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Do you want to know a secret?
on 23 September 2013
I picked this book up in Changi airport a few years ago whilst waiting for a flight back to the UK, and was sufficiently interested by the parts I read to get hold of my own copy. Whilst reading it over the past day or two, I began to wonder if I'd've done better to finish it off whilst standing in the airport. It really only takes a few hours to read, but the amount of information it contains could be ingested in a much shorter period of time.
As the title suggests, the book uses examples from Steve Jobs's product presentations to suggest ways in which the reader's talks could be improved. I've been interested in the area of presentation skills for a while, and have already compiled my own list of do's and don'ts (some of which occurred to me while watching video of Jobs's talks), so I mainly found this book useful as reinforcing what (I think) I already knew about effective presentations: they focus on answering a single question, they're delivered with enthusiasm, and they've been thoroughly rehearsed. All of these things - and a few others - are described here, and are nicely illustrated with some passages from a few of Jobs's talks. Chief among these is his 2007 presentation which introduced the iPhone, to which the author returns again and again - for example - he uses it to directly demonstrate why a speaker who has a conversational, seemingly-spontaneous style (like Jobs) is better at engaging with the audience than one who reads from cue cards (like the CEO of Cingular, who was brought onstage to talk about the network for the iPhone).
This is all good stuff since - as the author points out - all the Jobs talks he refers to in the book are handily available on YouTube for our delectation and education. However, I was less enamoured by the way the author takes an uncritical - indeed, in places, embarrassingly fawning - view of his subject, as evidenced by his opening sentences: "Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage. No one else comes close." (p ix). Such an upfront statement, while eye-catching, ought to be enough to get you wondering whether a more measured approach would have been more compelling. You're still thinking about that when you come across the first illustration in the book: a stock photo of Jobs giving a talk, with the caption: "Apple's master showman turns presentations into theatrical experiences" (p xv). By the time we get to end of the book, the author's belief in his subject's dazzling talents has spread into areas where you would have thought it would be hard to go without the cooperation of Jobs (which wasn't forthcoming): "A Steve Jobs presentation is passionate, exciting, informative and, above all, fun. In many ways, it comes naturally, because it's the way he has lived his life." (p 212)
Such hagiography is a pity, because it spoils what could have been a handy resource. Other things that spoil it include the (very) occasional imprecision in the language: I didn't find his definitions of metaphor and analogy on p7 very illuminating, and he seems to think (p45) that second-guessing means changing your mind, rather than criticizing someone else's decisions. Apart from those nit-picks, I thought it a nice piece of work, although I still wonder whether it could have been improved by excising some of its excesses.