As of this instant, Google News is showing 2,152 stories today about the iPhone. Any way you slice it, that is serious buzz about a product that isn't even shipping yet. And since Blackfriars' brief is to examine how companies communicate their own value and that of their products, those numbers are pretty interesting.
One of the benefits of being at MacWorld this year was that it gave me the chance to dissect Steve Jobs' presentation style in person (you can stream it yourself from Apple's Web site). And while I was madly blogging on my cell phone while the keynote was going on, I did jot some notes about just how he sets up what is fondly referred to as his reality distortion field. My conclusion: there's no magic here. He simply does all the things that a great communicator is supposed to, including many techniques that we teach. Jobs is so persuasive because he:
- Rehearses -- a lot. Jobs is extremely comfortable on stage. You can see in his eyes that he knows his content cold before he even starts. He isn't trapped behind a podium. He knows when to get excited and when he needs to pull back. All of these things aren't hard -- provided you have the entire story you want to tell in your head. Jobs does -- and that only happens if you have done the story over and over again in rehearsal.
- Is himself. Jobs doesn't try to imitate other people or be something he isn't. He's not afraid to get excited and emotional over what he is talking about. As an example, when he thanks the families of Apple employees at the end, you can hear him getting choked up about the commitment and dedication they had. The audience can feel the emotion behind his words, and that adds impact to anything Jobs says.
- Uses visuals effectively. Jobs doesn't clutter up his presentation visuals with a lot of words. In fact, the slide shown above probably had the most words of any slide he used. Most of his slides have such illuminating reading as 2.0B (the number of iTunes songs sold to date), or "Ads". Without a lot of reading to do, the audience listens to Jobs more, giving the words he says more impact. Jobs also uses demos effectively; all of them use very simple examples rather than complicated ones. Why simplicity? Because simple ideas are easier to convey and easier for the audience to absorb.
- Focuses on the problem he's solving in detail. Watch Jobs' first 7 or 8 minutes of the iPhone introduction (starting about 26 minutes in and running until 33 minutes). All of that time he spends setting up why smartphones are dumb and clunky. He doesn't even talk about his solution to the problem until he's told the audience no fewer than three times what criteria a successful product in this market must have. And amazingly, the product he introduces has exactly those criteria. It's not only an effective marketing technique, but it creates drama and tension where there would be none otherwise.
- Says everything three times. Jobs always introduces new ideas first as a list, then he talks about each member of the list individually, and then he summarizes the list later. And, he always uses exactly the same words each time. A great example is the three functions that the iPhone has: an iPod, a phone, and a revolutionary Internet communicator. Every aspect had its own section of the keynote, and its own icon that kept being repeated. He even got the audience to chant the three items sequentially with him over and over. The result: even listeners who aren't paying attention get the message.
- Tells stories. At one point late in the presentation, Jobs' slide advancing clicker failed. He switched to the backup, and it wasn't working either. So what did he do? He told a story about how he and Steve Wozniak build a TV jammer and used it in college TV rooms to stealthily mess up TV signals. The story had nothing to do with the presentation, but it kept the audience laughing and amused while the backstage crew fixed the problem. Yet, the story fit beautifully into the larger iPhone story overall.
- Isn't afraid of the dramatic pause. When Jobs switches topics or is about to say something important, he doesn't rush into it. Often, he will go to the side of the stage and grab a drink of water. Or, he'll just stand to the side of the stage and say something like, "Isn't that amazing?" and just wait. The pauses both keep the audience from getting tired out and allows them to absorb what he has said. And more importantly, they create drama and anticipation for what is to come.
- Uses comparisons to demonstrate features. When Jobs has a feature he really wants people to remember, he always compares it to something else. In the iPhone introduction, he compared the iPhone with other smartphones. When he introduced the iPod nano, he compared it with other flash players. Comparisons allow him to emphasize the unique selling propositions of his products and paint the competitive landscape on his terms. This one feature of Jobs' presentations puts his presentations head and shoulders above others.
If anyone needs more convincing of how much of a difference presentation technique makes, just contrast Cingular CEO Stan Sigman's presentation beginning at 1:34:50 in with Jobs'. Despite his professionally written content, his presentation just falls flat on too many words and not enough life. The audience starts clapping at once point just to try to convince him to cut it short. Ouch.
Apple has built its reputation by sweating the details for its customers. Jobs does the same for his audiences. Few companies will effectively compete against Apple until they start doing the same. Until then, Jobs' reality distortion field will be as powerful as ever.