In the last few years, Microsoft has been the kick-off keynote at CES, with many looking forward to see what it has to offer for the year to come. Bill Gates of course did several of them, and the world’s richest man was always a drawcard. He was not a great speaker, and his slides were not what you could call inspired, as I have described on a blog entry from a few years ago. (At TED recently, he has obviously been coached in terms of slide design and presentation skill).
When Steve Ballmer took the reins as CEO, he too became the first keynoter at CES, showcasing Microsoft’s wares in terms of software and hardware, usually giving time and space to OEM partners like Hewlett-Packard.
This year was no different, and rumours that Ballmer might show a much-rumoured tablet called “Courier” raised temperatures a little, even if they didn’t reach the fever-pitch Apple’s alleged tablet created.
When Apple makes it known that it will be holding a “special event”, speculation begins and builds huge expectations. There are many reasons to wait in anticipation of an Apple keynote:
1. Will Steve Jobs be the primary speaker (and how will his health appear)?
2. What new products will be shown?
3. Will these products be updates to existing ones, or will Apple introduce a new genre, taking something familiar and turning it on its head? And when will they become available?
4. Will Steve Jobs perform his keynote using an updated version of Apple’s presentation software, Keynote?
5. Will it be confirmed, yet again, that he is one of the world’s great presenters and speakers, worthy of emulation?
Steve Jobs regularly makes lists of admired presenters, with many attempting to emulate his style, often not successfully. Probably the worst attempt to “channel” Jobs was Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s 2007 F8 performance.
His performance was contrived and stilted, leaving those who had been comparing him to Steve Jobs at the same age a little embarrassed. He’s a smart cookie, but somewhat shy which shows in his presentations and interviews. Search YouTube for his many interviews.
One person who has taken more than a passing glance at Jobs’ presentation style as one to emulate is California-based Carmine Gallo, who maintains a BusinessWeek blog here.
Last year, he wrote a very popular column which then became a best selling book deconstructing Jobs’ presentation skills.
First, you can see him present his ideas here:
Click here to see the video in action
Here’s the book cover for Carmine’s publication, which he has kindly allowed me to offer as a prize during my Presentation Magic workshop at Macworld next month.
While many including myself have discussed Jobs’ presentations, Carmine’s is the first in book form, and which allows him to personalise, through Jobs, his own long-considered thoughts on how CEOs in particular ought to present ideas, concepts, services and products.
It’s hard to put a value on how much these presentations add to the acceptance at first blush of Apple’s product announcements, but it should be added that not all Apple Keynotes showing new products see Apple’s share price rise.
Quite often they fall, due to the extraordinary hype and expectations leading up to the keynote, and the disappointment sometimes experienced by financial commentators.
This past week, this fall occurred to both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard after Steve Ballmer took the CES stage and showed an H-P tablet powered by Windows 7.
In the months prior to CES, the rumour mill had struck up a conversation about the “Courier” tablet. Take a look at this supposed leak reported by Gizmodo here.
Long time observers of Microsoft have become very aware of its capacity to hype “vapourware”, but there had been high hopes that Steve Ballmer would discuss Courier, what with an Apple tablet seemingly on its way. When a regular H-P tablet running Windows 7 was displayed, the disappointment was palpable, and widely reported in mainstream media and unforgiving blogs.
But there is more to it than the product. There is something about how Ballmer presented at CES that draws a comparison to Jobs, for those interested in presentation skills.
You can watch the official Microsoft stream of CES 2010 here, but for now watch this audience-generated YouTube version below (be aware of cuts between views of the stage and projector-based close-ups):
There are also numerous CES 2009 Microsoft keynotes with Ballmer you can view on YouTube so that you don’t think 2010 is the exception, because it’s not.
But if we keep ourselves to the keynote just past, there are a number of contrasts with Steve Jobs to offer, some of which might help readers with their own presentations.
1. Despite his avuncular appearance, Ballmer is more Phil Schiller than Steve Jobs. Which means his overt cudliness doesn’t translate into emotional warmth. As with Schiller, (I have attended a Schiller and a Jobs Macworld Expo keynote, but not a Ballmer one) I feel like he’s talking, even shouting, at me. Despite what has been written about his interpersonal style one-on-one, Jobs’ on stage persona exudes warmth, approachability, and yes, friendliness. You feel he’s holding a conversation with you, even when he’s in front of a 5,000-strong audience.
