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Once More With Feeling

At the urging of Rob Blackadar, Director of Government Sales for United Rentals, I logged onto MacWorld’s website to watch Steve Jobs’s 2007 keynote. I had never seen Jobs present before, though I had certainly heard of his legendary status as a speaker among the Mac faithful.

At the urging of Rob Blackadar, Director of Government Sales for United Rentals, I logged onto MacWorld’s website to watch Steve Jobs’s 2007 keynote. I had never seen Jobs present before, though I had certainly heard of his legendary status as a speaker among the Mac faithful.

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Going in, I expected something truly extraordinary. What I saw was a presentation that was pretty good, but not astounding. The presentation was long — nearly 2 hours — much of the time taken up with a tutorial for the product of the day, the so-called iPhone. Jobs’s voice is nothing special, though it’s fairly expressive. His stage presence is very good; he doesn’t stand behind anything and he walks around the stage with a very open posture and broad gestures. I will say that the slide presentation that supports him is fabulous – very simple and graphic. (See one of my recent posts for more on slides.) But he’s not especially funny or entertaining, though the product demo certainly is fun to watch. So what’s going on with Jobs who seems to have developed this reputation of genius when it comes to presentation skills?

Steve Jobs connects emotionally with his audience. He is truly excited about his company and its products. He also likes his audience, and they like him. There is intimacy. It’s a winning combination.

We’ve all seen speakers who, reluctant to show how they feel, deliver in a monotone voice with stiff physical presence (if there’s any presence at all). These speakers often have good information; the material is well-researched and it is much needed by their audiences. But these speakers are afraid to become intimate with their listeners. And, in many cases, they subsequently fail to communicate their messages resulting in a waste of time for all concerned.

Some of them fear coming off as too slick. Many a client of mine has expressed concerns about coming off as too “salesy” or theatrical. One client, a large, multinational private bank, was planning to take some wealthy clients on a retreat to a luxury resort where clients would attend workshops on financial planning and investing led by these bankers. The bankers were very worried that they might be seen as “selling” too much. My response was that the wealthy people who had accepted the bank’s invitation were busy people who did not need a free vacation. The reason they were there was to hear about the services and products it had to offer. They wanted to be sold! Once my clients realized this, they felt much freer to be passionate about their business and the retreat was a big success.

There are three questions you should ask yourself when trying to inject some emotional content into what you are saying:

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1. Do you believe what you are speaking about?
2. Would you take your own advice?
3. Are you willing to risk disapproval?

If you believe what you are speaking about, it shouldn’t be too difficult to inject some feeling into the vocal and physical display. But what if you don’t believe what you are speaking about? In such a situation, you have a choice: you can find another topic (or another job) or make a commitment to try to find things about your pitch that you do believe in and focus on them. The second question asks you to put yourself in your listener’s shoes. This is something all speakers must do all the time and it is an incredibly difficult task because it’s tough to be objective. The third question may be the most important. No one likes to be disapproved of, but my experience is that if you take the risk of displaying some feeling, some passion, audiences will eat it up.

Allowing your feelings to show won’t make you seem “salesy” or theatrical, but real. Steve Jobs is the real deal, at least when it comes to pushing Apple and its products. Such authenticity will allow you, too, to connect with your listeners and create intimacy, even in a room of thousands. You may not attain genius status a la Jobs right away, but you will certainly keep your public excited and salivating for more.

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • ruth@ruthsherman.comwww.ruthsherman.com

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About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World

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