Presentation Skill and the CEO – Learning From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is in a class by himself, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot to teach those looking to power up their presentation and public speaking skills. The Apple CEO, back from a health sabbatical which he reluctantly revealed involved a liver-transplant, took the stage for the company’s keynote address. It was a wildly enthusiastic crowd and once again, he did not disappoint. “I’m vertical, back at Apple and loving every minute of it” he said, receiving wild applause.

Apple the company is strong, but Jobs’ reputation for best-of-class presentations is beyond the reach of stock values. Nor is his reputation on stage necessarily a reflection of Apple’s overall communications strength. Many in fact wondered if the dynamic and famously private CEO hadn’t become too identified with his company, as stock prices fell with word of his illness finally leaked out.

So if it’s not Apple’s overall communications that’s chiefly responsible for his reputation, or reliant solely on the performance of the company itself—what is behind Jobs’ unrivaled reputation as a dynamic presenter and spokesman for the Apple brand? And is there anything about that performance that other executives can learn from?

There are indeed an array of skills Jobs presses into service on behalf of his company that other executives can learn from; skills that aren’t unique to Jobs himself, but that every exceptional presenter can lean on. These include:

1. Be a storyteller.

Six of the most powerful words assembled in the English language are “Let me tell you a story.” Here we are, gathered to hear what we assume will be another boring presentation on company balance sheets with little connection to our own bottom line and suddenly, we’re riveted. A story, you say? Right or left brain, we’re drawn in. Make that story about where we’ve been as a company or group or organization, and about where we’re going, and we’ll stay riveted. Make it inspirational about what we’re poised to achieve if we put our minds to it, and it will be repeated and used over and again to convince others.

2. Take it up a level.

Don’t confuse presentations with meetings. When you present, do it “above the clouds”, not from down into the weeds. Stay away from small detail and the minutiae of decision making. This is not the time for an in-depth delineation of options rejected along the way, ledgers and balance sheets, numbers and charts that require detailed analysis and time for consideration. This is a medium for broad strokes and the background against which your audience will then consider the detail. Any time you’re tempted to say, “let me show you some detail on what that means”, ask yourself if your audience really needs to go there with you.

3. Know your strengths.

Steve Jobs doesn’t have to feign enthusiasm for I-tunes or I-phone applications. To watch him is to understand and be infected by his passion for his products. Too many executives stand in front of others presenting ideas they themselves aren’t moved by because “someone had to”. The problem is your audience notices the disconnect between the product, service or finding you’re touting and your own involvement in it. The lesson here is to understand, follow and demonstrate your strengths to others. Play toward your own passions and you won’t have to feign enthusiasm for your audience either.

4. Show your professionalism.

The kind of presentation performance that sways minds and lifts spirits doesn’t happen by accident. Devote the time you need for practice and polish. It doesn’t have to be perfect (Jobs has had his share of mishaps and technical errors). It does have to look like you know what you’re talking about and have put real thought into how to communicate these ideas to others. That means never “winging it” when people are investing their time into listening and watching you present.

5. Show yourself.

Don’t hide behind data or visual aids. Keep it simple and take center stage in your presentations. The real reason people give of their time and attention to watch you present in person, is to get something they couldn’t get on paper. Give them a glimpse “behind the curtain”, by allowing your personality to show. Yes, you will be judged, but that’s the point. Your audience has no other way of evaluating their leaders and determining whether what they see with their own eyes matches your reputation. By displaying confidence, mastery and your own personality, you can cement that hard-earned reputation right before their eyes.

Acknowledge the importance your speeches and presentations have in your executive portfolio. Embrace the communication challenge, and become a best-in-class communicator in your own right.

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