Turtleneck Not Required

by | Business Success Tools

How many presentations, sales pitches, or speeches did you sit through in the last year? Fifty? A hundred? And, although many were probably quite good, how many were truly exceptional or memorable? One or two?

There’s no need to fall into the “mediocre” category when presenting your company, not when you can learn from the best.

Consider Apple and Steve Jobs. Over the last ten years, Apple’s track record of successful product launches made the company one of the most successful in the world, and in the process helped CEO Steve Jobs acquire rock star-like status. Jobs’ passing last year from complications relating to pancreatic cancer left a legacy that is already being compared to that of Henry Ford, Walt Disney and others in that caliber.

Jobs’ passion for innovation and standards of near perfection (he was known to scrap entire projects months into development, then have design and engineering teams re-start from scratch) was legendary. Yet somehow, his ability to connect to an audience – whether investors, shareholders, or customers – was usually overlooked, or at least not given the attention that Jobs’ observers believe was warranted. Fortunately, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience (McGraw-Hill, 2010), fills the void. The book, by Businessweek.com columnist Carmine Gallo, shows how you can use Jobs’ techniques to influence, sell, and generally promote a vision or point of view.

Some of the tactics that made Jobs such a compelling presence on stage – eye contact, use of well-timed pauses, changes in vocal tone, making it look effortless, and the like – are covered here. But most of the book is devoted to a presentation’s structure, and is divided into three sections, or, “acts”: 1.) Create the Story; 2.) Deliver the Experience; 3.) Refine and Rehearse.

All three components are given ample attention in the book’s 230 pages, but ultimately, according to Gallo, it comes down to the story. The book makes the case that anyone with a product or service that can potentially improve someone’s life has a story to tell. Relating that story in a way that the speaker’s passion and vision shines through is what connects him (or her) to the audience.

Key to this point is answering the question that matters most to the audience, which is, Why should I care? Gallo emphasizes that, when planning a presentation, it’s vital that you remember the presentation is about your audience, not about you. It’s obvious, but anyone who has attended an industry conference or trade show and suffered through an agenda of self-absorbed speakers knows that most ignore this advice.

Other nuggets designed to make for unforgettable presentation moments can be found throughout the book. One favorite is Gallo’s emphasis on building surprising “Oh wow!” moments into an address. This can be a story, a demonstration, or an announcement, and the more unexpected the better. This works especially well with new product roll-outs. Jobs once stunned an audience at MacWorld by pulling the newly re-designed iPod Nano from the tiny “extra pocket” at the front of his jeans.

The book provides outlines of presentations delivered by Jobs at industry events and case studies of successful presentations delivered by other executives who copied Jobs’ techniques.

So can just anyone really deliver an “insanely great” presentation? It’s apparent that Jobs’ natural gifts, charisma, confidence, and sense of purpose put him in an elite category of his own. But most business owners, with careful planning and the discipline to keep a presentation aligned with the audience’s interests, can expect to be much more effective when the curtain goes up.

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