The Power Of The Pause

April 3, 2012

A good friend recently asked me why a pause is so important when speaking. His style is usually quite fast and dynamic, and he felt that leaving pauses might disrupt the flow and make his talk seem disjointed.

My first encounter with the power of the pause was when studying the plays of Harold Pinter at high school. Pinter was a master of the dramatic pause. A pause on stage is where the characters are not speaking, but they are perhaps doing something, and certainly thinking, and that adds to the drama. A pause adds importance to what precedes it and to what follows it.

I first realised the power of the pause in a presentation when I was at a private equity seminar in 2008. There were a number of presentations from private equity firms and professors, most of them with predictably ugly slides, and often they were just reading a written speech (most of which was written on the slides anyway).

But then came the closing keynote. It was by Didier Pineau-Valencienne, of whom I had never heard, but I later learned he is a famous French business leader, and honorary chairman of Schneider Electric.

He didn’t use slides. He didn’t read a speech. He looked at us. He made strong eye-contact. And he spoke slowly, carefully, deliberately, and powerfully. He left pauses regularly so we could reflect on what his words meant for us. Every sentence was well-crafted, yet simple rather than impressively complex. From the way he spoke, it was clear he was a leader. You could have heard a pin drop between his words.

You can think of a pause like a coffee-break. Coffee stimulates our attentiveness, and makes us more influenceable, and the break allows us to catch our breath between work periods. A pause can have a similar effect on you and your audience. Here are three reasons why you should speak slowly, carefully and powerfully, and leave pauses at appropriate times.

1. It gives the audience time to reflect.

This is the single biggest reason to pause from time to time. We don’t remember things because we hear them, or because we understand them. We remember them because they mean something to us, and because we remember how we feel about them. But for a message to have personal meaning and generate an emotion, we need not only to hear and understand it: we also need to think about it, to think about what it means for us, and to work out how it fits with the rest what we think we know about life, the universe and everything.

Personal reflection is the glue that makes a message stick. It is as powerful as any story.

The trouble is that most speeches and presentations bombard the audience with sentence after sentence, without giving them the time to perform this personal reflection. Leaving strategic pauses after important points gives the audience time to reflect, and gives your message a chance to stick.

Think of it like painting a wall. You apply the first coat of paint, and then you wait for it to dry before applying the second coat. You wouldn’t apply the second coat while the first is still wet. You give it a chance to dry. Do that with your messages too. Give them a chance to stick by letting your audience think about what your messages mean to them.

(And try to make your messages more interesting than watching paint dry…)

2. It gives you time to reflect.

A pause between sentences is not only good for your audience: it is also good for you. It gives you a chance to catch your breath, to relax, and to prepare the next sentence. You are therefore physically ready to deliver the next sentence, and you know what you are going to say, so it will come out smoothly. It also gives you time to gauge the audience’s reaction to your talk.

Last week I gave a short talk to young students at a business school about slide design, and during one pause, I noticed the silence in the room. I have never known students to be so quiet (and no, they weren’t asleep). They were paying far more attention than most students in most classes. It was a good sign. The pause enabled me to notice it.

I’m not suggesting you should pause at the end of every sentence. Pause to give effect to your point, and that point may have required two or three sentences to make, so pause at the end to let people think, and you can take advantage of that time to catch your breath, check how your audience is reacting, and prepare your next point.

Always remember, by the way, that a pause will always seem far longer to the speaker than it does to the audience. So don’t worry if the pause seems long to you: your audience won’t think so.

3. It makes you look like a leader.

Many speakers are nervous, nervy, over-excited, worried about how they will be perceived, worried that they might be interrupted, worried that they might run over time, and desperate to get it over with and get off stage as quickly as possible. All these points contrive to make them speak far too quickly. Unless you are a racing commentator, speaking quickly will make people perceive you as a loser.

Remember the four aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

If you rattle through everything at lightning speed as if you had a plane to catch or an urgent appointment with the nearest rest-room, your audience might not hear all your words, they might not properly understand, they won’t credit you with enough credibility to care what you are saying, and they won’t remember it anyway because they have no time to think about what it means to them.

Leaders, on the other hand, are confident. Leaders know that people will listen to them, and not interrupt them. Leaders are calm and collected. In short, leaders speak slowly and in a controlled way, and when they leave a pause, they are saying to the audience: “I am confident that nobody will use this pause to interrupt me.” And because they exude this confidence and this sense of leadership, generally nobody does.

