Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book review: The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Yeah, yeah, yeah - Jobs is the head honcho of Apple, but he's also widely renowned as one of the most charismatic presenters ever. Garr Reynolds says so, as do enough other people to ensure that at least a fraction of the cheerleaders are from outside of the Jonestown/messianic cult of Apple fanatics and Jobs kool-aid drinkers.

And credit where credit is due - Jobs IS a fantastic presenter and public speaker with a distinctive style. That's not really something worth debating - dude's good.

The author of this book - one Carmine Gallo - claims to have distilled what makes a Steve Jobs presentation great and is offering this to the reader in "A three-part framework to wow your audience". Steve Jobs on a bottle, if ya will. That's a tall order for a book. What are the three parts - or acts as Gallo calls it - you might ask?
  • Act 1: Create the story. Plan in analog, focus on the audience and why they should care about your presentation, make simple, clutter-free slides and create twitter-like headlines.
  • Act 2: Deliver the experience. Put numbers into some kind of context for easier visualization of impact, use cool lingo and memorable catchphrases in order to stand out, and feel free to use props in order to give a physical demonstration if applicable.
  • Act 3: Refine and Rehearse. No further explanation required.

Those familiar with Presentation Zen know at this point that one-third of the book is snagged directly from Garr Reynolds, and at least 1/3 of what Gallo makes off of this book by right ought to end up in Reynolds's pockets. The only semi-original part of the first act is the twitter-headline thingy, which actually is a stroke of pure genious. By spending lots and lots of time creating twitter-like headlines, journalists just use the pre-digested headline provided by Jobs, essentially leaving Jobs in charge of his own media appearance. Admittedly very clever. As for act 2, Gallo "borrows" liberally from Presentation Zen once again, and the third act, with its riveting tales of how Steve Jobs makes his presentations look spontaneous and effortless, but how this is actually a byproduct of intense and long rehearsal hours....well gosh now......what's next? Do musicians rehearse before gigs?

By and large I don't really recommend this book although there are some cool parts, like the "make your own press" bit. Garr Reynolds has become the ABBA of presentation design in that everybody and their mother have jacked material from him without necessarily bothering to cite the source. This, plus the fact that Gallo spends way too much time plugging Apple products rather than the underlying principles of the Jobs presentations that launch them, makes this book at least a second-tier manual.

Another thing is that if you opt to buy this book rather than - repeated ad infinitum - Presentation Zen, and you actually follow the advice, you're probably screwed. What Steve Jobs can get away with, you can't, and while there's a section in the book on how you should dress (odd, I know), Gallo fails to mention that Steve Jobs comes off as quite smug and sometimes arrogant in his presentations. Moreover, he is constantly badmouthing the competition. Steve Jobs can do this because of who he is - given his track record and all - you can't. Especially in academia, where odds are that your brilliant solution/theorem/method is more likely to be a step further than the final answer. In order to get away with Steve Jobs' method of badmouthing the competition and - quite literally - introducing some opposition product as the antagonist (rather than simply as the competition), you need to have an enormous credibility, and an h-index approaching Nobel laureate status. Otherwise you'll just come off as a know-it-all douchebag. And if you're thinking of buying a book like this to model your presentation technique after, odds are that you're not of sufficient academic standing to get away with smugness, so just don't.

Plenty of books you'd be better off buying.


Anders said...

Garr Reynolds has become the ABBA of presentation design in that everybody

Hey! No need to diss the Garr!

What strikes me with this book is... (wait for it) ...wouldn't such a book be way better if Steve Jobs wrote it, or at least made a major contribution?

Wilhelm said...


No kiddin, broski. Rather than having some B-grade Jersey Shore guido masquerading as a journalist writing the book, I'd much prefer the master himself to write the book. Somehow I have the feeling that he's more than competent to do so, yet that same feeling also tells me that dude doesn't need the coin derived from such a venture.