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Steve's stories...

Steve Jobs is really, really, really great presenter.  True.

You know about his "reality distortion field," and you've probably heard him pitch one product or another.  And you're right, part of his charm is that he translates tech-spec-speak into stuff you care about--it's not megabytes and clock speed, it's about music in your pocket, it's about being part of the iPod/Mac/Apple world that exudes cool.   

But there's a lot more to Steve than that.  I worked for Steve for a few years at Apple, so I've seen the master at work up-close and personal.  To understand the guy, you need to know he has many modes--demanding and crazed taskmaster, razor-sharp critic, pitchman, art director, presenter, decision-maker. 

I've seen Steve talk to a room of developers about technology that he clearly didn't understand deeply.  Yet he was able to sell it to them.  Question is, how?  (The other question:  how can I get to be that good?) 

Quick answer: He tells a story in a way that's easy to understand, yet compelling.  The stories get you from Point A to Point B smoothly and simply.  At each step along the way, he keeps focus on where this whole thing is going.  He keeps his passion in the story and stays focused on the target. 

Sounds simple.  Nope.  It's really hard. 

Scene:  Steve, on-stage at the Apple Worldwide Developer's Conference.  He's answering questions about new technology from his developer community.  Keep in mind he's  not a developer--he doesn't write code.  But he does have a vision of the goal.  Steve also knows the product plans for the foreseeable future and is juggling all that stuff while answering the developers question.  That's not easy to do.  A major problem for many presenters is trying to real-time filter out all the other things they know and want to say, and perhaps can't. 

But he's got that Zen thing--the ability to focus--on both the guy who wants to  know some wacky thing about the future of Carbon, and to focus on the message he wants to get across.

Steve looks at the questioner, tosses his water bottle easily to the other hand and quietly gives him an answer about what Carbon will be able to do.  He tells what the near-term future will be, if only this guy and the developer community buys in.  No histrionics, no slides, no presentation...just a story that started with the question and ended with the vision. 

What Steve said didn't really answer the question--but the developer leaves with a missionary's zeal to push the platform even farther.  Steve's told a story about the future, and how the guy with the question can get there.  He pulled in the audience by linking the answer to them as well.

Bottom line:  To create a passionate user, create a passionate community as well.  When you present to that user or that community, be passionate yourself--not by overacting, but by telling a story that is spare, but compelling.  Don't be distracted by all the other stuff you want to tell.  Focus on the experience that will get users the experience they want. 

Posted by Dan Russell on April 10, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

That bottom line is so true. My company's CEO has been working to get our developer community excited about our CMS for almost a year. He's very animated and ethusiastic, but he only talks about the product. He talks about what makes him excited.

Recently, the CTO and I have been talking more and we've been working with our developers face to face. We've realized that they don't care about the individual features, they care that the overall experience is good. They also want to see that we're passionate about our product and that we understand their needs. Once we started focusing less on features and more on their experience, we noticed a much better response.

Posted by: Ian Muir | Apr 10, 2006 6:25:40 PM

You are so lucky yo have worked with such a great man, I have often thought that there ought to be a steve jobs public speaking class as part of our curriculum.. maybe one day there will be a video podcast I can pick up.

Thank you for pointing out that "stay on target", it is easy to meandor off with details trying to support a story and that sometimes gets other people to lose the whole point of the story.. it's magic, or maybe a practiced skill.. but it works. Thanks for the reminder, I will try to remeber to stay on target and away from too many details when pitching ideas..

Posted by: Britney | Apr 10, 2006 7:20:21 PM

I have to say as a presenter Stee Jobs is grossly overrated. Listening to his last "big" one about Macs with Intel support was GROSSLY undewhelming, Granted, he is better than most CEO's - but that would be damning with faint praise!

I think there is this "hysteria" around Apple and all things that come from it. it doesn't need to be that great and people are hooting and hollering.

My 2 cents.

Simon

Posted by: Simon | Apr 10, 2006 10:03:24 PM

Do you think a lot of his success now is that he has a lot of credibility?

I was imagining the scenario of going to talk to a bunch of developers about a product I didn't know well technically. I think if I were to avoid answering someones question in the same way you describe, I would get quite a few heckles pushing me for a specific answer. I have actually experienced this in the past and its not a pleasant experience ;)

Just a thought. Damian

Posted by: damian | Apr 11, 2006 3:43:15 AM

Damian has a point; personally I'd *hate* to have to answer questions on a technology I don't know anything about. And Simon is partly right too--Steve gets a break because he's the Apple CEO. But bear in mind that part of Steve's insight about presenting to crowds is that he's there to sell the vision and doesn't need to know the detailed details. We, as presenters, also need to understand what our role is in the larger context of the meeting. Why, exactly, are you presenting anyway? Are you there to talk about the way parameters get marshalled, or are you there to get people excited and busy working? Both approaches have their time and place. A key attribute of great speaking is knowing which is which, and when a particular approach is best for that audience, for this goal, and that time.

Posted by: Dan Russell | Apr 11, 2006 12:26:56 PM

Ok, Dan, I totally got your reality distortion field reference. I don't know if you ever communicate with Jack (don't even know if that's his real name), but tell him he's freaking missed. I needs me some Apple Turns!

(sorry that this is somewhat off-topic everyone)

Posted by: Dan Gross | Apr 13, 2006 11:25:09 AM

While this would normally be a great idea it's the hockey playoffs right now and Montreal is doing great! So I'm still going to be watching the hockey games.

I only watch about an hour of tv a week on average anyway so it's not like this kind of thing is really aimed at me anyway.

Posted by: Smokinn | Apr 25, 2006 9:02:51 AM

Not to take anything away from Steve Jobs' presentation skills or charisma, but I think his percieved power on the MacWorld stage is like being a great marathoner.

Any marathoner will tell you that the race is won in the weeks, months and years before the race even starts -- in training. It's about arriving to the start line healthy, conditioned and ready to compete. If you do that, the race itself is almost the easy part.

Steve Jobs clearly arrives on that MacWorld stage with great products to talk about. Work it backwards. How did he get there with great products to talk about?

Posted by: Bill Burcham | May 2, 2006 3:39:51 AM

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