Book Review – The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, by Carmine Gallo

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is a book that a speechwriter can love. Gallo quotes from sources such as Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology and Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen. He even has a sidebar on JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen’s influence on Barack Obama titled, “What the World’s Greatest Speechwriters Know.

The message of this book is that Jobs’ extraordinary impact is based on his authenticity and his passion for his company’s people and products. Most presenters can’t claim to be the CEO of an archetypically cool Silicon Valley company.

Neither can they get away with wearing faded jeans, sneakers and a turtleneck onstage. But simply everyone with a product or service that improves people’s lives has a story to tell. Gallo’s book explains in detail how Jobs presents his story so that his passion shines through and ignites the audience. It’s Gallo’s claim that anyone can learn how to deliver an “insanely great” presentations.

The “secrets” that make Jobs so effective onstage include the usual stage tips taught by presentation coaches: Make eye contact with the audience, use vocal variety and know the power of a well-timed pause. But the majority of the book analyzes the structure, rather than the delivery techniques, of major keynotes Jobs has given at Macworld and elsewhere over the years. This makes the book of inestimable value for anyone who needs to understand the nuts and bolts of writing a speech.

Performance piece

When Steve Jobs takes to the stage he often tells dramatic stories, so it’s appropriate that the book itself is structured as a three-act play. Act 1 tells how to create the story, Act 2 tells how to deliver it, and Act 3 stresses the importance of rehearsal. Gallo adds “Director’s Notes” that summarize each chapter (or scene), and he introduces a cast of supporting characters.

Organizing the book in this way also reinforces the importance of telling a story in three parts; of delivering a speech with three messages. In fact, Gallo concedes, the chapter on the effectiveness of breaking a speech into three “could easily have become the longest in the book.”

Speechwriters’ playbook

The book is a playbook for writing a great speech. Jobs and his team start scripting a speech long before firing up PowerPoint or, in their case, Keynote software. They settle on an attention-grabbing headline (“The world’s thinnest notebook”); then they decide on the three key messages; develop analogies and metaphors; and scope out demonstrations, video clips and cameo guest appearances.

Next they develop the “plot” of the speech, setting up an antagonist (Microsoft or IBM in the early days), dressing up numbers and including plenty of “amazingly zippy” words. Finally, they script a memorable “holy smokes” moment that people will talk about long after the event ends. The slides they eventually create are heavy on images and light on text and bullet points.

Live action video

A book alone will go only so far. If you’ve never actually seen Jobs present in person, then you haven’t experienced the “reality-distortion field” his charisma and eloquence creates in the auditorium. Gallo has this covered.

The book’s end notes provide URLs for some of the 47,000 YouTube and Apple.com video clips showcasing Jobs and clearly demonstrating the techniques discussed. Viewing the videos compensates for the poor-quality monochrome photos of Jobs onstage-the one disappointment in the book.

Learning from his mistakes

To counteract any feelings of inadequacy you might have after watching Jobs deliver a flawless keynote, do a quick search on YouTube for “Apple Bloopers” and you’ll see that, even for Steve Jobs, things don’t always go well onstage. Demos fail, screens freeze, and he stumbles over words. But as with any masterful presenter, Jobs remains calm. 

Even if the speeches you write or deliver are not destined for “insane” greatness, they’ll be much, much, better for having read Carmine Gallo’s insanely great book.