While many people seem to view Steve Jobs as the best presenter ever, I do not necessarily agree with this opinion. He undoubtably had a “spark” that many people try to emulate and few achieve. However, in order to better understand Steve Job’s success in presentations, it is important to examine the context where they take place; the techniques used; the structuring of the communication, etc.
Whenever an event was scheduled for Steve Jobs, it was always well publicized in advance to potential attendees who were psychologically prepared to be positive. You could say that the had been “primed” beforehand! His presentations appeared to be based on knowing audience expectations and then playing to them. I assume that Apple used “product registration” data from purchasers of products to send invitations to selected buyers, reporters & specialist writers, and other influential people. The people invited often tended to be people who have had great experiences with apple: one might call them “apple-addicts” who had purchased Apple products – often waiting in line for hours in order to be one of the first purchasers of a new product or being the first to pre-order a new one or who were the first to publish the press releases from Apple. These Apple-addicts are often known as “innovators”- they MUST always have the latest model; they get bored quickly and like to change frequently. For that reason the presentations were very visual with minimal written text, fast-paced and segmented in elements of “short” duration which involved frequent mental “changes in activity” which increases attention.
The previous elements lead to the members / attendees belonging to an “elite” group who tend to attend ANY Apple event with a “Pro” attitude instead of a “wait & see” one. When one is in an environment where they majority of people are “Pro” (or “anti”) a person / product / person, etc., it is normal for many people to adapt to the behaviour of the group which leads to an increased sense of belonging. The psychological term for this phenomena is “Group think” or “Group dynamics”. In summary, Steve Jobs was literally “preaching to the converted”.
Some of the techniques that he used include the following:
As soon as he appeared on stage – dressed informally and looking somewhat like a “geek”,, there was usually a standing ovation, cheering and signs of “hero worship” which he actually reflected back to the audience by also clapping, doing victory gestures and he frequently made a humourous comment which was followed by more laughing / clapping which, in turn, reinforced the rapport. Since I have not attended one of his “performances”, I have no idea if this audience response was orchestrated or not. I have, however, viewed many videos of his “shows” in researching this brief article and am using the You Tube video “Steve Jobs Introducing the original IPad” as a typical example of his presentation style.
As an additional tactic to gain rapport, he often used communication designed to elicit an “echoic” response from the audience: frequently saying things like: “Isn´t this great”, “fantastic”, “Wow”, “Cool!”, etc., which was reinforced by simultaneous congruent non verbal communication which was often reflected back to him via some kind of confirmatory, or echoic, response from the audience. He tends to remain more or less static and thereby capitalizes on the “Spatial Anchoring” effect: Putting himself and the image on the screen into “Focussed vision” or close “peripheral vision”. He does not go “walkabout” around the stage and instead used controlled movement.
On occasions, his opening comments related directly to the emotional part of the audience’s subconscious via their shared knowledge, experiences, perceptions, hopes and dreams and which most people would accept as being true. On occasions he reinforced the emotional elements of his communication through the use of metaphors and stories which are usually remembered for the emotions created and not for the details included in them. He also used personalized anecdotes which resonated with the audience to further reinforce the similarities between himself and the audience members which increased the level of rapport even more: “He is like us… we are like him”.
Another one of his favourite techniques appeared to be the use of the “double bind” where he continually contrasted Apple’s “crap” competitors / products with Apple & their products. He usually talked negatively about the competitors first and then talked positively about his product.
An additional technique that he uses is that of “Meaningful repetition” which is where he repeats the good points and build upon them in a ways which links the elements in functional memory.
This is also seen in the structure that he uses: The position today (negative) Vs What COULD be or what IS: the future with “Apple” (positive).
Another element that he uses is that of “Future pacing” where he takes the audience into a bright, rosy future where everything is perfect and he & Apple are the providers of success in this brave, new world. This works very well when he has effectively and elegantly “paced” the audiences’ experience and they believe, or agree, 100% with what he is saying or has said. There are certain Ericksonian hypnosis techniques that involve the use of “Future pacing” in hypnotic interventions.
Steve Job’s use of gestures to reinforce verbal content were very congruent. The gestures were predominantly Kinesthetic and typical hand gestures included : drawing out / extending; balancing “X” Vs “Y”; out-of-self, etc. As well as using “Open” gestures to appear to occupy more space, using expansive gestures to produce testosterone / adrenaline which, in turn, produce more self-confidence, energy, etc.
The Structure used in the Ipad launch presentation:
– He starts in the past then provided “updates”: past action taken and consequent results. All based on simple yet understandable data and linked to clean, simple photos which served to both validate his product and the audience’s responses.
– He then talks about the position today: How the past has led to today’s success. Once the audience have a clear understanding of the position today, he leads into an analysis of the specific problems that are being encountered by users today. The specific example that he uses in the cited video is that of the need for a device that can used to fill the gap between a Phone and a Laptop. He then proceeds to investigate what is required to satisfy these needs and presents one possible alternative: a Netbook which he then proceeds to discount and actually laughs at and the audience join with him in the idea of a netbook being the answer! One alternative out so what is left?
In order to provide a second alternative (a double bind) He then moves on to another section: His / Apple’s proposal to fill this gap which is where he presents the new IPad: basing this part of his presentation on what is needed, he presents the characteristics in such a way that it is obviously the best way to fill the gap!
What is interesting is that during this part of the presentation, he makes great use of spatial anchoring as mentioned previously and his physical presence is ALWAYS closely associated (subconsciously) with the image behind him.
When he moves on to the demonstration part of the show, he becomes very “Kinesthetic” in that he sits down in an easy chair close to the screen (again spatial anchoring) which serves as an example of the ease-of-use of the IPad. The perception is of comfort and usability anywhere and everywhere, and the ability to do whatever you want to with no fuss or bother.
Once again he uses “Meaningful repetition” by frequently repeating the phrase “That simple!” over and over again.
The next area he covers deals with a complete description of the product: he focuses on both the visual and kinesthetic elements of the Ipad. This then leads into the technical details that might be of interest for the auditives in the audience who are interested in the details. He does not overlook the “Green Credentials” related to Apple and this product in particular and he finishes this part of his show talking about the Support available from Apple via the App Store.
The penultimate phase of his presentation consisted of a group of various App suppliers promoting special apps for Apple IPad. Some chose to show their apps while seated which subconsciously linked their app with the concept of comfort and ease-of-use while others did it standing up.
The last past of his presentation was dedicated to the additional benefits available to buyers of the product which, as any great salesman knows, is a key element in “closing” the sale. “Not only do you get X, Y and Z, but you also get A.B. & C.”
To summarize, If you have a long history of producing cutting-edge world-class products with a universally recognized organization to support you that are both “accepted & recognized” by everyone AND you are either an innate natural communicator or are capable of appearing to be so, then you may have the basis for trying to emulate Steve Job’s success.
Take away tips to help you achieve your dream:
1. Have a “primed” and “Pro” audience available.
2. If you can include “product-addicts” &/or innovators, even better.
3. Learn to elegantly use the various communication techniques mentioned in this article.
Remember! This is NOT the way that I would recommend that you do a structured business presentation to senior management in Europe or Asia.
All constructive feedback would be appreciated.
© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, September, 2015.