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Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs June 23, 2010

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Presentations, Reviews.
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The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any AudienceA title like The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs simply demands skepticism, especially if it’s not written by the Grand Poo-bah of all things Apple himself. I know that was my gut reaction when I first learned of the book (via Slideshare of all places), thinking that it was little more than a deliberate attempt to score some extra mileage by author Carmine Gallo.

Despite this, two things prompted me to give the book a chance. First, there were these slides:

View this presentation on Carmine Gallo’s Slideshare page.

Second, I chanced upon a favorable review of the book by Duarte Design (available on their Facebook page, but not on their blog for some reason).

So I did give the book a chance, in the end coming to the realization that my impressions of the book — both before and after coming across the above material — were right all along.

Admittedly, there’s a fair amount of helpful tricks and tips about to be found throughout the book, mostly about presentation delivery. Looking at it critically, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is really a compendium of observations about the many things Steve Jobs has done so well in year after year of memorable Apple keynotes (and then some). Granted, the book isn’t all about presentation delivery (it touches upon design and preparation, too), but compared to books like Presentation Zen Design and slide:ology, I would say Gallo’s book is more useful for those looking to pick up techniques to improve on delivery.

Notwithstanding this, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs has two significant flaws that keep me from rating it among other great books about presentations. First, Gallo has a tendency to give more weight to the trappings of a great presentation and not its substance. The praise lavished on Jobs for plainspeak — using terms like “Zippy” or “Awesome” in his presentations, for instance — or his penchant for organizing his thoughts in groups of three come across as shallow and uncritical as the book progresses. With respect to the former, the more Gallo made the point, the more I came to realize how empty such words really are. (Aside: does calling an iPad “magical” really mean anything?) Meanwhile, where the latter is concerned, the book would have more depth if it at least took the time to discuss how triplets are standard fare as a rhetorical device. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking, but it’s things like these that give credence to the perception that The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is just trying to cash in on the hype surrounding Jobs.

The more substantial flaw of the book, however, is this: it is a book about Steve Jobs’ presentations that has hardly any visuals of those presentations themselves. This makes for an unusual reading experience. Yes, there are some token pictures of Steve Jobs in action (none of which are particularly useful), and Gallo does try to make do with presenting tables that summarize Jobs’ words with accompanying commentary, but these measures are largely ineffective. Granted, Gallo refers the reader to search for these presentations on Slideshare or YouTube, but by and large the book itself has much less impact than the slides above on which the book is based — precisely because the visuals make all the difference.

In the end, I found The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs to be the type of book that will appeal more to the Steve Jobs faithful and those enamored of the Cult of Mac than to the plain and simply presentation-minded. Again, while there are good points one can pick up by reading it (just look at those slides above!), in and of itself it could’ve been a much better book, especially in a space that demands nothing short of the exceptional.

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