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Steve Jobs at Macworld: "We come from different worlds"

Steve_2 Steve Jobs gave one of his best Macworld keynotes Tuesday in San Francisco in spite of a very minor technical glitch — a clicker problem that he recovered from well — and a seven-minute snoozefest by one of his honorable guest speakers. I've broken my comments on Steve's latest keynote into at least two post. I will not comment on the content of the presentation except to say that Steve was smart to limit his keynote to essentially one topic, the new Apple iPhone. Many presenters fail before they even start because they include too much information or cover too many topics. This is true whether the presentation is a 90-minute Macworld keynote or a 5-minute status report. You can go deep or you can go wide; it's nearly impossible to do both well. Choosing what to focus on and completely letting go of the rest (for that moment at least) is one of the hardest things to do.

A Singularly boring presentation
As Steve Jobs often does in his Macworld keynotes, he asked execs from a few key corporate partners to come up on stage and say a few encouraging words. This year there were three. First up was Google's CEO, Dr. Eric Shmidt, followed soon after by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang. A bit later Cingular CEO Stan Sigman took the stage. Both Schimdt and Yang were enthusiastic and energetic speakers who kept their comments upbeat, simple, and brief. When Stan Sigman came up on stage, however, the atmosphere soon changed. Stan Sigman strolled slowly across the stage, hands in his pockets, in a manner you might expect from, say, a legendary football coach from the SEC about to face the press before the big game. He spoke slowly with a friendly laid-back manner, and at first he spoke from the heart. Then the cue cards came out, the head went down, and it was all down hill after that.

Watch the Macworld keynote in Quicktime on the Apple website. (Go to the 1:34:40 mark in the video to watch Stan Sigman's speech, or catch Mr. Sigman's speech in this ten-minute clip on YouTube.)

Above: One of these presenters is not like the other. (Sometimes the nonverbal cues can tell you the whole story.)

How effective was Sigman's talk? One way to determine his effectiveness is to see what reporters covering the event live in San Francisco typed on their keyboards as they attempted to quickly summarize the key points as they occurred. Here's what the reporter for MacDailyNews pounded out on his laptop for each of the three guest speakers:

Google CEO Eric Schmidt takes stage: "If we merge the companies we can call it Applegoo, but you can actually merge without merging." Working well together...
Jerry Yang - Yahoo! - onstage: wants an Apple iPhone
Stan Sigman, CEO of Cingular, onstage... blah, blah, blah, and blah...

It's a bad sign when people summarize your speech in four "blahs." Here's how other news sites responded as the speech was occurring live:

Engadget: "Man this guy is a total snoozer...We've immediately dropped back into cue card keynote mode, stats on Cingular, stores, distribution, yada yada... Huzzah, he's off stage!"

MacUser: "...being treated to a very long and not particularly scintillating speech from Cingular's CEO."

Macobserver:  "His speech is painfully bad...."

Rex Hammock: "He introduces Stan Sigman who demonstrates how truly bad a CEO can blow a presentation by pulling out 4 x5 cards and reading the worst canned speech of all time — whoever at Cingular let this guy on the stage should be fired."

Shortly after the keynote ended, I received this note from Michael Amend, a PZ reader in Germany:

"Garr -- I'd like to point you to a remarkable event: the keynote of Apple introducing the iPhone. What makes it remarkable though is not the (unbelievable) product announced by Apple, but the incredible and noteworthy nosedive the overall performance took as soon as the CEO of Cingular, Stan Sigman, was on the stage...."

Even Seth Godin is wondering why Mr. Sigman was so unremarkable (or remarkably bad).

Just a case of "Old School" vs. "New School"?

StevenessAfter the Cingular CEO was done Jobs thanked him for his time on stage and then said that "We come from pretty different worlds..." Jobs was referring to the two very different industries that Apple and Cingular/AT&T come from. Yet Jobs could just as well have been talking about their two different communication styles as well. The approaches of Schimdt (Google) and Yang (Yahoo) were a good fit with Jobs' style. Having the Cingular CEO follow those three Silicon Valley fat cats provided quite the juxtaposition in communication styles...and it was not pretty.

Stev_stan I am tempted to call this the difference between "old school" business presentations (stiff, dull, cue-cards, etc.) and "new school" business presentations (passionate, interesting, conversational, etc.). But that would be a mistake because what seems like a "new school" approach is really not new at all. And what appears to be merely a conservative "old school" approach has never been recommended. Even Aristotle, for example, thought a presentation (speech) was effective only if it connected with the audience at a visceral level. Emotion (pathos) was one of the necessary conditions for an effective speech.

On using notes
Dale_carnegie Reading from notes like Mr. Sigman did on stage is usually a very bad idea. Abraham Linc
oln warned against using notes. "They always tend to tire and confuse the listener," he said. Another "old timer," 20th century communication guru Dale Carnegie, preached against the very same mistakes made by the Cingular CEO. Carnegie's advice from the 1930s is not new but it's as valuable today as it ever was. For example, Carnegie listed the following dangers to using notes (cue cards) in front of your audience (from page 62 of Public Speaking for Success):

Notes destroy fifty percent of the interest in your talk.

