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The Steve Jobs’ Presentation and the Napkin Test

Excerpt from The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo.

Steve Jobs has built a reputation in the digital world of bits and bytes, but he creates stories in the very old-world tradition of pen and paper. His presentations are theatrical events intended to generate maximum publicity buzz, and awe. They contain all of the elements of great plays or movies: conflict, resolution, villains, and heroes. And, in line with all great movie directors, Jobs storyboards the plot before picking up a “camera” (i.e., opening the presentation software). It‘s marketing theater unlike any other.

Jobs is closely involved in every detail of a presentation: writing descriptive taglines, creating slides, practicing demos, and making sure the lighting is just right. Jobs takes nothing for granted. He does what most top presentation designers recommend: he starts on paper. “There‘s just something about paper and pen and sketching out rough ideas in the ‘analog world’ in the early stages that seems to lead to more clarity and better, more creative results when we finally get down to representing our ideas digitally,” writes Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen.

Design experts, including those who create presentations for Apple, recommend that presenters spend the majority of their time thinking, sketching, and scripting. Nancy Duarte is the genius behind Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Duarte suggests that a presenter spend up to ninety hours to create an hour-long presentation that contains thirty slides. However, only one-third of that time should be dedicated to building the slides, says Duarte.2 The first twenty-seven hours are dedicated to research-ing the topic, collecting input from experts, organizing ideas, collaborating with colleagues, and sketching the structure of the story.

The Napkin Test

A picture is the most powerful method for conveying an idea. Instead of booting up your computer, take out a napkin. Some of the most successful business ideas have been sketched on the back of a napkin. One could argue that the napkin has been more important to the world of business ideas than PowerPoint. I used to think that “napkin stories” were just that—stories, from the imagination of journalists. That is until I met Richard Tait, the founder of Cranium. I prepared him for an interview on CNBC. He told me that during a cross-country flight from New York to Seattle, he took out a small cocktail napkin and sketched the idea of a board game in which everyone had a chance to excel in at least one category, a game that would give everyone a chance to shine. Cranium became a worldwide sensation and was later purchased by Hasbro. The original concept was simple enough to write on a tiny airline napkin.

One of the most famous corporate napkin stories involves Southwest Airlines. A lawyer at the time, Herb Kelleher met with one of his clients, Rollin King, at the St. Anthony’s Club, in San Antonio. King owned a small charter airline. He wanted to start a low-cost commuter airline that avoided the major hubs and instead served Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. King sketched three circles, wrote the names of the cities inside, and connected the three—a strikingly simple vision. Kelleher understood immediately. Kelleher signed on as legal counsel (he later became CEO), and the two men founded Southwest Airlines in 1967. King and Kelleher would go on to reinvent airline travel in the United States and build a corporate culture that would earn Southwest’s place among the most admired companies in the world. Never underestimate the power of a vision so simple that it can fit on a napkin!

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker and the author of international bestsellers such as Talk Like TED, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and The Apple Experience. Gallo’s new book, The Storyteller’s Secret, reveals why some ideas catch on and others don’t.

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker and the author of international bestsellers such as Talk Like TED, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and The Apple Experience. Gallo's new book, The Storyteller's Secret, reveals why some ideas catch on and others don't.