Demystifying the Steve Jobs Magic

Think Steve Jobs was always this charismatic on stage? Think again.

When he first presented the Macintosh in 1984, he spends most of his time hiding behind the lectern. He’s reading from his notes, and has zero engagement with the audience. His body language is low-confidence, displaying hunched shoulders; often looking down (he frequently seems to be looking at his shoes.) He seems bashful, awkward, shy.

By 1996, he’s walking around the stage, clearly more comfortable and confident. He’s speaking more fluidly, looking at the audience, taking questions and answering as he goes along. He’s now looking straight ahead. However, overall, he still seems awkward, stiff, like the Tin Man character in the Wizard of Oz movie. He uses far too many useless gestures, with “˜umms’ and “˜ahs’ punctuating his sentences.

The Steve Jobs of 2000, announcing his return as CEO of Apple and introducing the Apple G4 is a different animal altogether. He’s a showman now. He owns the stage. His eye contact is now outstanding. Hand gestures are few, and are now deliberately.

His speech is carefully orchestrated, he uses theatrical techniques throughout his presentation. In fact, he’s using the same techniques as professional magicians. Five minutes into the G4  presentation, the image is striking: just like a magician in a black cape, with a black hat, pulling out a white rabbit, here’s Steve in his black top, against a black background, with a black pouch, pulling out a white G4 cube.

His verbal language is much more concise. The “one more thing” is now a inside joke; some people think it’s his creation. In fact, he may have gotten that from the defunct TV show Columbo. The great charismatic masters aren’t afraid to copy, imitate, and outright steal…

Theatrics and magicians’ tricks will become a hallmark of his; you can see them again in his 2005 presentation introducing the iPod Nano: revealing the small white Nano that had been hidden in his pocket throughout the presentation, to the oohs and aahs of the audience.

Just like in film, he’s using close-ups to direct audience’s attention to where he wants it to go.

By 2007, his body language is now so understated, casual, comfortable. He could be speaking from his living room.

His confidence shows not just in his body language, but in his deliberate, dramatic use of silence: he’s comfortable making the audience wait for his next words. In fact, he plays with the audience; he teases the audience.

By 2011, he expresses humanity and vulnerability. He expresses awe and wonder, not just pride. He makes fun of himself, and of Apple. He actually talks about his products’ defects (and jokes about them). But he’s lost energy. He’s relying more on the data; less on his own presence and “˜wow’ effect. Even brings other people up on stage. One could say he’s past his peak, as far as pure stage charisma goes.