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Learn Steve Jobs' Presentation Techniques From iPhone 4 Conference

At Apple's iPhone 4 presser Friday, the company finally responded to the near-universal criticism of its latest gadget's antenna problems. In his response, Steve Jobs didn't offer a solution to the iPhone's reception issues (outside of a free bumper), and he never once offered an apology (even refusing during the Q&A to apologize to investors). Instead, Jobs delivered a crystal-clear presentation that reminded the world—even the pissed-off fanboys who created this backlash—why Apple is Apple.

After the conference, we spoke with social media scientist Dan Zarrella about viral presentations, and about Jobs's exemplary performance. Here are some of his best techniques.

Be laser-focused on the topic your audience came to learn about
According to Zarrella, who will release a survey soon on how company presentations go viral, 22% of respondents cited "relevancy" as the most important criteria when deciding what to tweet or blog about during a presentation. Zarrella recommends a laser-like focus on audience expectation, which Jobs certainly had, devoting the entire press conference to the iPhone 4 antenna. This wasn't a conference for a new product launch or gushing-revenue reports from Apple—journalists, live-bloggers, and readers around the world were there for one reason, with fingers to keypads, ready to tweet: They expected Jobs to respond to critics. "Users are drawn to sharing content that seems tailor-made for their audience," says Zarrella. Indeed, since the talk's end, "Steve Jobs," "Apple Press Conference," or "iPhone 4" instantly shot to the top of Google and Twitter trends.

Give the audience something new
Close to 40% of respondents from Zarrella's study said they're more likely to share content from a presentation if it's novel or newsworthy. The day before the presser, Apple released an upgrade to its iOS meant to address "antennagate," and had previously made claims that the issues were software-based.

But Jobs didn't come on stage Friday planning to regurgitate press releases or old news. Rather, Jobs released an anechoic-chamber's-worth of data, explaining how Apple tests its reception in state-of-the-art $100 million facilities; how the iPhone 4 has a record low return rate of 1.7%, far below the 6% rate for the 3GS; and how the antenna issue will cause less than a 1% increase in dropped-calls from previous iPhone iterations. Think about it: Releasing pictures of their $100-million-testing facilities was entirely unnecessary, but it gave fans something new—and it supported Apple's central argument.

And this criteria also heavily relates to reputation and Internet-ego. "Many people said they would tweet about presentations because they knew it would boost their personal reputation," says Zarrella, who found that close to 10% of respondents were motivated by their rep. "They said stuff like: I want to be the first source of news, or I want to look smart, or, as one person said, I want to impress my followers." This is absolutely the case for Apple news—just look at Gizmodo.

Forget bullet points—perfect your slide design
"His slide design is image, and then text, which is not only short and quotable, but even if it's taken out of the context of his presentation, it still makes sense," says Zarrella. Apple has certainly perfected its slide design. Jobs only uses succinct phrases, and even his slide with the most words contained just under 30, by my count—and that was the summary of his whole presentation. "No bullet points," prescribes Zarrella. "Basically you want to have one-thought per slide."

Zarrella found during his study that audience members don't have time to make note of or tweet about every detail, even the information they find most interesting. "What Steve Jobs does so well is pacing his presentation," argues Zarrella. "He puts in pauses for dramatic effect, but he also maintains excitement, passion, and energy, even while pacing enough to allow the audience to live-blog or tweet about it."

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
This point may feel obvious, but it's one that Apple has made an art. Jobs is constantly taking time to summarize his points, even if he hasn't made too many. But it's not just a summary, there's an intended-redundancy to his presentations that helps drive home Apple's message. One of his first slides read: "We want to make all our users happy." Mid-way through the conference, Jobs flashed a slide about the antenna issue affecting only a fraction of users. Soon, a message dissolved at the bottom: "We care about every user." A few slides later: "We love our users." Then "We love our users" appeared again on the next slide. And the next. And the next. "We love our users, we love them," Jobs concluded. "We do this because we love our users." Get it? "We love making our users happy," he said again and again.

A number of respondents in Zarrella's survey said they shared a presentation or tweeted and blogged about it because they cared about the cause. "They wanted to spread the word—essentially, it's some form of evangelism," explains Zarrella. "Apple is known for, if nothing else, having rabid, rabid evangelistic fans." Part of the reason Apple has earned this devoted fan-base though, according to Zarrella, is because of its "Us-vs-Them" narrative. "In the 80s it was Apple against IBM," he says, "and in the 90s, against Microsoft." This Apple-against-the-world narrative has helped motivate and induce a cult-like passion among fans, and thus, when Jobs gives a presentation, it helps to have the audience ready to spread the word, help the cause, and make it go viral.