Therefore when you use pauses, it makes you look confident and powerful. It makes you look like you are in control. It makes you look like a leader. It makes you look like someone worth listening to. And if the audience thinks you are worth listening to, then speaking slowly with pauses should enable you to achieve all four of the aims of presentation: to be heard, understood, respected and remembered.

Let’s finish with a few examples. Here are three fine speakers: Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, and former French President Jaques Chirac. As you watch these (you probably only need the first minute of each to get the idea), try to imagine how those speakers would have appeared had they spoken extremely quickly. Would they have had the same effect?

MLK

In the first part of Dr King’s famous Lincoln Memorial speech, he spoke at approximately 92 words per minute. That is extremely slow compared to most speakers, and slower than I would recommend in most professional situations. But it worked for him. Could you imagine him speaking much faster? When your words have as much power as Dr King’s, don’t dilute that power by rushing through them.

Steve Jobs

Jobs was a master of the pause, and of speaking slowly. In the first 90 seconds of this example (the original iPhone introduction), Jobs spoke at 94 words per minute – and that’s not including the time he waited while the audience applauded.

Note how he even paused at the beginning. Of course it wasn’t the start of his complete presentation, but it was the start of this section. The long pause would have left the audience wondering what was to come, and it allowed Jobs to collect his thoughts, catch his breath, and prepare for perhaps his biggest ever launch. Again, his words all had such power which would have been lost if he had hurried through them.

Lastly, remember that slow should not mean boring and monotonous. Nobody would accuse Dr King or Steve Jobs of sounding boring. On the contrary, when you slow down and use pauses well, you can give your words far more power and emphasis. Watch how Jobs did this.

Jacques Chirac

In this televised address to mark the end of his presidency, Jacques Chirac spoke purposefully and meaningfully. You may not speak French so this may not mean much to you, but just watch the first 30 seconds and listen to the sound of his voice. He spoke at 120 words per minute in this section, which is right in the range of 110-140 words per minute which I recommend to most speakers. It’s faster than both Jobs and Dr King, but still quite slow compared to most speakers who are above 150 words per minute (why not time yourself?).

(I can’t embed this one sadly since WordPress doesn’t seem to support embedding DailyMotion clips.)

Jacques Chirac – Adieu

So slow down, and leave pauses. You will have more credibility. Your messages will have a better chance of sticking. And your audience will certainly be grateful.


How To Disappoint An Audience – by Apple

October 5, 2011

Every battle is won before it is fought.

So said Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warlord-philosopher and strategist, and Apple proved him right again yesterday.

In Tim Cook’s first public outing as CEO, Apple’s fans were led to expect the much-trumpeted iPhone 5, and they were disappointed. Instead, Apple announced a new iPhone 4S, which has many cool features and is much more powerful than the original iPhone 4, but it looks the same and it’s not a 5.

The immediate reaction was one of disappointment among fans and commentators. A poll showed 81% of respondents were disappointed. The AAPL share price dropped, at one point by up to 5%, although it later recovered, but the market was hit, and a Business Insider article was entitled “Apple’s Disappointing iPhone Kills The Entire Market Comeback”. Jay Yarow said “People were right to feel let down! They didn’t get what they expected.”

Steve Jobs is a hard act to follow by any measure, and all eyes were on Tim Cook’s performance on stage to see if he could match the master. But if his performance was competent enough, the event still disappointed, because expectations had been raised and the event had been hyped, and the substance of the message failed to match the expectation. The BBC reported that “you could sense a great wave of disappointment rolling through the Apple community”.

Now I can hear you saying that Apple never announced that they would release anything called an iPhone 5, not yesterday, not ever. True. But the media speculation was so high in recent weeks that it was almost a fait accompli, and everyone was talking about the event as “the iPhone 5 launch”. TechCrunch announced a very certain “We know the iPhone 5 is being debuted soon.” LoopInsight announced the event as “the iPhone 5 event”. And there had already been plenty of leaks about the new teardrop design of the iPhone 5 which had originally been expected in June, and so they couldn’t possibly delay it any later than October, could they?

So were the media completely wrong to lead people to believe this was going to be the big day? Perhaps. But Apple were wrong to allow it.

I’ve already blogged about how it’s important to raise expectations to a level that’s high enough to make people interested, but not so high that you can’t then meet or exceed them. Apple just got this the wrong way round. To put it crudely, people were expecting a cool new iPhone 5. They got Cards.

