Mario Sundar

LinkedIn's 2nd PR hire. These are my thoughts on products, public relations, and startups.

The Secret to Effective Communication: Being Heard is not Enough

Communication is underrated and vastly misunderstood.

The larger the audience, the more cliched and tiresome our communication becomes. Worse still, we seem less wary of the impact of our words when we write for larger groups.

Corporations tend to be the worst offenders in this category especially when they get tied down in their inane press releases and top-down missives. The problem is even more acute during trying times, when a CEO needs to rally his troops behind a common cause.

I give you, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella’s recent missive around the organization’s future direction.

Rather than poke holes in Nadella’s tired cliches, I’d like to share the secret sauce on how anyone can communicate efficiently to large groups of people.

And there’s no better story to illustrate this than Steve Jobs’ trial-by-fire return to Apple at Macworld 1997 when this had happened.

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There was something dramatic, almost Shakespearean, about Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. A humbler, self-deprecating leader, whose second act was laser focused on first getting Apple out of the red. To do that Jobs would have to rally his troops, inspire them, yet give them a dose of real talk; a delicate balance he pulled off with style at Macworld 1997. Here’s the secret sauce to doing that.

1997-macworld1

1. Be Upfront

Always, be honest with your troops – both internally and externally. This doesn’t mean you have to share all but you’ve to find ways to address the elephant in the room. And once you do, the ultimate segue would be to find a way to inspire confidence and hope amidst the burning embers.

Jobs gets into it right away, highlighting the three complaints leveled against Apple and how he sees it:

“Apple’s not as relevant as it used to be everywhere, but in some incredibly important market segments, it’s extraordinarily relevant.”

“Apple’s executing wonderfully on many of the wrong things!”

“Rather than anarchy, people can’t wait to fall in line behind a good strategy. There just hasn’t been one.”

He agrees with the accusation, does not gloss over the facts, but spins it in a way that inspires confidence. It’s his own way of saying “It’s not you, it’s us” which goes down well with the audience. A lot of executives seem to forget they are talking to a bunch of rational, smart folks and try to ignore the obvious sword hanging in the air. They avoid the elephant in the room, and lose their trust. Lose their trust and you lose your audience.

Every time you write, visualize a skeptic you’re trying to persuade. Convert her and you’ve won them all. Instead I’m loathe to find myself reading press releases and corporate missives that sound like this:

We live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.

You lost me at “mobile-first, cloud-first world.” Most people don’t know what the heck the cloud is; just ask Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz.


Nobody understands the cloud. It’s a fuckin’ mystery!

So get to the heart of the matter with simple words. Think like a blogger, not like a novelist.

2. Talk Normal, Write Simple

Corporations sure think they are people, but turn on a press release or a camera and they sure as hell sound like corporations. As Anil Dash suggests, I’m sure Nadella and team write normal when they email each other but turn on the spotlight and it turns weird; like this scene from Talladega Nights:

I’ve seen this Deer-in-Spotlight phenomenon in many an executive, but I’ve also seen some of them overcoming it over time. Writing makes it worse, since there’s no immediate feedback to your original missive. But if Nadella and his PR team are seeing the tweets or posts since, they should know this could have gone better.

Sure, most of Nadella’s speech might have avoided the obvious hard truths but worse still, there was no letting up on the esoteric:

A few months ago on a call with investors I quoted Nietzsche and said that we must have “courage in the face of reality.” Even more important, we must have courage in the face of opportunity.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
Even True Detective makes more sense now:

Someone once told me time is a flat circle; where everything we’ve ever done, we’ll do over and over again.

The reason I insist on simplicity, is comprehension – the ultimate goal of all communication. In our attention-deficit world, the disparity between being heard and listened to is huge. The importance of your words lies solely in its ability to drive action and that cannot happen with the incomprehensible. This ain’t about you, the writer.

It is always about the reader.

3. Be Precise

Now to the heart of the matter. Rhetoric teaches us that in order to drive action, you need to persuade. And that happens with clarity of vision. Flashback to our 97 Macworld and here’s how Jobs set the stage for the future; inspirational, and on hindsight, prescient:

“We have the makings of a really healthy company, with some really talented people that need to come together and execute on a great plan.”

“What’s the fundamental problem? Declining sales.”

