Have you ever gone to a play or a musical and heard the dreaded announcement before the curtain goes up? “For this evening’s performance, the role of the role of XXXXX will be played by (insert never-heard-of-them understudy name here).” And you only came to the play because Denzel Washington, or Patrick Stewart or Dame Judi Dench was starring in it …
Well, however bad you feel, having parted with your hundred bucks for your ticket, can you imagine how bad Mr/Ms Understudy feels, knowing that the audience is not going to be remotely interested in the nuance of their performance? I suppose the only consolation is that the only way is up – you start out with the expectation that the audience is going to hate you, no matter how good you are …

Tough life.

So, yes, I felt some sympathy for Phil Schiller as he stepped out onstage. But if you were Phil, what would you have done? How would you have presented yourself? My advice to him would have been (a) to truly make it a ‘Philnote’ – to find his own voice, his own pace and his own style to deliver with and (b) to be better-prepared for this event than for anything he has ever done in his life. Anyone interested in presenting or public speaking can learn a lot by watching Mr Schiller’s effort in this outing.

My sympathy for Phil evaporated when he started off weakly and lamely:

  • He had quite a quaver in his voice coupled with very shallow breathing, which did not help matters.
  • He flashed some images of Apple stores up and basically appealed for applause. There was no bang and no pow to his opening. [Boom?]
  • He looked back at his slides on the big screen and down at his prompt screens way too obviously and way too often.

What are you looking for back there Phil? There’s only one word up on the screen dude!

In a word, he was over-anxious and under-rehearsed. Yes, I felt some empathy for him; but he did nothing to win me over with his opening. And he was under-rehearsed. If you have your material down cold – particularly your opening – you simply do not have to refer to your prompt screens that often, and certainly not that obviously. I can only presume that Phil uses a similar rig to Steve’s, which places numerous large plasma screens in his eyeline:

[Click to enlarge]

This degree of pause-swallow-and-check on Phil’s part was simply not good enough. One thing I have always noticed about Steve’s keynotes and product launches is that when he has to read out the list of product specs at the summary of a section of one of his presentations, he can always rattle off the list without apparent hesitation. He may be checking his prompters, but he’s learnt to do it subtly and well. Phil needs to take note.

Second, Phil’s language. Now, we’re all used to hyperbole at keynotes and Steve’s verbal tics in this regards have attracted much comment in the past, but simply put, Phil needs to increase his wordpower. Because if everything you are talking about is “incredible” or “unbelievable,” pretty soon, nothing is. Yes, I’m pedantic; yes, I was listening with a critical ear –but do you somehow think the tech community and the financial community weren’t? Phil used the qualifier “really” waaaaaay to often and seemed to have no adjectives beyond “incredible” and “unbelievable.” Might I suggest procuring an inexpensive Thesaurus before his next outing?

Body Language
Next, his body language. As a presenter, it’s not necessary for you to stand astride the earth like some sort of rampant Colossus, but Phil’s natural resting posture places his feet too close together. He’s not centred, he’s not grounded; you can hear him breathing from his upper chest which does not grant his voice much resonance, even though he’s a big guy. He is also inclined to shift from foot to foot in this narrow stance, which he covers by walking up and down quite a bit.

Too much for my eye.

This was not a restless, caged-animal, excited energy. It was a nervous, anxious, energy. Phil gave no sense that he was ‘owning’ the stage and he was not projecting his presence, either physically or vocally, standing this way. He also has a tendency to bring his hands up to gesture and manually emphasise a point and then … drop them, like they’re made of lead. They end up resting momentarily on the fronts of his thighs and overall, the impression was not one of someone who felt confident and in control. Significant room for improvement.

Once he got over the quavery bit at the beginning, Phil settled in quite well. As I said, he doesn’t have much ‘boom’ to his voice and sometimes he is inclined to gabble, but overall, he is comfortably audible and not hard to understand. Phil’s problem is that there isn’t much ‘life’ in his voice. He tells us that he’s “excited” or that some feature is “incredible,” but his voice belies those statements. He’s a cool guy, a laid-back guy, but in this environment, that came off as inhibited. He needs to let rip now and then.

He showed us some pretty cool features in the iLife and iWork suites but to a large extent he let the toys speak for themselves [contrast Phil’s delivery with young Randy doing his groovy thing talking about iMovie – listen to the warmth and energy in Randy’s voice]. Phil needs to think about the highlight moments of his presentations and build toward those – visually, verbally and tonally. [Splendid outbang with Tony Bennett for example, but where were the other high points? Nary a one to my eye.]

A solid, workmanlike performance. Phil covered the facts and did not drag things out too much. Bottom line though, I would not be happy if a client of mine had put in the level of work that no doubt went into that keynote and produced that performance. More importantly, I would not want him to be happy. Solid, workmanlike, 6.5 out of 10, is not the kind of thinking or performance I expect from the Apple Corporation. I don’t think we saw anything like the best that Phil has to offer here and I look forward to watching his development over the next few keynotes. My advice – let Phil be Phil and things will get a whole lot better.

PS: Floyd Norman has a very interesting piece comparing the dilemma facing the Disney corporation in 1966 when Walt became ill to that facing Apple now – really worth a look.

PPS: If you want to get hold of Apple’s presentations, and watching this one is very instructive, you can subscribe to them in the iTunes Store as free-of-charge, high quality, podcasts.

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