“The Adversary”: A powerful presentation technique

In every classic story, the hero fights the villain

by Peter Watts

In a key section of his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”, Carmine Gallo invokes the plot-line of every childhood story we grew up with, in order to reveal a powerful device for mobilizing an audience: the Adversary.

A clear presentation tells a story. It should be stirring, clear, and memorable. It should contain qualities that stand out in clear black and white rather than in obscuring shades of grey.

This binary arrangement requires two fundamental roles to be to the fore. There is firstly the Hero, who appeals to all the best qualities of the audience, and in order for that character to stand out clearly, there must also be the Adversary, representing the opposing force that the audience are being asked to stand against.

Gallo reminds us of how Jobs himself used this arrangement in the 1984 Super Bowl advert that launched the Apple Macintosh. Inspired by George Orwell’s fiction masterwork, this stunning advert portrays Apple as the brave and feisty insurgent rebelling against the tyranny of IBM, symbolized by the tyrannical “Big Brother”.

In almost every presentation, it is likewise possible to identify your binary opposite, and use that opposite to stir the emotions of an audience.

This approach has many times been used to sow division in the world. We have only to listen to talk-radio shock-jocks or watch partisan news networks in order to see the technique in action as one group, frequently a minority, is pilloried in order to boost ratings amongst the network’s core demographic. Such realities might make us justifiably queasy with so tabloid a technique. It’s important therefore to use the approach responsibly. The Adversary should be targeted against ideas, not individuals.

In the corporate world, there are countless examples of where this can be legitimately done. For example, we already have Steve Jobs’ approach, targeting an over-mighty competitor.

For myself, I can think of no stronger use than in the charity sector. Hunger becomes the adversary in famine fund-raising. Pollution becomes the adversary in environmental awareness. Ignorance becomes the adversary in Civil Rights.

A cook will tell you that when creating a sweet dish, the modest introduction of a bitter flavor can actually bring-forward and enhance the sweetness. Too much however, and the sweet quality is not enhanced, it is overwhelmed, and the sweet gives way completely to the bitter.

The same concept applies to the presentation usage of the Adversary. Without an adversary for juxtaposition, the heroic qualities you seek to bring forward in your audience will remain two-dimensional. Add in that little touch of the bitter, and the Hero stands out in clear relief. Add in too much however, and your presentation topples over into a shrill tabloid rant. As with so many techniques of public speaking, subtlety always trumps hyperbole.

This blog, looking at the role of the Adversary, completes my series reviewing Carmine Gallo’s “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”. By focussing on a modern master, the book brings forward powerful and rarely discussed techniques, such as this week’s concept of the Adversary.. I can happily recommend this book to all Steve Jobs fans, to all Apple fans, and of course, to all who want to develop skills in the world of public speaking!

Twitter headlines create compelling presentations

by Peter Watts

In last week’s blog, we reviewed the advice that Carmine Gallo, in his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” offers in respect of constructing a key message that speaks directly to your audience. This week we’ll look at the second part of his guidance: “Create Twitter-style headlines”.

The whole essence of the internet phenomena “Twitter” is being able to create and deliver a message in 140 characters or less. The resulting sound-bites of information are quick to read, easy to remember, and very easy to transmit from person to person. We even have a new term, the “Twitter-Storm”, describing what happens when a message is so compelling that it surges the internet like an information tsunami.

The power of Twitter is that, as Gallo points out, it prompts us to write and to think concisely. Steve Jobs is a master at the Twitter headline. For example, in the sound bite that accompanied the 2008 MacWorld launch of the MacBook Air, Jobs simply described his new computer as “The world’s thinnest notebook”. Another example, came during the 2001 launch of the Apple iPod when Jobs announced “One thousand songs in your pocket.”

Short, snappy, and to the point, these Twitter headlines are a newspaper editors dream. They are insta-copy, ready phrased and trimmed to perfection for the next edition. This explains why a Steve Jobs headline almost always makes the news.

Yours can too!

Having identified the key message for your presentation, basing it carefully upon the needs and interests of the target audience, your goal is to encapsulate that message down to one short, punchy phrase. The shorter, the better. Use everyday language that paints a clear picture for your audience to visualize. A useful piece of guidance to keep in mind is the old advertising slogan “It does what it says on the tin”. Your twitter headline should tell the audience exactly what your product will do for them.