2. On stage, Ballmer reminds us that “once a salesman, always a salesman”. Both Jobs and Ballmer talk up their companies’ financial success in the year just gone, but Jobs chooses to illustrate his review, while Ballmer just tells me. But more conspicuously while both overuse hyperbole – “it’s perfect vs. we couldn’t be happy” – I never lose sight I’m in the presence of a salesman with Ballmer. That’s fine for some audiences, especially inhouse, but when you’re being broadcast to millions around the world, you need more than being a “Mad Man”, you need to convey a vision for the future, where these products will take me.
Perhaps because the tablets and devices (other than gaming) he was showing were made by others, powered by MS software, there was limited ownership of what the product was going to do for me. With Jobs, whose Apple owns the whole widget, you get the feeling the company has thought through a vision for their technologies and how they will be used. These aren’t Ballmer faults per se, but for a CES keynote you want more than just a few warmed over products (as they have been described) to excite the masses.
3. Ballmer tells no stories, just sales pitches. It’s the proverbial solution in search of a problem. As Gallo points out, when Jobs introduced the iPhone, when many had said Apple should stick to computers and not enter “a mature” technology domain of mobile telephony, Jobs set up the usual suspects (Nokia, Sony, Motorola etc) as antagonists, then brought in the iPhone as a hero who would save us from complicated, incomplete and limited solution devices. He offered a solution to a problem we didn’t know we had, a mantra for Apple if ever I heard one.
4. Probably the least happy part of the CES 2010 keynote (apart from the very lame Seth Myers videos) was how Ballmer demoed the HP tablet. If he didn’t already know that there would be widespread disappointment that the Courier would not be discussed and the H-P would be a poor substitute, he showed an 18 second demo from H-P which told me nothing. See it below:
Yawn-worthy, and the tech mags have paid out heaps on Ballmer for this…
But then he picks it up, holds it in front of his tummy so he has to bend his bald pate down to see what he’s doing upside down, and fumbles the demo. How hard would it be to hold it out in space, let us see its form factor (remember how Jobs demoed the MacBook Air?) and operate it away from his body in its own space? Or move himself to a lounge chair and simulate how an end user might work with it (it’d look warm too), while a camera on stage offered close ups. This was a big mistake, and suggests a combination of lack of rehearsal and feedback from others.
5. There are some awkward moments on stage when Ballmer is joined by a colleague doing another demo. Ballmer hangs about on stage, hands on hips watching close up, or looking around (below). What’s with that?
Then he invites his colleague to walk across the stage for another demo, which invokes the classic comedy routine, “Walk this way“, (below).
Watch how Jobs works with colleagues and guests on stage. He greets them with a handshake, hands them the clicker, and leaves the stage! He doesn’t crowd them, nor have them hanging around looking limp, but either gets out of their way, or interacts with them, as in his comical interactions with Schiller. In other words, he is generous on stage, helping his colleagues look good (even when they may know they can’t compete with his presentation skills). Take a look at this Apple Keynote video compilation where Jobs is working with the CEO of Sony Japan who is almost incomprehensible on stage and see for yourself. (Advance to 1’15”)
6. Finally, within a few minutes of opening his Keynote, Ballmer disempowers himself by giving centre stage to the previously-mentioned Seth Meyers clips (left) which are unfunny and don’t lend itself to a visionary experience to come.
When Jobs shows clips they usually feature his own team and how they came to conceive and build an Apple product or service, professionally delivered and not playing for cheap laughs. They excite us about the product, showing us what exists below the simple, shiny surface demonstrating the amount of thought which has gone into the product.
You can bet we will see this when Apple unveils its tablet. Rather than a few stingy minutes spent in a poorly conceived demo, we will be left with a sense of awe and desire for the tablet. That feeling may pass in the hours and days that will pass, only to be invoked once more when we pick up the object of our desires in our own hands.
Is there a way out for Ballmer, so that we don’t see a re-occurrence of these presentation foibles at future CES conventions?
Yes. I’ve just been sent a book by Steve Jobs himself, inspired by what Carmine Gallo wrote about him. It’s a one of only two so far produced (the other one was sent direct to Redmond). Let’s hope that a PDF of it is created, as well as Powerpoint slides given away free embedded in Office 2010 when it’s released in June.