How Steve Jobs fouled up presentations for the rest of us

Until his passing five years ago Steve Jobs was widely recognized as the standard bearer for effective presentation method and technique. And he was tremendous. But here’s the trouble with Steve Jobs the presenter: he was an immensely charismatic individual pitching some of the most exciting consumer technology the world has ever seen.

This is problematic for the rest of us for a couple of reasons. First, people spent a lot of time trying to emulate an idealized scenario that is largely unattainable. There’s no way you’re going to make a quarterly report anywhere near as enticing as his introduction of the iPhone back in 2007. The whole idea of what a presentation should be was reduced to a very specific trope that ignores your particular story, audience, and skills as a speaker.

Second, the Jobs ideal ignores an array of new technologies that you can use to your advantage. Today, presenting can be a lot more than simply standing in front of an audience with slides at your back. Be open minded and explore all of the technologies available to you and you won’t sell yourself short. So where do we start?

Begin with a good, long look at yourself and your story. As shown in studies by David Dunning and others, most people believe that they are above average in a given skill such as presenting. This is a statistical impossibility that can muddle your understanding of your own abilities and the effectiveness of your narrative, which in turn impairs your chances of effectively selling your message. If you have a good bead on what you’re bringing to the table you can craft your presentation to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths.

Steve Jobs presentation methods

There are a ton of different ways to do this, some of which didn’t even exist a few years ago. When people hear the word presentation they generally think slides, PowerPoint and maybe Keynote. These are all fine as tools, but they’re really just one pretty limited angle on presenting information. The Jobs ideal doesn’t necessarily apply when you're talking to a roomful of IT consultants or board members, let alone when you really want to interact with your audience. Here are a few ideas for live presentations that will get you rolling.

Challenge: Not great at monologuing?

Solution: Try an interactive microsite that allows you to have an actual dialogue with your audience. This is a medium you can drive real-time and customize on the fly based on your conversation with the audience. And it can become a compelling user-driven experience after the fact.

EPK Microsite

Challenge: Walkthrough of a complex product or process

Solution: Instead of slides, speak to an animated explainer video. Often actually seeing how something happens greatly improves comprehension and retention. After the presentation you can layer on a voiceover so it can stand on its own.

Challenge: Making the abstract clear and impactful

Solution: Present using an interactive infographic. Infographics engage the visual brain and can really help with understanding. An interactive infographic reinforces the overall structure of your narrative while allowing for deep dives as needed. When used intelligently, Prezi can be a great means to do this and will allow your presentation to live online after you’re done.

The Fresh Diet Prezi

Challenge: Presentation of large amounts of data

Solution: Try an interactive data visualization tool like Hans Rosling’s Gapminder that can show trends in large volumes of information in real time.

Challenge: Presenting to individuals or small groups

Solution: Embrace the potential of apps and the mobile experience. There’s no reason you can’t do any of the above on a tablet. The immediacy engendered by the device, as well as the freedom to present whenever and wherever you want, can make this a particularly powerful tool.

Challenge: Need editable content and a printable to leave behind?

Solution: PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. Sometimes a slide-based presentation is still the best.

These are just a few ideas, but there are a ton of options available to you if you look beyond the slide. Each of these solutions reinforces higher levels of audience engagement and can live on after the fact as a robust, user-driven experience. There is no single prescription for presenting information well. But the more you consider, the greater the likelihood you’ll find a medium that optimizes your situational strengths and weaknesses. Don't be a victim of the boring definition of a slide presentation. You can share your ideas much more effectively when you think bigger. Be creative, get help if necessary, and engage your audience like the best in the world.

If you need presentation materials for your organization, our award-winning team has got you covered. 

Click here to get started

Read more:

Ask the expert: delivering a great presentation for a live audience

Commercial teaching and your sales presentation

In a world full of press kits, how do you make yours stand out?


Jim C.

Written by Jim C.