I'm in the United Arab Emirates this week to speak to senior government and corporate leaders. They're eager to learn more about storytelling, an ancient tradition in their culture and a skill that Steve Jobs perfected on the business stage.
In Arabic or English, storytelling is a universal language. Get good at storytelling to raise your profile. Tony Fadell did. Fadell is the "father of the iPod" and co-inventor of the iPhone. He left Apple to build Nest, a company he sold to Google for $3 billion.
In a recent podcast with Tim Ferriss, Fadell was asked about the most important lesson he learned from Steve Jobs: "Storytelling, storytelling, storytelling," Fadell said.
The good news is that you, too, can learn storytelling from Steve Jobs.
Jobs followed a simple formula that you can adopt to help your next presentation stand out from the millions of boring slideshows delivered ever day.
Sell dreams, not products.
You've probably heard the business adage that nobody buys a product; they buy a solution to a problem. It certainly applied a Steve Jobs presentation, but Jobs took the adage one step further.
Yes, he sold a solution to a problem. For those customers who wanted a mobile device in between a smartphone and a notebook computer, Jobs created an iPad. But every product was also positioned to unleash a person's potential.
"What we're about isn't making products for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. But at its core, Apple is more than that," Steve Jobs once said. "We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better, and that's who make products for."
Before you open your presentation tool (most people use PowerPoint, Jobs used Apple Keynote), get really clear on what you're selling by asking yourself who your audience is. What are their hopes and aspirations? What dreams do they have for their careers? Make sure your product or idea helps them make their dreams come true.
Dreams are more intoxicating than products.
Introduce villains to vanquish.
A story has a beginning, middle and an end. But a great story has heroes, villains, hurdles, and suspense. Jobs leveraged this concept to turn presentations into captivating narratives.
The original Macintosh introduction in 1984 was one of the best examples of Jobs turning a product launch into a great story. Jobs's presentation even followed the three-act template of Hollywood movies.
For example, on January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs introduced Macintosh for the first time. Here's how he followed the classic narrative style:
Act I: Set-up.
It is 1958. IBM passes up the chance to buy a young, fledgling company that has invented a new technology called xerography. Two years later Xerox is born. IBM has been kicking themselves ever since. It is ten years later. IBM dismisses the mini-computer as too small to do serious mini computing and unimportant to their business...
Here, Jobs makes a character introduction and describes the villain that needs to be vanquished--IBM. He also traced the history of the personal computer from its origins to the present day. The sets the stage for the hero product to come in and save the day.
Act II: Confrontation.
It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns to its last obstacle to industry control--Apple.
Here, Jobs is at his best as he builds the narrative into a David and Goliath-like conflict. Even the words he uses are dramatic--IBM aims its "guns" on Apple, the only "force" that can ensure "freedom."
Act III: Resolution.
Steve walks to the center of the stage and unveils the hero, the first Macintosh. He pulls a floppy disk from his pocket, inserts it into the computer and lets Macintosh "speak for itself." With the introduction of Macintosh, the world will see why "1984 won't be like '1984.'"
This is a classic example of the hero's ending--the hero conquers the villain and transforms the world. and everyone lives happily ever after.
In 1984, Jobs's Macintosh presentation was a product launch wrapped in story.
Your story doesn't have to be as dramatic. In most cases, a story can take the simple form of a personal anecdote that explains why you came up with an idea.
Tony Fadell often told the story of building an energy-efficient home in Lake Tahoe, California. He searched for a thermostat, but was frustrated by the limited features, high cost, and lack of energy efficiency from the products available on the market.
He realized people everywhere faced similar energy-saving dilemmas. Fadell set out to redesign the thermostat and Nest Labs was born.
The next time you have a presentation to prepare, take advice from the world's greatest corporate showman: storytelling, storytelling, storytelling.