That news sites and influential blogs gave people false expectations is certainly Apple’s problem, because what could have been a great event with some cool announcements turned into an event which disappointed people because of what it didn’t say, so it does affect Apple’s image – even if they will still sell shedloads of phones.

It was like going to see Jurassic Park 8 and leaving the cinema disappointed because there was only one small and docile dinosaur. If that’s what you’re expecting, it doesn’t matter how great the cinematography or acting are.

So since the resulting disappointment was Apple’s problem, it should have been Apple’s responsibility to influence expectations beforehand. That’s what PR is there for.

What, then, could Apple have done before the event to set expectations to a level that was high but achievable? Plenty. Here are some ideas.

  1. The event name and invitation. Having detected that people were expecting something unrealistic, they could have set clear expectations in the invitation or even the event name. If the invitation had mentioned something like “You remember the leap forward between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS? That’s nothing compared to what we’ll be announcing on October 4th” then people would still have expected a lot, but they’d have probably expected an updated 4 series and not a 5. And if a few journalists had received that, they’d have picked up on it and relayed it, and started speculating along the right lines. Instead, on receiving the press release, sites like LoopInsight immediately called it “the iPhone 5 launch”.
  2. A strategic leak. Apple should have realised that the battle was going to be lost unless they reset expectations, so a strategic leak to an influential blog or journalist might have been enough to achieve that. “We’re not calling it an iPhone 5, but it’s still a big step-change from the iPhone 4” might have been enough. Or “The outside is the same as the iPhone 4, but what’s inside is completely new.” Would that steal some of Cook’s thunder (or Schiller’s, as it happens)? Perhaps. But it raises the question “so what’s new inside, in terms of hardware and software, and what will it do for me?” – and that’s the right kind of question for people to speculate about before the event.
  3. A teaser. Imagine a video on the Apple web site, building up to the brand-new phone, and then unveiling what looks like the iPhone 4. Then someone saying “Hold on, that’s just an iPhone 4!” And the answer could come: “It only looks like an iPhone 4. Find out what’s inside on Oct 4.” And then perhaps the new phone’s screen could open one eye invitingly. The slogan “It only looks like an iPhone 4” takes something that people will say anyway, and adds the important word “only” which then raises expectations about what’s inside.

Frankly, there are all sorts of things Apple could have done. Yes, it is in a ‘quiet period’, but if it can make such a major product announcement during a quiet period, it can also set expectations properly. Its failure to do so has rebounded on it, and has caused the first perceived failure of Tim Cook’s tenure.

It just goes to show that it’s not always the delivery that lets a presentation down: it’s often mis-setting or misunderstanding the audience’s expectations. And with all it could have done to set expectations right, Apple can’t go blaming the media. Worse, when you willingly allow so many journalists to bark up the wrong tree, they end up getting angry at being made to look like fools, and they could decide to turn on Apple, which is no longer the cool underdog that inspired cult status, and which could end up portrayed as the next big corporate villain surprisingly quickly if they are not careful.

It’s a pity, because the iPhone 4S seems pretty cool, and deserves to be judged on what it is, not criticised for what it is not. And giving away the iPhone 3GS is a market-shaking announcement. If only they’d ensured expectations were set right, perhaps people would be talking about a successful debut for Cook, not a disappointment.

Every battle is won before it is fought. Tim Cook didn’t lose this one through his performance on the stage. Basically his PR people led him into an ambush even Jobs wouldn’t have escaped unhurt.

One more thing…

Apple’s product launches are quite long. This one had a lot of padding. The more stuff you announce at the same time, the lower the overall impact. If Jobs got one thing wrong in his most recent launches, this was it. One hour is enough, half an hour is better. Apple has absolutely no business giving air-time at an iPhone launch to an underwhelming app like Cards, or a few new skins for an iPod Nano. They can launch those with one of their regular emails.

BBC News Online’s Rory Cellan-Jones called it “an extremely long and ponderous event“. And many of Jobs’ events fell into that same trap.

When he launched the iPad2, he had three key messages. It’s lighter, it’s thinner, and it’s faster. That was all it needed – but it went on a long time. If Apple’s agenda yesterday had been to get three key messages across, it would have been these:

  • Here’s a fantastic new iPhone 4S with Siri and iOS5
  • We’re giving the iPhone 3GS away for free
  • iCloud is launching next week (I was wondering when it would finally launch, so it’s good to mention it)

And quite frankly, they should not have felt the need to add any more subjects to the agenda. I’d allow them a brief intro (a brief one) talking about some of their recent successes. But that’s all.