Notes prevent contact and intimacy with the audience.
Notes create and air of artificiality.
Notes make the speaker look less confident, less powerful.
Make lots of notes in the preparation of your talk, but use them only in the event of a total emergency.
If you must use notes make sure the audience does not see them. That is, "...endeavor to hide your weakness from the audience."

At any time Steve can glance at the current slide (large monitors) and the next slide (smaller monitors). In this way the slides on screen are visuals for the audience and the same image on the monitor are cues for the presenter. If you know your material well this is actually not difficult to pull off smoothly. Demoing is a different animal, however. In the case of a demo, it is a good idea to have notes to yourself (which the audience can not see) to keep you on track so you do not leave something out. These are not notes about how to use the product (you surely know that or you would not be on stage) but rather on the what's next or "don't forget to show this," etc. Steve referred to notes at various times while demoing, but you could hardly tell unless you were watching for it (most people are looking at the screen during a demo). Spymac has high-rez pictures of the demo "cue cards" used by Steve at Macworld. (Thanks André).

Does it really matter?

Stan_sigmanYou might say it does not really matter. So he's a boring speaker, that does not mean he's a bad CEO, right? Of course not. Stan Sigman is surely a smart, talented man, and a nice guy to boot. He may indeed be a model CEO, but he certainly is not a model public speaker. Mr. Sigman does not yearn to be in the public eye nor does he fancy himself a great communicator. "I would rather show what I can do rather than talk about what I can do," he said in an older interview. Fair enough, but don't business leaders also have to be great communicators? I respect his no-nonsense approach to the job, but killer presentation skills is not a frivolous thing. It matters.

My only point in highlighting his short speech was to show what the rest of us must never ever do. Like it or not, our customers, employees, and colleagues judge us in part on our ability to stand and deliver a successful talk. Stan Sigman's performance was a wonderful textbook example of what not to do. We must find our own voice and our own style, of course, but we must never make the same mistakes made by Mr. Sigman.

Most Apple customers did not know who Stan Sigman was before Tuesday. Now they know, and the first impression was not a great one. The difference in communication styles between the two CEOs is indeed worlds apart. According to an article from Reuters, this has some just a bit worried. (Below: excerpt from Will iPhone spark tech civil war? on the CNN International page).

Sigman...read stiffly from a script, pausing awkwardly to consult notes. By contrast, the silver-tongued Jobs wore his trademark black turtleneck and faded blue jeans...Jobs is one of the best showmen in corporate America, rarely glancing at scripts and quick with off-the-cuff jokes.

Business experts say such contrasts may extend to the broader corporate cultures of Apple and AT&T, straining the tight collaboration needed to launch such a significant product.

"When you try to put together two companies with very different operating styles, you open up a Pandora's box for executives to miscommunicate or disagree," said Charles O'Reilly III, Stanford University professor of management.

I hope the Apple and Cingular/AT&T deal is a match made in heaven and that the iPhone is a smash hit (I think it will be). But Stan Sigman did not do anything on stage at Macworld that made me feel more confident about the deal, in fact, if anything I feel less confident. And who says presentation does not matter?

Next: "Jobs, Gates, and Burns." Until then, see Bert Decker's blog for more on the Steve Jobs keynote. Also checkout this post called "Who advised Stan?" on DC-Connect.

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Great Garr! Some additional great insights that nobody else has. If only corporate communicators could "get it."
Thanks, Bert

Good summary Garr, I watched the keynote and as soon as I saw Stan pull out those cards a big "uh-oh" went off in my head and I was sure that I'd read about it here a few days later. I even made my wife watch the bit when Jobs clicker stopped working :)

Are CEOs unapproachable and people who work for them are too afraid to tell them how bad they are at presenting? The CEO of my workplace gives a talk once a month to about 2000 people, and it's a regular snooze fest, filled with boring stats (complete with unreadable small-font spreadsheets) and bad jokes that fail to get even a polite chuckle.

Spot on Garr! I'd love to hear Stan's response on this, but the question that keeps going through my head is "What was he thinking?"

I doubt that any presentation Sigman has ever made was going to generate the sort of column inches the iPhone launch was going to. Staggering!

(BTW - love your contrasting photos of the presenters. Game, set and match against Stan.)

Excellent post, Garr, particularly in the advice you give regarding notes -- and the whole old-school/new school question.

What Stan could have done, instead of blathering on about his company, is to have said, "Here's why this matters to YOU." And he wouldn't have needed cards for that discussion.

To David's point above about CEOs: sadly a lot of them think they ARE great presenters. I've worked with many like that, and it's a challenge to get the proverbial light bulb to go on.

