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24 July 2014
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Following my praise of Office 365 in the last edition, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new Chief Executive, did indeed announce its availability on iOS – as had been widely rumoured he would. So, I’ve used another of the generous number of downloads that a subscription to 365 allows, to install it on my iPad.

What would Steve Jobs have thought? Apple’s co-founder famously resisted making iTunes available on Windows, until worn down by his executives, when allegedly, he said: “Fuck you guys, do whatever you want. You’re responsible.”

But Jobs was adept at performing 180-degree turns: “It’s like giving a glass of ice water to someone in hell,” he later quipped as the programme was installed on hundreds of millions of PCs, fuelling sales of the iPod.

Today, Apple and Microsoft are working closely together. At this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company announced it would make Microsoft’s Bing the default search engine on its computers and mobile devices, displacing Google (invoking the proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”).

But then, Apple and Microsoft have always had an on-off relationship. Remember, Office was written first for the Mac and then ported to Windows.

I mention all this as I now have two presentation programmes on the iPad; PowerPoint and Apple’s own, Keynote. Which is being used? PowerPoint, of course. Thanks to the grandchildren, I’ve discovered that making PowerPoint presentations is all the rage at school.

This is great. Don’t be confused by the critics of computer literacy who say that children have for too long been taught ‘outdated’ technology skills, such as working with PowerPoint or Excel, instead of coding.

They are correct in that such basics should not be the end point of a child’s understanding of computing. But, there is a skill that comes from PowerPoint (or Keynote, if it’s used in any schools!) and that is the art of presenting. For a child, using PowerPoint in a project emphasises research and reinforces the organisation of information. Watching two of our grandchildren put together PowerPoints on Africa and Australia has been instructive.

But, as well those research and organisational skills, I wonder if design is ever a consideration in their teachers’ critiques. How many bad PowerPoints by adults have you sat through? Many more than you have good ones, I bet.

Why is that so many people introduce a slide with the words: “Now, you probably can’t read what this says but …”? Why present us with a mess of illegible words and confusing arrows? It has the opposite effect of a presenter’s intent; we switch off, thinking: “Well, I can always download the presentation later.” But we don’t.

Steve Jobs thought Keynote was way better than PowerPoint; no surpise. Maybe it is. But the point about PowerPoint is that it’s not the software that’s the problem, it’s the way people use it. Carmine Gallo, a presentation skills specialist, has studied the way Jobs introduced products: “[He turned] the typical dull, plodding presentation into a theatrical experience.” Gallow has usefully distilled that experience into tips for presenters.

Plan in the analog world: Steve Jobs may have made a name for himself in the digital world, but he prepared presentations in the old world of pen and paper. He brainstormed, sketched and drew on whiteboards.

“Graphic designers who work in PowerPoint rarely open the software program as the first step in creating a presentation,” said Gallo. “They ‘storyboard’ their presentation before transferring their ideas to a digital format.”

Create Twitter-friendly headlines: Can you describe your product or service in 140 characters? For example, when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air in January 2008, he said that it was simply: “The world’s thinnest notebook.” That one sentence spoke volumes. In 2001, Jobs introduced the iPod. If Twitter had been around, it would have been: “One thousand songs in your pocket”.

Create visual slides: Whether it’s iPhones, iPads, or the latest Mac OS, Apple products are easy to use because they eliminate “clutter.” Steve Jobs’ slides during a presentation were equally as simple. For example, there were no bullet points on his slides. Photographs and images dominated a Jobs presentation. Text was either limited or paired with a photograph.

Practice, a lot: A former Apple employee, Mike Evangelist, wrote a piece for The Guardian in which he said Apple spends hundreds of hours on a five-minute demo. Jobs, he wrote, rehearsed two full days before the presentation. Every slide was written like a piece of poetry; every presentation staged like a theatrical experience. Jobs wasn’t a ‘natural’ presenter, said Gallow; he worked at it and made look effortless.

Obey the 10-minute rule: “Neuroscientists have found that the brain gets tired after 10 minutes,” said Gallow. “In other words, no matter how engaging the speaker, audiences will tend to tune out after approximately 10 minutes.” A Jobs presentation lasted about 1.5 hours, but every 10 to 15 minutes he broke up the content with video, demonstrations or guest speakers.

Make numbers meaningful: In every Apple presentation, big numbers are put into context. In a 2009 presentation, Apple Vice President Phil Schiller said that 220 million iPods had been sold to date.

He placed that number into context by saying it represented 73 per cent of the market. He broke it down even further–and took a jab at the competition–by saying Microsoft was “pulling up the rear” with its 1 per cent market share. Large numbers must be placed into a context the audience can understand.

Reveal a ‘wow’ moment: “People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” said Gallow. “There [was] always one moment in a Steve Jobs presentation that [was] the water cooler moment, the one part of the presentation that everyone will be talking about. These showstoppers are completely scripted ahead of time.”

When Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air, they remembered him removing the computer from an envelope. The image of a computer sliding out of an envelope was subsequently featured in Apple ads and on the Apple website. It was the water cooler moment.

Have fun: “When is the last time you had fun giving a business presentation?” asked Gallow. During Jobs’s January 2007 Macworld keynote, his ‘clicker’ failed to advance the slides. Instead of getting rattled, he paused and told a story about the time he and co-founder Steve Wozniak built a TV jamming device and had fun messing up TV signals in Wozniak’s university dorm. Once the slides were fixed, Jobs moved on as if it had been planned: “He smiles, laughs and seems to genuinely enjoy himself on stage,” observed Gallow

“Where most people give a presentation to deliver information, Steve Jobs [created] an experience. It’s ‘info-tainment’ intended to inform, educate and entertain,” said Gallow.

Let’s hope teachers can instill those ideas in the next generation.

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