Steve Jobs, alongside his daring design innovations that changed the way we interact with mobile devices, was also well known for his jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, mega-memorable presentations. His product launches were iconic, from the iPod to the MacBook Air to the iPhone. So iconic that people still talked about decades later.

But many people did not know that he often practiced for hours to achieve his “naturally charismatic” self.

To make your presentation great, you must practice relentlessly
Carmine Gallo.

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I was re-reading Carmine Gallo’s The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and I thought I’d share with you some of the highlights from the book, and examples Jobs used throughout his speeches and product launches.

And who knows, one of those secrets could totally jazz up your next presentation!


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1. Be prepared for trouble, and never let the unexpected kill your presentation

Let’s face it, even with all the practice and rehearsal and dry runs you can do, Murphy’s law states that.

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

It could be a product demo, an internet connection that just wouldn’t connect, a projector that just go off unexpectedly. Hey, shit happens.

Don’t draw attention to it, and don’t apologise for it. Just keep the momentum and keep on going. Sometimes, laughing it off is a great way to buy time and give you that breathing space you needed too.

Tough questions can be a killer too. I’ve written an elaborated post on 5 Power Tips to Handle Those Tough Q&A Sessions During Your Presentation. Check it out.


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2. Introduce the villain, then kill it with your solution

While the iPod may be a revolutionary product, it certainly wasn’t the first MP3 player the world had ever seen. Creative Technologies and Microsoft have both attempted to tackle the industry dominated by Sony’s Walkman.

So, when Steve first introduced the iPod, he described the audience’s problem. He listed the various existing expensive and cumbersome ways of listening to music on the move, even pointing the audience towards the famously bulky portable CD-player.

Then he revealed the hero: the iPod, which for the first time allowed people to hold their entire music libraries in their pockets.

For whatever you’re selling, remember, you are not selling a product or service, you are selling the promise of a better, easier, more enjoyable life. Have your crowd imagine a life free of the problems, and the more vividly you paint the problem, the more effective the pitch is going to be.

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3. Keep it Simple, Stupid!

No, Carlo or Steve never really put it that way, but the essence of the message is there.

If you look at Steve’s presentations, you will never find slides cluttered with data, jumbled with mismatch fonts or overloaded with pictures. It’s usually just a phrase, or a picture.

I still remember when he introduced the MacBook Air, the slide he put up had only one phrase, and it’s “There’s something in the air.” Clever play of words!

As a matter of fact, Jobs avoided bullet points and long sentences entirely. In their place, it’s usually an image, a word, or a phrase.

I admit, finding that right picture or phrase is not easy, and you’ll tend to put information on the slides, thinking the audience will need it. Remember, the star of the show is you – you’re the reason the audience come to listen to. Not some info-loaded slide they can download later anyway.

So don’t let your slides be your clutch. Make it your b!tch!


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4. Analogies & Metaphors

Explaining your product’s dimension, characteristic and specifications may appeal to the OCDs in the crowd, but the numbers, stats and data will probably be indigestible to most audiences. Seriously, do you really know how long is 5.3cm and how heavy is 237 grams?

That’s where analogies and metaphors come in handy.

For example, when talking about the iPod shuffle, Steve said that it is smaller and lighter than a pack of gum, something the audience could relate to in a second. There’s no need to mention the width, length or weight, because frankly, no one walks around with a ruler or a weighing scale anyway.

However, I get clients who said that as easy as Steve made it look, metaphoric presentations, or even coming up with metaphors, is hard work! No worries, I got you covered. I’ll be publishing a step-by-step guide in how to create and include metaphors in your presentations in the next few days, so look out for it.


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5. Humanise the Data

Your products may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Your services may be the most cutting-edge invention since the modern toilet. But where we may get it wrong, is when we fail to connect the benefits to the audience.

Take Steve’s iPod announcement, for example. He did not merely explain it had 5 GB of storage and weighed 6.5 ounces.

Instead, he said it could hold 1,000 songs, and physically demonstrated how it was small enough to fit in his pocket. The image of a music player in your pocket was easy for the audience to grasp and remember, while the specific number “1,000 songs” was relevant to every music fan in the world!

Instead of making the audience go through a mental calculation, Steve went to make the data relatable. You see, if he had communicated the iPod as having a capacity of 5 GB, here’s the thought flow of the audience.