Lessons for presenters

  1. Delivery isn’t everything. Yes, it’s important, but your message is just as important as the way you deliver it.
  2. Understand your audience and their expectations.
  3. Set (or reset) expectations to a level where you can meet or exceed them. If you can’t or won’t do that, it will become your problem, so make it your responsibility.
  4. Choose 1-3 key messages and work to communicate them memorably. Cut out anything that doesn’t help deliver those key messages.
  5. Be brief, as FDR would have said.

Pitch 2.0 – The New Art Of The Pitch (Video)

August 1, 2011

To mark the end of the first season of Le Camping, the Paris-based start-up accelerator of which I’m proud to be a mentor, the Silicon Sentier team organized a fantastic event at the end of June 2011, the Le Camping Festival, for which no less than 900 people signed up. I was asked to give a short keynote presentation on something relevant to start-ups, so being the resident pitch coach, I chose to talk about the art of the pitch.

They wanted me to entertain and put on a show, and that’s what I enjoy most, so I decided to create a simple structure, with three easy-to-remember messages, and to borrow the style of Steve Jobs (for the observant, it’s heavily inspired by Jobs’ brilliant iPhone introduction in 2007 – see if you can spot all the references). The young and entrepreneurial audience knew exactly where it came from.

So here is the video (8 minutes) – I hope you find it entertaining and enjoyable, and if you can remember the three key messages afterwards, then it will have served its purpose. Any investor pitch – and in fact any sales pitch – will be far stronger with these three key ingredients which all too often are missing.



Three Cs of Presenting

July 22, 2010

Don’t just present: Connect, Communicate and Convince.

Anyone can present, some well, some poorly. It just takes an opportunity and (usually) a few minutes to write all your notes in Powerpoint slides, and hey presto, you’re a presenter. You might even learn to use slides properly, remembering the basic principle that people can’t read while listening to you, and considering that you owe it to your audience to actually prepare what you’re going to talk about, instead of using bullet points as your teleprompter.

So you’re a presenter. Congratulations. Is that enough? Is it sufficient to have pretty slides and something to say? Will that achieve your objectives?

Woah, stop right there. Did you say objectives?

Yes, I did. As a presenter, your objective is not to get out of the room alive without having embarrassed yourself or negatively impacted your career prospects (although naturally it’s good if you can at least manage those). You have an objective to communicate one or more messages to your audience so they can do something with those messages.

OK, stop again. A message?

Yes, a message. You are there to pass a message – otherwise you might as well not be there, unless you are only there to entertain. (This rarely happens in business presentations.) Once you know your audience and your objectives, you need to work out what are the 1-3 things you want them to remember a week later, and which will help them to recall other details. 1-3, no more. If you don’t do this work, they’ll remember these three things:

  1. How boring you were
  2. Something wrong with the way you were dressed
  3. Something you said which they don’t actually need to remember

So get that message clear in your mind, so you can find a way to get it clear in the audience’s minds.

But how can you get that message across? This is where the 3C approach comes in. Connect, Communicate and Convince.

Connect

People will listen to you more readily and attentively if you have properly made a connection with them – if you are in the room WITH them, talking WITH them rather than presenting AT them. There are usually plenty of ways to do this. Here are just a few:

  1. Talk to members of the audience before you take the stage.
  2. Research your audience and find something you have in common with them. Ideally a common objective.
  3. Find ways to talk about THEM more than you talk about yourself.
  4. Smile.
  5. Make eye-contact with each individual for long enough that they really notice (assuming your audience appreciates eye-contact – don’t try this in Japan).
  6. Ask the audience some questions at the beginning. If you’re really daring, ask them what THEIR objectives are for your talk.

Think of it like a telephone call. Before you start talking, you have to dial the number, place the call and exchange pleasantries. So don’t just take the stage and start presenting. Take the time to make a connection, and then keep that connection going throughout your talk.

Communicate

Presentation is not a great word because it focuses on the act of sending information, whereas the receipt of that information is at least as important. Your role as a presenter is in fact to be a communicator. You need to know the science of understanding so that you can get your messages across effectively and durably. You need to know your audience to understand how to get through to them, and adapt your talk and your delivery to them – they will not happily adapt to you.