Thanks for the great post, Garr!

A very insightful post Garr, looking forward to the next one.

And wow, Steve's cue-cards.. they're simply, just amazing. I mean they even color-coded the different chapters (the yellow, green and blue page-turners).

Also, I found it rather amusing that the CEO of a (tele)communications company is the one worst at communicating.

An excellent post. Besides pointing how bad of a segment was Stan's presentation, I like what you said in the beginning of the post: "Many presenters fail before they even start because they include too much information or cover too many topics."
When it comes to science presenters, this is true in 9 out of 10 presentations that I see...

I think it's worth pointing out how Steve handled the technical glitch. Rather than having a lengthy awkward silence, he was honest about there being a problem, tried the backup controller, and then filled the time by telling a story. The conversation stayed between him and the audience rather than becoming between him and the technical wranglers. That's some advanced presentation jujitsu right there.

>The conversation stayed between him and the audience rather than becoming between him and the technical wranglers. That's some advanced presentation jujitsu right there.

Well put, Bill. Yes, Steve handled that perfectly...the show must go on :-) -g

Of course presentation matters!

I even can say that if stock markets will be even more sensitive than now - good presentation will follow by the stock price grow and vice versa.

What is the responsibility of Apple or Steve Jobs in this case since It's their big presentation.

* Didn't they have any clue about how that guy would perform on stage?

* Are they forced to have someone like this to represent cingular?

* Could they have said upfront, this is going to be a cool and kinda loose presentation in the style we do it. Are you able to send someone that fits this description to represent cingular?


I agree Amo..... Apple DID have a responsibility to either eliminate or dimminish Sigman's role. If AT&T is comfortable with Sigman as front man at a major product roll out, then so be it. But Apple could have figured out a creative way to make Sigman's presence more palatable.

What is stunning about this, is less Apple's failure to censor this guy, but AT&T's failure to read their audience.

At the end of the day, it is ONLY about the audience.


My question is... what was Steve thinking to allow Stan to speak?

I agreee that Steve is good. Very good. Great, though? Only in relation to the rest of the pack. My basis for this? When was he most animated and engaging...when did his whole body get into the story telling...when did his voice modulate the most? When the clicker didn't work and he told a story about him and Woz. I'm sure it was a story he's told many times. Would it be easy to have such ease and engagement for a keynote about the iPod? No. But not impossible, either, and that would be my definition of truly great.

Are "killer presentation skills" required of successful business executives? How about an MBA? If you read Stan Sigman's biography, you'll find that the answer to both questions is a resounding "no".

There are times when such skills are desperately needed, such as in the case of instilling investors with confidence in a strategic alliance or when announcing a new product to an audience. But to claim that presentation skills are the be-all-end-all of individual success in business is delusional, at best.

That said, I'm not claiming that one should aspire to be a poor communicator. All I'm saying is that being a great communicator isn't the only, right way to succeed. There is no single, narrow path. There are many avenues.

Most of the time Steve Jobs is a great speaker. This time I was a little disappointed. What do you think about his repetions? In my opinion they were a bit too much.
Many times Steve read the bullet points. Also a little boring and not considered "perfect" presentation style. What do you think.

Obviously, Sigman was the worst of the bunch -- but aside from his stiffness and reliance on cards, he was bad because he didn't talk about anything tangible. He used it as an ad opportunity to talk about the AT&T deal, which didn't have much relevance to the topic -- iPhone -- at hand.

He missed an opp to connect with that audience...and the world...by describing the future iPhone customer experience -- say, how Cingular will provide a shopping and billing experience as easy and seamless as the iPhone itself. He could have complemented the Apple brand; instead, he competed with it. All he had to do was say "We saw Steve's vision, we understood it, and you're going to love it." Period.

I was more surprised at how dull the Google and Yahoo guys were, particularly Yang. His joke wasn't funny, and he threw around industry jargon that Jobs tends to avoid. I thought they were worse than Sigman, relatively, given the companies they represent.

On a somewhat unrelated note:

Steve stayed with his new 3D-wood-and-marble-textured charts...

Garr - fabulous, thought-provoking post. I've tried to trackback with no joy! I have a different view about Jobs (see http://common-ground.typepad.com/common_ground/2007/01/the_antidote_to.html) but agree whole-heartedly about Sigman!

The contrast between Jobs and Sigman is very big, but may be just to make a bigger impact Apple has decided to invite Sigman to talk. Just kidding, actually when announcing a product like iPhone, Apple has virtually no other options but to invite all major CEOs of the cooperating companies and denying one CEO out of 3, his "right" to talk on the stage, would be very wrong and contra productive. Also even if Sigman would understand that he is a bad speaker, in such situation, he could not refuse such proposal, as it would be more then strange, 2 major CEO's talking (Google and Yahoo), but Cingular's CEO, the main partner would be absent. It was meant to be this way...

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