Xander Soren demoing Garageband at the iPad 2 keynote – you’ll not see a finer example of a tech presentation and demo for many years

At last week’s iPad 2 keynote, those of us watching and waiting for evidence of new features for Apple’s Keynote presentation software received both good news and bad.

The bad news was that we saw nothing new beyond that which we’ve seen in the past year of Keynotes from Apple. In fact, we saw less evidence of the inclusion of new effects when compared to the keynote introducing the iPad 1 in January 2010.

The good news – by inference – is that the next update to Keynote has been baked and must now be cooling, ready for serving. What’s holding up its delivery to hungry Keynote users I would assert is a timing issue, rather than a development issue. Perhaps the next version of Keynote is tied to the release or update of some other Apple product, like MobileMe or iWork.com or AppleTV, before it goes to the public.

Or perhaps, as I have suggested in a previous blog entry, it will be released when Keynote for the iPad 2 is released March 11 in the USA, March 25 in selected other Apple countries, and then elsewhere. Keynote 2 will move closer to parity to the existing desktop Keynote feature set to take advantage of iPad 2 increased horsepower, one assumes.

The other good news for watchers of Apple keynotes was the sprightliness of Jobs’ performance. Many had assumed he would remain on medical leave, meaning his usual deputies would give the show. Clearly, Jobs has deep affection for the iPad, seeing it as yet another disruptive hardware/software product from Apple which “changes everything” to use an expression from a 2007 Jobs keynote, when he introduced the iPhone.

If you are a presenter who likes to watch others perform, for both inspiration, direct learning, or merely to admire expertise in action, this past week’s keynote is one to watch several times to truly add to your principles of presentation. While others may view the keynote to learn of the iPad’s attributes, presenters have an opportunity to view not one, but two masters of presentation in action.

Jobs clearly is one of them, and while his deputies did a fine job, only one truly stood out as simply astounding. And when you watch Jobs’ reaction as he accepts the slide clicker at the end of his deputy’s presentation, you know Jobs has witnessed presentation magic on the stage. It would be easy to think he’s pausing in wonderment at what the iPad has achieved, but without a blow it out of the water demo I doubt his reaction would be such momentary muteness.

I’m referring here to the presentation of Garageband by Apple Music Marketing Director, Xander Soren. You can see his presentation commence in the official Apple keynote podcast (you can subscribe to and download Apple keynotes in iTunes) at 47:30 when Jobs makes the introduction to Garageband.

Before I make my pitch for the quality of his presentation, you should know Xander doesn’t get it easy. Not just does he follow Jobs’ presentation, but he is the third and last of the deputies to do a demo: he’s preceded by Scott Fostall discussing iOS 4.3, and Randy Ubillos, Apple’s Chief Architect for Video Applications demoing iMovie.

Like Randy and Scott, he has to do both the walk and the talk when demoing, something that Jobs is doing less and less of in recent keynotes. If you recall, when Garageband was introduced in 2004, a year after Keynote was released, Jobs himself demoed the software, assisted by the musicianship of John Mayer. It was a fairly complicated demo, and close observers of Jobs will know he keeps a bound notebook on hand to follow the demo precisely, yet surreptitiously. (If you have very complicated presentation, it’s wise to emulate this and print out each slide and its builds and keep it not far from your Mac or PC.)

What is also known is that Jobs demands perfection of his fellow presenters. His own legendary rehearsal routines are well known, and over the years until recently he has held the stage on his own for more than two hours without reading a script, merely using Keynote’s presenter display (where he can see the current and next slide – invisible to the audience) to cue him in. I use the same method, but it requires much rehearsal knowing what stories to tell for each upcoming slide, and segueing easily between slides and their stories. It gives Jobs’ presentation an almost personal touch, as if he’s in conversation with you. (I am still amazed at how many Powerpoint users are unaware it can also employ presenter mode, perhaps because until Windows 7, using another monitor for screen splitting was a pain).