Think of presenting at a brick wall. You can make a great presentation to a brick wall, but it won’t make any difference because the wall won’t listen or understand. Then imagine the wall disappearing and an audience taking its place – and then imagine yourself communicating with that audience, focusing not on how the message leaves your mouth but how it arrives and stays in their minds, and do what it takes to make your message stick (stories, examples, emotions, great images, etc.).

Convince

You might have managed these first two steps, which is already a great leap forwards, but the audience’s reaction might be:

So what?

Maybe they get your message, but they don’t believe it, or they don’t accept it coming from you because they don’t respect you enough. Perhaps you don’t have enough credibility in your subject. It might be because you’re not senior enough, don’t have the right education, or are clearly biased because you’re selling something. There are a thousand reasons why people might not be convinced. Therefore you need to prepare for that.

Work out why your audience (yes, this SPECIFIC audience) might find you lack credibility, or why they might not be convinced by your message. Then address those possible weaknesses in your talk. You can’t pretend to be a VP without being found out, so a lack of seniority might be an insurmountable obstacle in some circles, but in that case, maybe you should consider whether you are the right person to communicate such a message. Most perceived weaknesses can however be addressed.

Let’s take an example. Steve Jobs called a press conference to talk about ‘Antennagate’, the question of the iPhone 4’s apparent antenna difficulties. He had no problems with seniority, but if he’d just said “Well it works fine for me, just don’t hold it that way”, he wouldn’t have convinced many people. Instead, he used AT&T figures on dropped calls, Apple figures on complaints and returns, and the results of lab tests with multiple brands of smartphone. Furthermore, he gave the figures ‘warts and all’ – i.e. he included figures which partly suggested there was a difficulty. This made his arguments far more credible and convincing.

Remember: work out what your main weaknesses might be with that SPECIFIC audience, and create a plan to address them, so your message can be communicated convincingly without obstacles.

That’s what I call the 3C approach. Don’t just present: Connect, Communicate and Convince. If you can do all three of those, your audience will thank you.


Steve Jobs launches iPhone 4

June 8, 2010

By his own high standards, Steve Jobs had something of a tough time yesterday at WWDC where he launched the iPhone 4. His demonstrations went embarrassingly wrong when the WiFi connection wasn’t fast enough and his brand new iPhone 4 was unable to load the New York Times home page.

You can view the video here.

Failure isn’t falling down, however – failure is staying down. Despite the best rehearsals, Murphy will often attack you on stage, and Jobs has been frankly quite lucky up to now. Even his meticulous preparation could not get over the 500+ WiFi base stations in the room, with half the audience taking notes on laptops or smartphones and the other half tweeting furiously.

So it’s all about how you handle it. To his credit, Jobs handled it very well (although I wouldn’t like to be the technician having to answer to him after the show – Jobs is well-known to have a remarkable temper and a low tolerance of failure). He smiled, he improvised a request for everyone to switch off their devices so he could do another demo, he joked (“Please police each other”, “I’ve got time!”), and he did not get flustered or annoyed.

If everything is going wrong, you can either laugh or cry. Laugh, and the audience will laugh with you, and probably sympathize. Cry, and the audience will disengage completely. Jobs got this right. But he could only be comfortable improvising because he knew his presentation so well and had prepared thoroughly.

Many people seem to think that presenting is either improvisation or learning-by-heart, or somewhere in-between. That is too simplistic. In fact it’s so much easier to improvise – or look spontaneous – if you have prepared everything meticulously, as Jobs does.

I’ve taken a good long critical look at his whole presentation yesterday, and here are my thoughts as a presentation designer and coach about what went well, and what didn’t go so well – the WiFi issues aside. I’d love to hear your comments too.

WHAT WENT WELL:

  • Great slides. Jobs always uses simple, clear and beautiful slides, with one idea per slide.
  • Very positive language. Jobs is a master at using extremely positive language to convey his enthusiasm and convince people his products are incredible. (Of course, if they weren’t as good as the hype, he’d be guilty of raising expectations falsely, so if your products aren’t as amazing as Apple’s, you might not want to be quite so positive – but you have to admire his use of positive language.) Here are some examples:

“Without a doubt one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever made”
“Beyond any consumer product you have ever seen”
“Unheard of”
“Just gorgeous”
“The thinnest smartphone on the planet”
“Never been done before”
“People haven’t even dreamed of a display like this on a smartphone”
“Really cool engineering”
“When you hold this in your hands, it’s unbelievable”
“Once you use a Retina display, you can’t go back”
“The best window on the planet”

