Sep 19

Steve Jobs and the art of the swordsman: “


Much has been written about the approach to presentations taken by Steve Jobs. His slides, for example, are always simple, stunning and highly visual and he uses them smoothly and seamlessly, advancing all slides and effects himself without ever drawing attention to the fact that he is the one advancing slides. His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. His presentations are built on a solid structure which gives them an easy feeling of flow as if he were taking us on a small journey. He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.

It all seems so automatic and natural. It all seems so easy, so you’d be tempted to think that it just comes naturally to Steve, that it’s a pretty easy task for him to use his natural charisma to woo a crowd. But you’d be wrong. While it is true that Steve Jobs is a charismatic figure, I’m not sure giving presentations with multimedia support, and even giving live demos (how many CEOs do that?), is something that comes naturally to anyone. No, the reason Steve Jobs’ presentations go so well and are so engaging is because he and his team prepare and practice like mad to make sure it looks ‘easy.’

The waters are in motion but the moon retains its serenity

When Steve is on stage he is in a sense an artist. And like any artist, through practice and experience, he has perfected his ‘technique’ and ‘form.’ Yet also like the trained artist, there is no thought of technique or of form, or even of failure or success while performing the art. Once we think of failure or success we are like the swordsman whose mind stops, ever so briefly, to ponder his technique or the outcome of the fight. The moment he does that he has lost. This sounds paradoxical, of course, but once we allow our mind to drift to thoughts of success and failure or of outcomes and technique while performing our art we have at that moment begun our sure decent.


‘Mushin no shin’ (The mind that is no mind)
When a swordsman is in the moment and his mind is empty (or the ‘mind that is no mind’) there are no emotions stemming from fear, there are no thoughts of winning or of losing or even of using the sword. In this way, says Daisetz Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Culture, ‘both man and sword turn into instruments in the hands of the unconscious, and it is the unconscious that achieves wonders of creativity. It is here that swordplay becomes an art.’ Beyond mastering technique, the secret to swordsmanship rests in obtaining a proper mental state of ‘no mind’ where the mind is ‘abandoned and yet not abandoned.’ Frankly, if you are engaged in any art or even a sports match (think Tiger Woods) you must get rid of the obtruding self-consciousness or ego-consciousness and apply yourself completely, but also, as Suzuki says, ‘…as if nothing particular were taking place at the moment.’ When you perform in a state of ‘no mind’ you are free from the burdens of inhibitions and doubt and can contribute fully and fluidly in the moment. Artists know this state of mind, as do musicians and highly trained athletes.

These highly anticipated presentations that Steve does come with a lot of pressure to get it right. A lot is riding on each presentation and expectations are high inside and outside Apple. Yet what makes Steve so effective in these situations is that he is able to seemingly forget the seriousness of the situation and ‘just perform.’ In this way he is like the artful swordsman who through his ‘immovable mind’ has no thought of life or death. The mind has been quieted and the man is free to be fully present. As Suzuki puts it:

‘The waters are in motion all the time but the moon retains its serenity. The mind moves in response to ten thousand situations but remains ever the same.’

We need technique and proper form and we need to know ‘the rules.’ We need to practice and practice some more. By putting in the hard work in the preparation phase and internalizing the material we can perform our art — the art of presentation — in a way that is more natural by obtaining the proper sate of mind, that is, ‘no mind.’

Keynote ’08 now available
Steve had another nice presentation today in Cupertino in Apple’s Town Hall. One of my more memorable presentations was on that same stage; it’s a very nice little theatre. The new Keynote is something that I am pretty excited about. It is the built-in voiceover capabilities that you can put in sync with the cinematic transitions that I can’t wait to try. If someone knows of some samples (already) please let us know. Below are a few stills from today’s presentation. Go watch it here in a beautiful 640×360 (26.8 FPS) QuickTime display. (Update: Here’s a link to a test video I made of the recording feature, or just scroll down to see the YouTube video.)

I’m not a fan of 3-D displays for 2-D data, but I admit that this does not look bad.

Steve seldom uses bullets, but when he does they appear one at a time as he reviews what he has said about the product. Notice there are no actual bullets, they are not needed as these are clearly four separate text elements.

‘Look at this!….We think there is a much better way…’

‘Put everything all in one and clean up the mess.’


The empty screen creates tension and anticipation…


Keynote 08…looks good.

OK, I have Keynote 08 and have been using it for about an hour or so. Love it. Here I quickly (very quickly) recorded my voice in sync with some slides. On the Mac the export looks perfect. When it is uploaded to YouTube some transitions are degraded quite a bit. Especially for YouTube you will want to keep transitions simple (perhaps no transitions and the occasional fade). I also have to experiment and see which is the best way to compress the movie for uploading to YouTube.

(Via Presentation Zen.)

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