Show me how your widget improves my life and you’ve won me over. Do it in a way that entertains me and you’ll have created a true evangelist... If you cannot get people to care, your product will never stand a chance of success nor will they be interested.

“People do not pay attention to boring things. Do not let your ideas die because you failed to present them in a way that sparked the imagination of your listeners. Use Job’s techniques to reach the hearts and minds of everyone you hope to influence.”

He points out: “Even if you adopt just some of his techniques, yours will stand out from the legions of mediocre presentations delivered on any given day. Your competitors and colleagues will look like amateurs in comparison.” Do your next presentation audience a big favour and crush those competitors today – get this book.

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