Such messages, in addition to forming a key part of your verbal delivery, also make excellent additions to all your presentation materials. A strong Twitter headline, such as “The world’s thinnest notebook” can appear on your slides and handouts, re-enforcing  the promise of your presentation.

Next week, in the last of my blogs reviewing “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”, we’ll re-discover the story-telling technique that was essential to all our favorite childhood tales, and that is equally essential to our public speaking activities as adults; we will identify the Wicked Step-Mother to our Cinderella, the Cruella de Ville to our Dalmations!

Next week, we consider the essential contextual role played by the character of “The Adversary”.

Always ask “Why should my audience care?”

by Peter Watts

“Why should my listener care about this idea?” is a challenge that Carmine Gallo asks us to consider in his new book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”.

All audiences, even the most apparently attentive, will observe a presenter and silently puzzle “What does this message have to do with me?” The more rapidly we answer that question as presenters, the more rapidly we seize the attention of the audience.

Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs consistently sells his products in terms of benefits. For example:

“Just one year after launching the iPhone, we’re launching the new iPhone 3G. It’s twice as fast at half the price.”

Audiences are like horses. If they are at all unsure of the person holding the reins, they become skittish and restless, refusing to settle into attentive compliance. By clearly stating audience benefits, we not only exercise that firm hand of control, but slip the horse a favor winning sugar-cube in the process.

The secret lies in identifying the utility of your message. It is a trap we fall into as presenters that we formulate an excellent presentation, with a clear benefit statement, and then repeatedly trot that same statement out time after time. Not every audience is the same, and therefore the same benefit statements won’t work for every audience.

Always ask yourself what the gain is going to be for this unique group of people. The more specific you are, the more compelling your presentation will be.

Gallo goes on to make the point that we must constantly hammer that benefit home, reminding listeners of it throughout the presentation.

A piece of advise that I often give to presenters is “Never under-estimate the ability of an audience to completely miss the point!”, and for that reason, repetition of the benefit statement will help those listening to maintain focus. To us as the presenter, it can sometimes even feel like we are excessively laboring the point, but this is the only sure-fire way to make sure your key message comes across cleanly and precisely. It’s also another reason why we should always strive to keep our presentations short. The more information we pack into them, the greater the chance of our key message becoming buried beneath the excess.

A successful, Steve Jobs-style presentation will directly impress on the audience exactly why it is that your idea is right for them. Next week, we’ll look at the next stage of Carmine Gallo’s advice: “Create Twitter-style headlines”.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”

by Peter Watts

What would you do if you could “hold the internet in your hand”?”

This was the question posed by Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs at the San Francisco launch of the Apple iPhone. Within hours, the catchphrase “the internet in your hand” had telegraphed around the globe. I heard it that same evening, on the radio of a London taxi, prompting my driver to comment: “You couldn’t pay for publicity like that could you?”

Was it the product that had made the news, or was it the presentation abilities of Steve Jobs? A new book by Businessweek columnist, Carmine Gallo, “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” has taken the famous Jobs style and laid it out as a how-to guide, promising the secrets of “How to be insanely great in front of any audience.”

The art of public speaking is governed by rules existing since the time of the ancient Greeks. It’s a challenge to find new things to say that haven’t, at some point in the past 2,000 years, been said before!

To be original, an author must either create a whole new lexicon on presenting (unlikely!) or stick to the proven formula. Repetition of the same ideas is a common blight. This is where Carmine Gallo’s book surprises. It re-visits the tried and tested rules of public speaking that every presenter needs to understand, while presenting those concepts by analyzing them through the style of a modern master.

The result is an example-packed guide with ideas taken from the Web 2.0 world. Gallo demonstrates how Steve Jobs crafts messages that spread from audience to audience; hence what Jobs says at 10 am in San Francisco, is repeated in the back of a cab by 7pm in London!

While many guides focus on what happens during the presentation, Gallo’s book has a focus on what we should be doing before the presentation. Four fifths of effective presenting lies not in the delivery, but in the preparation, and Carmine Gallo demonstrates this by showing how groundwork and rehearsal is a clear factor in Steve Jobs’ success.

During February, I’ll review three of the ideas demonstrated in “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs”:

February 8th: “The one question that matters most”

February 15th: “Create Twitter-like headlines”

February 22nd: “Introduce the antagonist”

The book itself contains a great deal more.

“The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” by Carmine Gallo

Published by: McGraw Hill

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