Opinion might be divided as to how great a person or CEO he was (some would insist he was not great at all), but one aspect of Steve Jobs no one denies – he was great on stage. The man has perhaps some of the best presentations in tech history to his credit and was known to convert even cynical disbelievers into followers, if only for the time he was on stage.
What made Jobs a great presenter? Almost everyone has his or her own theory about it. Some credit it to his almost hypnotic ability to mesmerize an audience (the famed Reality Distortion Field). Others point to his attention to detail and his almost insane penchant for rehearsals, rehearsals, and yet more rehearsals. There are even those who feel that he just had charisma (simple, eh?). We do not know the exact reason and perhaps we never will. What we DO know, however, is that the man dominated the stage like perhaps no person in the history of tech has. Or perhaps will.
It has been exactly six years to the day since Jobs breathed his last. Some would say this is the perfect time to pay tribute to the man by remembering his best presentations. Well, that is one way of doing it. We, however, would rather focus on perhaps his most famous presentation. And how it went horribly wrong on stage. And how he saved it.
We are talking about the launch of the first iPhone.
January’s 9, 2007. MacWorld.
It was the day on which Jobs released the first iPhone, heralding a new phase in technology – the smartphone revolution, the app revolution and so much more.
Everyone remembers Jobs iconic words at the launch: “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?”
What not too many remember (or in some cases even know) is that something went terribly wrong on stage shortly after those famous words were spoken. And that Jobs rescued matters so brilliantly that well…no one even remembers it.
To refresh your memories, this is the video of the iPhone unveiling. Feel free to go through it once again, but if you want to know the incident we are referring to, just head on straight to the 1 hour, 35 minutes, and 20-second point. Jobs is on stage talking about how big the telecommunications market can be. He says “So let us take a look at this market. How big it is…”
And then he mutters “My clicker’s not working.” The slide on the screen was not changing. Jobs tries a few more taps on the clicker (the little device he held in his hand to change slides) and slide changes. He says “Maybe it is working. So how big is this market, well let’s take a look.” And then again sees no change in the slide, and says, “No. Alrighty.” He then says in a clear voice, “Clicker not working” as if addressing somebody behind the huge display.
This is a massively important presentation. A key moment in it. When he was about to describe the size of the market and the share the iPhone would go for. And the presentation slides were not moving.
What did Jobs do?
As per his legend of being a perfectionist with a bad temper, he should have blown his top. Sat down and waited grumpily for the slides to start moving again.
He did NOTHING of the sort.
And then playfully told the audience, “they will be scrambling backstage right now!”
Cue an eruption of laughter. Jobs then walked for a few seconds on stage, waiting for the slides to move. And then when it became clear that the solution was not going to be a quick one, he looked at the audience and with a twinkle in his eye said, “You know, when I was in high school…” This brought on another ripple of laughter from the crowd, which now knew that the Apple CEO was playing for time. Well so he was, but for the next minute or so, with the screen blank, Jobs turned on the performance of his life.
He talked of how Steve Wozniak and he used to play pranks with their classmates using a TV jammer gadget that Wozniak had made. He made faces on stage; he even contorted his body to show the positions the Apple founders got their friends into using the gadget. And the audience loved it. A key presentation had stopped due to a technical problem but everyone – perhaps even Jobs himself – was having an awesome time.
The slides come back almost a minute and 20 seconds after going off. And Jobs smoothly shifts back into the presentation.
The glitch had taken almost a minute and a half to fix. A problem with the Face ID of the iPhone X a few weeks ago took merely a few seconds. And yet it triggered off a major storm of criticism and analysis. This was a much longer gap. And yet not too many remember it. Perhaps because it had nothing to do with the product itself. Maybe. But the very fact that everyone remembers “An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?” line but not the brief presentation glitch just tells you what a great job Jobs (hah, we so wanted to write that) did on stage.
And he did so without any rehearsals. Without talking “real” technology. Without resorting to special effects or slides.
For close to a minute and a half, about eighty seconds in which his presentation had gone wrong and stopped working, Steve Jobs showed us the REAL secret of a great presenter.
It is not rehearsing multiple times.
It is not making great slides.
It is not cracking jokes or being witty.
It is storytelling.