Steve Jobs was a master showman. In my opinion, Jobs was the best business storyteller of our time. Every product launch was brilliantly performed. Every move, demo, image and slide was in sync and beautifully choreographed. If I sound like I'm describing a Broadway show, you're right. A Steve Jobs presentation had more in common with an award-winning theatrical performance than a typical product launch. Apple still uses the time-tested formula including the final secret ingredient: Jobs rehearsed relentlessly.
Steve Job made presentations look effortless because he put a lot of effort into making it great.
When Steve Jobs built product keynote presentations, he was involved in every step from creating the messages to designing the slides. But the final step was critical. Jobs practiced on stage over and over and over again.
A business reporter writing a behind-the-scenes article about an Apple product launch was given access to Steve Jobs during the rehearsal phrase. "Jobs unveils Apple's latest products as if he were a particularly hip and plugged-in friend showing off inventions in your living room. Truth is, the sense of informality comes only after grueling hours of practice." In the same article, a retail executive was asked to wait until Jobs finished rehearsing. He waited four hours before Jobs walked off stage.
One former Apple employee published an article in The Guardian about his personal experience rehearsing just one portion of a Steve Jobs presentation. "To a casual observer these presentations appear to be just a guy in a black shirt and blue jeans talking about some new technology products," he wrote. "But they are in fact an incredibly complex and sophisticated blend of sales pitch, product demonstration, and corporate cheering...they represent weeks of work, precise orchestration, and intense pressure."
The reporter pointed out that Jobs had begun preparing the presentation weeks in advance. Jobs spent two full days of dress rehearsal before the big day.
When is the last time you put in "hours of grueling practice?" When is the last time you put in just four hours of rehearsal? Most of the CEO clients I advise have rarely spent that much time practicing a presentation before delivering it...until they meet me. And what I know, I learned from those closest to Steve Jobs.
The Ideal Amount of Rehearsal Time
Jobs' intensity is tough to match, but the CEOs I know who are great presenters do practice much, much more than the average business professional. A high-tech reporter given behind-the-scenes access for an Intel keynote at the CES 2018 electronics show commented that "nothing Intel did in its keynote was easy [piano-playing drones, flying cars, acrobats with LED suits, self-driving cars, etc]. "What it did pull off was staging a handful of experiences that were impressive to see in person." As a communication advisor who has worked with Intel, I can tell you that when a complex keynote appears effortless, there were hundreds of hours of planning, designing and rehearsing that made it look good.
The most common question CEOs and business leaders ask me about rehearsal is: how long should I practice? Here's the answer that works for me and my clients. The answer: 20 for 20.
For a standard 20-minute sales pitch or presentation (most presentations are not 90-minute productions like the ones at CES), I suggest rehearsing the entire presentation from start to finish at least 20 times. In the first ten rehearsals, you'll likely stop and refine message points or slides. You'll probably forget many of your best lines. That's where the next ten rehearsals come in. During the next ten practice rounds focus on vocal delivery, body language, and nailing down the material.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes, "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good." Set yourself apart from the competition. Most of your peers won't put in the practice time, but you will. Your confidence will show.