For those less fortunate in their presentation skills, Jobs can be a hard act to follow, where they might read cue cards as Cingular CEO Stan Sigman (below, left) did at the 2007 iPhone release (to the heehawing in the blogs that followed – one can imagine how the twitterati would have pounded on him. Indeed, one commenter on the Macrumors site said: “I was enjoying my cookies and milk, watching today’s keynote with marvel & excitement when the Cingular CEO came on and I passed out on top of my cookies and milk.”)

(At this point, I’ll share a fantasy I almost put into action at my first Macworld 2008 Presentation Magic workshop, a year after the iPhone’s release. Being an unknown at the time to Macworld audiences, I was going to appear from behind the very large projector screen, carrying a whole bunch of cue cards, approach the microphone, tap hard on it in a most amateurish way, and then introduce myself as Les Sigman, Stu’s nephew at which time I would “accidentally” fumble my cue cards into the air and onto the ground, where I would then stand frozen with fear. As it is, the talk still got plenty of laughs and the audience and I had loads of fun).

Sometimes, this desire for presentation perfection means the keynote seems a little out of kilter, as if a product or more likely a person couldn’t meet Jobs’ standards and that demo was aborted. At other times, beyond his control perhaps, Jobs concedes the stage to a fellow CEO with hilarious results, as in the time in the 2005 Macworld keynote he introduced Sony President, Kunitake Ando, to discuss video products for what Jobs declared would be the Year of Video HD Editing.

Usually, Jobs exists the stage when anybody else presents, staying on long enough to shake hands and handover the slide clicker, then he’s off to the stage wings to observe. Contrast this with performances by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer where he stands on stage, hands on hips brooding over the demo. (See my blog entry here for my description of Ballmer’s epic fail at CES 2010 when he “introduced” Windows powered tablets in an attempt to gazump Apple’s rumoured tablet introduction a few weeks later.)

If you read the blog entry, you’ll see how I wondered aloud why Ballmer was so ill advised as to demo the tablet standing and holding it on his belly, working it upside down. It’s a perfect metaphor for Microsoft’s historic poor grasp of human factors and useability. I suggested in the same blog he ought to have sat in an armchair to do the demo, the way most people would be expected to use the device. Perhaps he was in such a hurry to get it over and done with, that sitting down would have drawn it out too much. A few weeks later, it’s exactly how Jobs, Schiller and others demoed the iPad.

Let’s come to Xander now, after this rather long prologue, and why I believe it will be a long time before you see another presentation of a tech product that will surpass its quality.

Unlike his colleagues, Xander (who has presented previously on stage at the Back to the Mac event in October 2010), went directly to the armchair and picked up the iPad to rip straight into his demo. At this point, we knew he meant business, yet he appeared warm, effusive and welcoming. He had a tough task, moving his attention – and thus ours – between looking and working the iPad, giving eye contact to the audience, and occasionally looking up at the big screen behind and to his left, mirroring his iPad’s display.

From there, he is word perfect. I don’t believe I caught one “um” or “er” or word trip. He pauses appropriately, his words flow mellifluously, and essentially he’s easy on the ear and the eye. His presentation is musical in its tone, and content.

At 49:00, as he begins to demo a keyboard instrument, he says: “I can type on that (piano) icon right in the middle there” and that’s exactly what he does, and we share in what comes next. Xander repeats this style throughout his demo, leading us easily as to what will happen next, even if our knowledge of musical instruments is lousy, like mine!

His demo could have been incredibly hard to follow, as I find most of Randy’s for iMovie, I’m afraid to say. But Xander’s presentation style allows me to be comfortable in my ignorance, remain engaged, and share in his delight at the iPad’s capabilities.

Xander then takes his presentation to another level, by creating music on several different devices, from keyboard to guitar and drums, and it all sounds so musical. You just want to grab an iPad and play it, even if you don’t know a G string from a boombox. Of course, the “wow” factor is helped by Garageband’s capabilities, turning the iPad from the critic’s “toy” into something you can expect professional musicians will use on stage. I imagine they can put three iPads side by side (the picture below shows 15 white and 11 black keys) and get a full keyboard, each with its own octave range.