But, of course, not every company is like Apple.

"We're not all Steve Jobs," admits Zarrella. "Jobs has the luxury of being able to always break news. As a marketer or a presenter, it can be hard to always have breaking news that everybody cares about."

"But there is a slightly, more-subtle version of novelty. You don't always have to break news, but you can say things or show content in a way that people haven't heard or seen before," he recommends.

To hear more of Dan Zarrella's tips on perfecting your presentation skills, check out his book and be sure to tune into a live Webinar he'll be giving on the topic August 19.

[Images via Engadget]

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  • Mike Smith

    @Peter "Smartphone makers are still trying to catch up with them! Have a play with any other smart phone and you can see they have copied Apples ideas"

    Most of them weren't Apple's ideas to begin with. Apple's app store was pioneered by the people developing Android, and much of the iPhone UI ideas come from other platforms, including Palm, Windows, Danger, and a host of smaller companies and research groups. Technologically, iPhone's Objective-C based software is obsolete: it lacks runtime safety and security features and is fairly cumbersome to program. Lack of sandboxing in the runtime also means that Apple has to rely on reviewers in an attempt to catch misbehaving programs. Like MacOS ten years ago, iOS looks pretty to users, but it isn't so pretty under the hood.

    The thing that's really nice about Apple, and why I have kept buying them in the past, is their hardware: it's pretty, sleek, and powerful.

  • Mike Smith

    Presentations like that can backfire: when I watched it, I felt manipulated. I hadn't seen much of Jobs before, but I instantly disliked him. I may be in a minority there, but I'm not alone. For me, this was the final straw: after decades of buying Apple equipment, I'm getting rid of my Apple stuff altogether.

    And what made the iPhone 4 presentation so effective wasn't the style, it was the misrepresentations. Jobs knew full well that the iPhone 4 antenna issue is different from, and in addition to, any reception issues other phones have, yet he fabricated video suggesting that the issues are the same. He also knows that 1% additional dropped calls is a huge number, doubling the average rate of dropped calls on the AT&T network, but he falsely claimed that the absolute rates were not public (you can find them on the web). By obfuscating and misrepresenting the issues, he has managed to defuse them.

  • Kathy Schmidt

    Great post, Austin. You did a fine job of deconstructing the architecture of the presentation, and yup: those elements pretty much cover what makes his presentation "brand" so strong. Well... that and the obligatory black mock turtle neck...

  • Daniel

    hi i am a brazilian webdesigner and i am seeking for some content for my blog (not ready yet)

    and i was wondering if i can translate this post and put on my blog with the properly credits for the author.

    so, can i?

    Sorry about my bad english.

  • hemidude

    Steve has become another politician. Same sleazy tactics (never admit you're wrong, frame reality however you like, listen to no one), and now same crap outcome - a product built by the Chinese, old tech, pretty package.... Apple has lost their edge, and my guess is will never quite show the luster it once had.

    Seriously - he's still pitching Apple TV?

  • Andre Straker

    While I am not a fan of Jobs, I would hesitate to pass judgement on him until we know what transpired behind the walls of Apple. Although Steve is still an Entrepreneur at heart, Apple is a public corporation and Steve is not the only person with a commanding voice. Remember they got rid of him before.

  • Peter

    You have to be kidding me with the comment "Apple has lost their edge" right? Smartphone makers are still trying to catch up with them! Have a play with any other smart phone and you can see they have copied Apples ideas...and in some respects they are as yet to match them. Sure Android is surging ahead in certain aspects of the smartphone world, but there wouldn't be Android if it wasn't for a relatively fresh take from Apple on the phone.

    To say they have lost their edge because of this slip is one of the dumber comments I've heard in this whole debate. You can't be hot s**t last year and the next be old hat. You can say they've lost their edge in 5 years when they haven't innovated any new "must have" products. Maybe you mean Microsoft, whose edge these days is as sharp as melted butter.

    I like the Apple TV, but I was surprised he mentioned it too. He was a bit hesitant on stage to mention it (a slight pause). It was probably thrown in there because they are planning to reboot it soon.