    • Use of humour. (Or ‘humor’ for the US audience. More on that later.) Jobs used humour on a few occasions to get the audience laughing. When showing the iPhone 4 for the first time, he joked: “Stop me if  you’ve already seen this” – a reference to the stolen prototype widely broadcast recently, and the audience roared with laughter. This was a great way of getting over a perceived weakness of his keynote – that people had already seen what he was unveiling. Later on, after the initial WiFi issues, he joked: “Since this demo does not require the network, we should be OK” to similar laughter.
    • Excellent structure. There were three key parts to Jobs’ presentation – the iPad, the App Store, and the iPhone 4. Three is a good number. The iPhone 4 part was split into 8 points, announced at the start. What makes it work, though, is the way Jobs has a clear beginning and end to each section. For example, “So that’s my update on the iPad” closed the first section, and not only was this a simple and clear way to close it, it was also a cue for applause, and audiences love nothing more than knowing clearly when it’s time to applaud (cf my recent post on applause).
    • Clear use of figures. No useless graphs or tables here. The slide showed “2 million”. Jobs said “We’ve already sold 2 million iPads. That’s one every three seconds.” Nobody can really visualize 2 million of anything, but if you put a number in terms anyone can relate to, then the number suddenly means something. Furthermore, when talking about the App Store, Jobs had three figures to give: 15000 apps received every week by Apple; in 30 languages; and 95% are approved within a week. He used three slides, with one figure per slide. Couldn’t be clearer or simpler. How many of us would have been tempted to use a pie chart?
    • Use of real-life examples. People love stories, they love real-life examples and not just theory or sales guff, and Jobs knows it. To show how cool the iPad is, he simply reproduced this quote from an email he had received:
    • “I was sitting in a café with my iPad, and it got a girl interested in me. Now that’s what I call a magical device!”
    • What a simple and great story! It uses pathos very neatly, made the audience laugh, but also makes a serious point in that the iPad is a very cool, even seductive piece of equipment.
    • Playing to the audience. Although Jobs knew clearly that his worldwide audience would be many times larger than the 5000+ people in the WWDC conference, he also knew that getting the live audience on his side, applauding and laughing, would positively affect the viewing experience of the many virtual viewers around the world. So on multiple occasions, he talked to developers and made points which were particularly positive for them. He used another great story for this which says things far more positively and authentically than Jobs ever could:
    • “I earned more on sales of The Elements for iPad in the first day than from the past 5 years of Google ads on periodictable.com” – Theo Gray, Wolfram Associates
    • Repetition. When launching FaceTime, the new video calling app, Jobs recapped the main selling points, then showed a video about FaceTime, and then showed the same slide again with the same selling points. This didn’t seem false or wrong in any way – it was simply a very effective way of getting the message across. A point you don’t repeat or recall in any way is a point destined to be forgotten very quickly.
    • Rhythm. If Jobs had simply been speaking for 80 minutes, even he wouldn’t have managed to keep the audience very interested. It is important to break things up at various points to maintain the audience’s attention. Jobs did this with videos, demos and guest speakers so there was never a long monologue and despite such a long presentation, nobody had time to get bored.
    • Conclusion. Jobs concluded his speech with these words: “This is our new baby. We hope you love it as much as we do. Thankyou very much.” Again, this was a clear cue for applause, and a very simple and succinct way of finishing his presentation. You can bet he rehearsed that carefully.

    Now, not everything went so well. There were some things that even Jobs could do better, and some of his guest speakers weren’t up to the same standard. Here are a few points to take away and improve for next time:

    • Lack of enthusiasm. Jobs has been more enthusiastic in the past, not with his language, but with his delivery. Although at most times he appeared positive enough, at one point he said “We’re very excited” but he sounded as if he couldn’t care less, and it detracted from that message. If you are a newsreader and you have a wide smile while announcing a major catastrophe, that just doesn’t look right. Likewise, if you say you’re excited but sound glum, it also doesn’t work and sounds false.
    • US focus. Jobs announced the US prices for the iPhone line-up, and a special offer from AT&T. That’s fine, but this was the “Worldwide” Developers’ Conference, and Jobs’ audience was a worldwide one. He could at least have used words around this such as “for the Americans in the audience” or “here’s an example of the prices we’ll be offering, and we’ll announce prices for other countries soon”, but he missed that opportunity, and to a non-American like me, came across as just yet another American who doesn’t realise that the US is one of many countries in the world, and far from the biggest. He also used US figures for smartphone usage – why is US data so important when the US is one of the least developed countries when it comes to mobile telecoms? Maybe many people will disagree, but I felt Jobs missed a trick with such a strong focus on the US which represented far from the majority of his total audience.
    • Language blooper. This most likely isn’t Jobs’ fault but he was the messenger, and there’s nobody else there to shoot… Jobs presented a new component in the iPhone 4 called the “backside illuminated sensor”. This sounds fine until you realise that for the rest of the English-speaking world, ‘backside’ is what an American would call ‘butt’ or ‘ass’. Frankly, I’m not too sure I want my backside illuminated any time soon. Whoever named this needs an urgent lesson in intercultural communication (and Ideas on Stage will be happy to volunteer).
    • Swaying around. This wasn’t Jobs but one of his guests, Activision SVP Karthik Bala. There was little wrong with what he said or how he said it (and he did have a very strong conclusion), but he had a real problem with swaying from left to right, which was accentuated because directly behind him (as viewed by the video camera) there was a border between the curtains and screen, and this accentuated his apparent nervousness. When presenting, either walk deliberately and for a reason, or stand still and move only your head and your arms (or some combination of both). Never sway!
    • Hands in pockets. This was Marc Pincus, CEO of Zynga, presenting FarmVille for iPhone. (Am I alone in wishing that app had never been invented?) He looked nervous and unnatural on stage, tried hard but was seen to be trying hard, but his worst sin was to put his hands in his pockets. Jobs is a fine example of how to use your hands and arms in a presentation. Pincus would do well to learn from him.

    Those are my conclusions from what was overall a very well-prepared and successful keynote. I’d love to hear your comments about the keynote and your reactions to my thoughts.


    Style or Content?

    May 27, 2010

    This morning, I tweeted the question:

    “Which is better: professional content delivered poorly, or poor content delivered professionally?”

    Of course, in an ideal world, every presentation would be full of great material and would be delivered expertly. This is not an ideal world.

    Therefore I asked this provocative question because very often people talk about focusing on content versus style, or vice-versa.

    One answer was very clear: “Both suck”. I can identify with that. Thinking back to my last TEDx event, I know that there was a presentation which was full of important content, but I can’t remember any of it – all I remember was the awful delivery and the frankly sinful combination of Times New Roman and Comic Sans. Equally, there was another talk which was expertly given but didn’t actually say very much.

    Neither of these talks was effective in that they didn’t deliver a lasting message. I’ll come back to them in a moment.

    I also got some answers saying that good content delivered poorly would be preferable to poor content delivered well, if a choice had to be made. Interestingly, nobody suggested that it’s better to have poor content delivered professionally.

    Therefore after my provocative question, here’s a provocative answer. I’d prefer the poor content delivered professionally. Why?

    Let’s go back to those two TEDx talks. I cannot even remember the name of the lady who gave the good content poorly. If she were to speak again, I wouldn’t sign up to see her, still less pay to see her, even (or especially)  if I recalled her talk upon seeing her name again.

    As for the guy who spoke very professionally about not very much, I can remember his name, and I probably would sign up to see him again, because at least he was entertaining and I enjoyed listening to him. I also learned a few speaking tips.

    Ultimately it’s about how well you achieve the four aims of presentation. If you deliver poorly, then you might not be properly heard or understood, you may not be very well respected, and very likely your great messages won’t be remembered. Communication failed.

    However,  if you deliver professionally, if your voice is heard and your audience is listening, if you are clearly understood, and if you are respected at least for your speaking ability, then you stand a better chance of being remembered, and getting your sub-standard message across – and furthermore, you are more likely to have future opportunities to deliver messages, which could be better crafted.

    So for me, it’s either a great message which doesn’t get remembered, or a poor message which might get remembered and a speaker who might be respected to some degree. This is why style is at least as important as content, and perhaps more so, although you need at least some of each. Presentation skills do not only cover style – and this is why when I am training presenters with Ideas on Stage, I spend a whole day on the message before getting onto oratory and visuals.

    Of course it would be better if everyone had great things to say and learned to deliver them like Steve Jobs. Like I said, this isn’t an ideal world. But a focus on true presentation skills, honing the message as well as its delivery, can give everyone a better chance of communicating effectively.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


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