As Xander takes us through several of Garageband’s instruments, those of us who might be getting a little concerned that we will miss out on all this fun because we’re unmusical are saved when he demoes how the software can help us create music with its built-in tools (This part of the demo starts about 54:20). What could have seen the presentation meander down an unhappy path is saved by another “Gee Whiz” demo of Smart Instruments, which wraps up his presentation. Watch how he emulates a text based slide by mentioning the name of the instrument and then sliding the iPad screen to the instrument in perfect synchrony: “We have smart guitars… (slide)… smart keyboards… (slide)… ..smart bass… (slide) .. smart drums…”

Xander then refers to Smart Instruments as “musical training wheels”, a great metaphor. From there, a new feature is shown, allowing a canvas to display various instruments in order for a song to be created, returning us from baby steps, to how professionals construct songs. In order for us to understand the significance of this technical achievement, Xander cites how the Beatles in their heyday created their songs with huge equipment which could only record four tracks while the iPad can record eight. The Beatles’ four track recorder was “the size of a washing machine and… weighed 300 pounds” up against the iPad’s 1.3 pounds. This kind of presentation comparison helps us remain in a state of delight with what we can potentially achieve (leaving aside a heavy quantum of innate talent!)

At 1:00:00 Xander finishes his presentation with words of encouragement to us, his audience, stating Apple can hardly wait to see what its users come up with once they get a hold of iPad with Garageband. It’s hard to believe he has packed so much into just 13 minutes – less than a standard TED talk.

Jobs walks back on stage, momentarily flummoxed himself!

"I dont believe what I just saw"

In conclusion, if you’re a presenter of any material – technical or otherwise – you owe it to yourself to watch the iPad 2 keynote and in particular Xander’s performance. And then watch it again to extract all the presentation magic and musicality you can. It would not surprise me at all to learn that Xander also plays a horn instrument, such is his breath control throughout his performance.

I think soon I’ll have to write that blog article about how to control for all those off-putting “ums” and “ahs” and other connectors that connote nervousness and possible lack of preparation and rehearsal.

Um, soon…

9 responses to “Xander Soren demoing Garageband at the iPad 2 keynote – you’ll not see a finer example of a tech presentation and demo for many years

  1. It’s 230am Monday. Expect any replies to take a few hours to appear while I get some sleep.

  2. ums and ahs are result of an introvert brain
    which require 90% preparation where as
    extroverts can bs their way thru anything.
    There is no way nerds can overcome this handicap
    unless they have memorized the script verbatim
    even then it will be mechanical delivery.
    Not every one can be alpha male.

  3. RD,
    I can’t agree with you less. One of my goals, over the years, was to change the stereotype of computer programmers as being inept presenters, as you’ve described. I started a Toastmasters club at our computing facility — and then I started a couple at our engineering facilities. I’ve seen several hundred people go through, and they have learned to speak without verbal pauses. Whether it’s a speech or just standing up and speaking for 1-2 minutes on a topic without preparation, you can train yourself to avoid the pauses. The first step is to recognize when you’re doing it yourself, then you’re able to start catching yourself and preventing them. And as soon as you minimize the Ums, Ers, and You Knows, then you have to be diligent to watch what phrase you’re trying to substitute for them. I’m an extreme introvert, at the far end of the scale, yet, if I believe my evaluators that are watching for those pauses, I’ve gone many years without uttering one.

    • @chuckbo. The technique is called habit reversal training, mainly developed over the years for trichotillomania (hair pulling). The part that is important is not to avoid the activity, but as you say, catch it and substitute another behaviour.

  4. Arnold Ziffel

    You are right on the mark about Xander Soren’s presentation of Garageband. Wow! In a short time, Mr. Soren gave someone like me, a non-musician, a grasp of the amazing things people (even I!) will be able to do with iPad 2 and Garageband.

    • @Bill Is that not the art of a great presentation? Giving you a grasp of what’s possible and leaving you motivated to go outside your level of comfort and take a risk?

  5. Pingback: Top 5 Tweets of the Day – March 6, 2011 « A Journey in Educational Technology

  6. I stumbled across this blog entry because I was looking Xander up, as consideration of who might be a great successor presenter to Steve. I totally recall his presentation as being a stand-out example of a great presentation. He conveyed the same boyish enthusiasm for Garage Band that Steve would show across all the products. All with tremendous warmth.

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