This week was big in Apple land. Tim Cook’s keynote to announce the Apple Watch. Let’s put aside the product punditry and how insanely great the product is, (the mainstream media, haters and fanboys will turn themselves into a tizzy over the Digital Crown and the force-sensing) and look at the keynote itself.
Apple keynotes have been called “Stevenote”s in the past, driven by the idea that Jobsian magic packaged the product announcement and did wonders for Apple’s shareholders. How did Tim Cook do? Was it a performance worthy of a name? A “Timnote”, or a “Cooknote”? Make no mistake, it’s a big moment for Cook, with big shoes to fill.
Apple events are a masterclass in stagecraft. This was (mostly) no exception. After a technical glitch turned #AppleLive streaming into #AppleFail, Cook got the show on the road. In his keynotes, he’s less center stage than Jobs, smartly playing the role of MC and introducing other Apple execs to cover the demos in detail. who covered the new iPhone 6, Apple Pay then returned to introduce the Apple Watch with a throwback “One More Thing…” slide, which sent the Apple faithful wild.
The way Cook presents is workmanlike. As opposed to Jobs, who was a Storyteller, Cook is the type of presenter we call an Inventor. This natural presenter type shows up in the way he presents. He paces up and down the stages, using the clicker to step through the keynote. If you watch carefully, you see him glance down at the cue screens below him, to keep on track. This method – click, comment, connect – where the sequence of the slides is used to keep on track, works well for the Inventor presenter type.
Cook has a good manner, and doesn’t try to blind the audience with science. For a CEO, he also uses simple words without a lot of corporate piglatin; you don’t hear much about synergy and leverage. “That’s it” to sum up a video of Apple Pay working, and “We didn’t just shrink the iPhone UI,” when talking about the process of building the watch. This is good, it makes him more relatable to his audience, and seems a more natural way of speaking for him.
It’s worth noting that his tone changes depending on the subject he talks about. When he speaks about Apple as a company, the work that was done to produce the product, his pride and authority show through. It’s the same when he talks about business opportunities, squarely in his area of expertise, for instance, “200 million transactions a day” when talking about the market opportunity for Apple Pay.
When he talks about the product it’s different. His tone and manner is a little more stilted, a little more forced. You get the sense that he takes advice about the words to use here, as opposed to using his own talking about the company and market. That’s not surprising, given that in a place like Apple, surrounded by technology and product experts — the product will never be his ‘thing’. But it makes the superlatives feel a little more scripted, like he’s more excited about what the product will do for the company and the achievement of the business, than the product itself. That’s clearly different from his predecessor.
You may not be the CEO of Apple, but you can learn a lot from the way Tim Cook presents. He plays to his strengths, and uses simple language. He uses slides well to pace himself through his keynote, and he lets himself show through, with a touch of grace and humility in his speaking style that’s Cookian, not Jobsian.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.