3 Stagecraft Tips from Steve Jobs


Strategy & Business magazine recently published an article on The Stagecraft of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.

The article reports how Jobs uses narrative and dramatic techniques to manage his message.

Jobs’ techniques can be used by any leader.   In a nutshell, they are:

    1. Think on your Feet
    2. Set the scene
    3. Build Suspense                                                                                     

Think on your Feet

At the ’97 MacWorld expo, Jobs dropped a bomb on Apple devotees:  he announced a $150 Million investment in Apple by (archrival) Microsoft.   Then he did the unthinkable:  he brought to the stage Bill Gates.

Gates was met with huge boos.   The crowd had turned.

To turn things around, Jobs went off script.  He had to think and act fast.   Like a good improv performer, Jobs didn’t deny what was happening:  he said yes to their reality, and used it.

He used the crowd’s response to comment on the end of the “us and them days”.  He said that the Apple/Microsoft rivalry was a thing of the past, and it was time to take responsibility for Apple’s future.  The crowd applauded enthusiastically in support of Jobs’ vision.

Set the Scene

Mac’s OS 9 frustrated and angered developers and programmers for years.   OS 9 had been out of touch and out of date.   Rather than deny this, Jobs and Apple used this to build support for their new OS.

If you were Jobs, you might just talk about how bad OS 9 was.   Jobs created the experience of how bad it was–in a humorous way.

At the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2002,  Jobs staged a mock funeral for the out-of-date Mac OS 9 operating system.  Using lighting, stained-glass window projections, fog machines, and organ music by JS Bach, Jobs presided over the funeral and gave a “eulogy” for OS 9.   As a casket rose from a trap door on the stage, Jobs said, “Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember our old friend, Mac OS 9,”.

Why tell when you can have people experience?

Build Suspense 

At the 2007 MacWorld Expo, hallway chatter was filled with talk about a new product:  a phone from Apple.

Jobs knew that many Apple devotees had been waiting with baited breath for months about the phone.

He started with a tease:  “Today, we’re going to make history together.”  Then he shared sales numbers from the last quarter.

The tension mounted.

After the sales numbers, Jobs said, “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.”

The giant screen behind Jobs showed a picture of an iPod with a rotary dial.

The audience howled with laughter.

Jobs then removed a phone from his pocket.   “No, actually here it is,” he said.

He then spent the next hour demonstrating all of the iPhone’s features.

Jobs knew how much anticipation had been building in the audience.  He used suspense to heighten and enliven his message.

Consider these 3 stagecraft tips:

      1. Think on your feet
      2. Set the scene
      3. Build Suspense  

How can you use them to bring your message to life?
How can you use them to make your message sticky and remembered?

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