I’ve just finished reading on my iPad and iPhone Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Steve Jobs. I knew much of the story he told from the various unauthorised biographies as well as individual blogs written about him, as well as movies such as “Triumph of the Nerds” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley”.
I saw Steve a few times up close when I visited the Apple campus in the last few years, but never had a chance to speak with him. I can certainly fantasise that he many have read some of my blog articles about Apple products such as the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and of course his presentation software of choice, Keynote.
In more recent years, he spoke of hoping to keep Apple’s DNA alive after he was gone by dint of the new Apple building he has commissioned to be built on some previous Hewlett-Packard land. Perhaps he had read of the “Apple DNA” concept on my blog article in December, 2004, a screenshot of which is below. It is on this website that I first suggested Apple ought to make a tablet (I nicknamed it the iScribe) which would be brilliant for Keynote users to remote use:
(If you can find a description of Apple’s DNA earlier than 2004, please let me know!)
I’m sure many readers have fantasised what they would have said to Steve Jobs if they happened to meet him, and perhaps some of you have! My other fantasy includes him walking into my first Presentation Magic presentation at Macworld 2008, saying “This sucks!”, then taking over the show to share his presentation ideas. How I and attendees would have had special memories to take with us had that happened!
But before you think it merely fantasy, others in the health professions have indeed been on the receiving end of Jobs’ “advice” with regard to their presentations, especially when they used Powerpoint.
Walter Isaacson’s Jobs’ biography mentions his distaste for Powerpoint, and slideshow-based presentations in general (save for his own keynote presentations) on six occasions. You won’t find Powerpoint or Keynote listed in the book’s index, but in the iBooks’ version I have, you can of course do a global search for keywords. So, here you have them:
We’ll work our way through some of them because it’s quite illuminating to hear what someone who presentation bloggers and authors rate as one of the world’s best presenters (and the world’s best CEO presenter) has to say about Powerpoint, and presentations in general.
Let’s start with the final reference where Jobs is very ill, and his wife Laurene and others have organised various medical and genetics research staff to investigate where next in his treatment:
One could just imagine Jobs focussing on the expectedly lousy Powerpoint slides of medical researchers while they’re focussing on his genome sequence for which he’s paid $100,000!
But earlier on the book, when Jobs has returned to Apple and is setting about constructing his “A” team to resurrect Apple, we see how he eschews presentations with slideware when he believes it takes from, rather than adds to, the creative process:
“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need Powerpoint”
This might sound strange coming from someone who was the original beta tester for Apple’s Keynote, and who continued to employ it to show Apple’s wares right up to the release of the iPad 2.
But as I have written elsewhere, a Jobs’ keynote does not engage the audience in a dialogue. The audience is engaged with the story he tells of Apple’s products and services, where he employs Keynote like a storyboard, outlining a roadmap. It’s not used as a lecture technology, as an adult training tool, or as a brainstorming of ideas technology. Jobs never hid behind his slides as so many people do, preferring their slides to sell the story. No, Steve emulated for us how the slides were adjuncts to our spoken stories, never getting in the way of what the presenter was saying or doing, but ready to illustrate ideas when words were not enough.
With Steve’s passing who at Apple can carry the torch for Keynote? The obvious answer is Phil Schiller who, after Steve, is most associated with demonstrating iWork in action at Apple keynotes, and showing us updates.
But is Phil invested sufficiently in Keynote to see it continue to be updated with features for a contemporary presentation population, both givers and receivers who have become steadily sophisticated in their expectations.
I say that with some sense of caution however. I was sent a link to YouTube video of several start-ups competing for venture capital, each giving a recent 3 minute presentation.
You can watch it below. But let me remind you that since the release of Lion 10.7 and a point update for Keynote, many in various discussion groups have complained of considerable unhappiness regarding the auto-update feature, which for some means minutes of spinning beach balls for even the slightest of changes to a slide. It has meant on Apple discussion support boards that some have either reverted to Snow Leopard or an earlier edition of Keynote so as to bypass the auto-save feature, or have returned (shudder) to Powerpoint.
So when you watch the video below, bear in mind two things:
1. There is still plenty of room for presentation skills training to judge by the young group of entrepreneurs missing the central point of their presentations, viz.: their failure to appreciate the most important obstacle to overcome as soon as possible is the audience’s fundamental cognition: “Why should I give a $%# about your product?”
2. Feel some empathy for the first presenter, who uses the organiser’s Powerpoint (Mac-based) when it falls over (at 2min56sec):
Notice too what happens when you don’t provide speakers with a vanity monitor, which I have been discussing lately. You’ll see how often the presenters need to look over their shoulder to see what’s happening and lose contact with their audience. Not good when you’ve only got three minutes to persuade people.
You’ll also see many presentation errors with the slides (perhaps I’ll use this as an exercise at my Macworld presentation), which shows I hope that even young, hip entrepreneurs whose presentations really count can so easily be sucked into the Powerpoint vortex of lousy knowledge transfer.
So the mission Steve started in 2003 with Keynote 1.0 is way from over, I believe. Yet the last significant update to Keynote was in 2009 when it moved to version 5, as part of iWork 09, giving us MagicMove (which has become a default Apple transition for their keynotes), some new chart animations, and some remote apps for iDevices.
In two months, it will be three years while its users have patiently waited for Keynote’s multitude of shortcomings to be dealt with in the form of a brand new version, making a significant form and function leap as did Final Cut Pro X.
Yet without Steve there to champion it, as he did in the final period of his life, who within Apple will take it to Tim Cook, hardly renowned so far as a presenter par excellence, and the senior executive team, and offer up an improvement?
Apple keynotes themselves have settled into a very predictable pattern, with incredibly overused build styles, such as the “anvil” whenever amazing financial figures are displayed. In the last few keynotes we have not seen any hints of new effects or styles, although of course there could be events happening outside of visual awareness, such as the much sought after timeline for more precise animation and build timings.
What’s worse, Apple’s own internal briefings using Keynote which I get to see when my MUG has an official presentation from an Apple rep., are merely Powerpoint converted to Keynote, and I recall conversations with my iWork contact who lamented the generally low level of presentation skills using Keynote performed within Apple’s various divisions. It’s probably why people like me and Larry Lessig were invited to present to the Keynote team, not just to discuss what we wanted in future Keynotes, but for the team to witness how to Present Different.
Prior to the current version 5, the longest time in Keynote’s history when its users had to patiently wait for a new version was twenty four months, between versions 1 (released January 2003) and 2 (released January 2005).
There were some minor point updates in that time, more for stability than features. Version 2 was a huge improvement, almost like going from OS X 10.1 to its first really useable, put away System 9, version 10.2, Jaguar.
Three years is a very long time, although if one lives in the Windows Powerpoint world, where in the last decade you go from PPT 2003 to 2007 to 2011, it’s not so remarkable. And in the face of continuing updates of significance to the iPad version of Keynote, perhaps not all hope is lost.
But unless we see something new soon, and the current Lion auto-save issue is resolved, I fear issues of abandonment will continue in the face of Apple’s seeming orphaning of what appeared to be one of Steve Job’s favourite applications he loved using himself; one where we watched its use in amazement not just of the products he showed as emblems of Apple’s DNA, at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, but of the “how” he showed them, the likes if which in a CEO we won’t see for a long time.