  1. 5 GB, huh?
  2. That’s like 5,000 MB, right?
  3. Most of my songs are about 6 MB each, but I think the a few could be longer. So… maybe 8 MB?
  4. Oh wait, the longer ones have higher bitrates too, so that’s gonna be more than 12MB for sure.
  5. So how much is 5,000 divided by 8MB? 600?
  6. Man, I think I have more than 600 songs! Even my Motown collection alone is over 500 songs. How do I even pick who gets to go into the iPod?
  7. But wait, those songs are shorter, so the size is different…

You get the drill?

From a neurological point of view, intense thinking/calculations will shut down our brain and our attention will shift to something easier. That’s because the brain is constantly trying to conserve energy and thinking on complicated matters will just burn up calories.

So now you know why some of your audience yawn during your presentations? It’s not always the heavy lunch. 🙂


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6. The Power of Three

The Rule of Three is a powerful and profound concept in effective communication. The brain processes information naturally well when listed in threes. Memory works better too when information is presented in groups of three. It just sticks!

So when talking about it, Steve Jobs said the iPhone combines three devices:

  1. A touch screen iPod
  2. A phone and,
  3. An internet communicator.

If you have loads of information, try putting them in groups of three, and remember, you can always use more slides. More slide pages trumps more points per slide, any day.


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7. The Holy Sh!t Moment

Remember when Steve first introduced the MacBook Air to the world? He walked up on stage with a manila envelope, and he pulled a “laptop” out of it. Akin to a magician’s final act, the audience went breathless, awe-inspiring and literally just went batshit crazy!

Yup, that Holy Sh!t Moment!

If you break down that act, there’re a few things at play.

  1. Steve did not mention how thin or small the MacBook Air was. The manila envelop did the job.
  2. As a matter of fact, he deliberately picked an ordinary manila envelope, something we were all too familiar with, so it connects with us immediately.
  3. Then, as he held it at the tips of his fingers, he already know how light it is. No need for KGs and CMs.

Many would agree that Steve pulling the MacBook Air out of the envelope was one of the most exhilarating, emotionally charged moment in the history of product launches. No other product launches, even for Apple’s other devices, could rival it. Why? It impacted us on an emotional level, and it’s etched that memory in us moving forward, especially when we are benchmarking new laptops.

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On a side note, that stunt itself spawned tonnes of MacBook Air casings that looked like a manila envelope, until today!


Apple CEO Steve Jobs poses with the new iPhone 4 during the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, California June 7, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SCI TECH IMAGES OF THE DAY BUSINESS) – RTR2EVJN

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8. Entertain Your Crowd with your Product Features

Ah, the demo time. It’s that stage during your presentation where you show your audience what your products or services can do. Most would just go with the feature highlights, but Steve, being the entertainer that he sometimes was, decided to take things up a few notch.

During the demonstration of the iPhone, he tapped on Google Maps to locate the closest Starbucks, and then, called them to order 4000 cups of lattes to go!

And during the process, they audience just watched, laughed and was entertained!

Steve didn’t bother to say that the iPhone has GPS and navigation built in, or a one-click-call feature. He simply just showed the crowd live, in real time, right in front of their eyes!

The end results? Mesmerised.


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9. Share the Stage

Don’t hoard the stage. Co-branding and partnerships are key to Apple’s success, and Steve was one who recognises it early in his career.

And he didn’t just bring someone up on stage and have a boring Q&A or speech. That’s so not-Steve!

For example, when announcing Apple’s cooperation with Intel years ago, Steve had the CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini, going on stage wearing an Intel bunny-suit! That’s certainly something you don’t see a power CEO wearing everyday, not even now!

Then how about the time when Steve announced that all of Madonna’s album would be available on iTunes? He had the star, the legend herself appearing via a video link to discuss the news.

Those moments were indeed memorable, and it made the partnership more meaningful to the audience, again, hitting the emotional note.


Seriously, the next time you’re at your favourite bookshop, pick up the book. Heck, we’re in 2018! Just order it online already!

If you’ve read the book, tell me which of Steve’s secret that you liked the most, and if you’ve successfully pulled it off on stage. Talk soon!

Business Development Strategist, Email Wizard, Content Magician and a Productivity Optimizer (codename: lazyass+cheapass), Maverick produces content for a living. With over 93% of his business starting from a simple (and often cold) email, Maverick consults SMEs, MNCs and startups on how to leverage on technology and creative story-telling to supercharge sales and rev-up customer engagement. When he's not working to put food on the table (and Lego in his son's collection), Mav loves to cafe-hop around the region with his partner-in-crime, Debbie.

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