He then dives straight into how they are gonna overcome that in 5 concrete steps:

  • Board of Directors (calls out people but does it in a very subtle manner)
  • Focus on relevance
  • Invest in core assets
  • Forge meaningful partnerships
  • New product paradigms

Actions speak louder than words. And to back up those words, he clearly spells out actions like installing a new board of directors, one which includes the legendary Bill Campbell (who just today retired, after 17 years on Apple’s board), Steve Jobs’ close friend, Larry Ellison, among others.

”The confidence starts with a really clear vision. Then you take that vision down to strategy. People have to look at it and say “Yes”, they can do that. The past has been failure. The new board inspires hope.” – Bill Campbell

It’s just that Jobs makes what seems impossible for any CEO to do, seem easy: calling out past mistakes honestly and focusing on what needs to change, boldly and precisely.

One more thing: Bolt of Lightning

Towards the end of the presentation Steve Jobs says something that kinda gave away the mainstay of rhetoricians:

“Sometimes points of view can really make you really look at things differently.”

“For me when I was looking at the statistic and it hit me that Apple is the largest education company in the world, that was like a bolt of lightning. That’s huge.

“What an incredible base to build off of.”

“Another bolt of lightning is that Apple and Microsoft equal 100% of the desktop market.

And so, whatever Apple and Microsoft agree to do, it’s a standard (laughter). I think you’ll see us work more with Microsoft because they’re the only player in the desktop industry. And I think you’ll see Apple work more with Microsoft more because they’re the only other player in the desktop industry.

I hope we have more cooperation in the future because the industry wants it.”

Art of Manliness points out the third rule of persuasion – Appeal to Reason:

Finally, we come to logos, or the appeal to reason. Aristotle believed logos to be the superior persuasive appeal and that all arguments should be won or lost on reason alone. However, he recognized that at times an audience would not be sophisticated enough to follow arguments based solely on scientific and logical principles and so the other appeals needed to be used as well.

In The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle states that appealing to reason means allowing “the words of the speech itself” to do the persuading. This was accomplished through making inferences using deductive reasoning, usually in the form of a formal syllogism. You’ve seen these before. You start with two premises and end with a conclusion that naturally follows the premises.

Jobs had to conclude that speech with a convincing call to arms. The troops were still skeptical but his conclusion hits at logic, while earlier in the speech, he tackled emotion:

Microsoft + Apple = 100%
What we do together = the desktop standard
The industry wants it.

The conclusion of Nadella’s letter reads:

Rainer Maria Rilke’s words say it best: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”

We must each have the courage to transform as individuals. We must ask ourselves, what idea can I bring to life? What insight can I illuminate? What individual life could I change? What customer can I delight? What new skill could I learn? What team could I help build? What orthodoxy should I question?

With the courage to transform individually, we will collectively transform this company and seize the great opportunity ahead.

Confusing quote, followed by rambling ideas (“What orthodoxy should I question?” Uh?) ending with more meaningless blah.

Let me clarify, this is not a dig on the writing style of one CEO over the other. It’s a reminder that most of us, myself included, sometime gets sucked into the “more is better” mentality, as a writer. And that’s just a bad place to be in, if the goal of your writing is to communicate effectively.

Conclusion

Every leader should be writing for the audience’s collective cynic, not to their internal sycophants. And I notice CEOs oftentimes do the latter. And don’t get me wrong, any decent PR effort can help broadcast this mindless jargon across the airwaves and social media, but then all you get out of that is awareness.

Communications, in my opinion, is far bigger than PR-as-Marketing and it involves converting people over to your line of thinking and this happens only with strong beliefs and convincing rhetoric. And to do that just follow the rules I outline above.

 

Filed under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs

Write like the President’s Speechwriter

Remember, President Obama’s triumphantYes, We Can” speech, or the hopeful New Hampshire concession speech or most recently the comforting Newton tragedy speech

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Words matter and a President’s words carry meaning to hundreds of millions of people; it helps sooth, comfort, and uplift a nation.

So there’s a lot we can learn about writing from the President’s young speechwriter Jon Favreau (not the guy who brought you Iron Man). This past week Favreau crafted one of his penultimate speeches for the President and shared some of his secrets gleaned while writing for the President.

First, nail the theme

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while writing an essay or a blog post is to blah, blah, ramble on relentlessly towards an unspecified goal in the far distance. Smart writers always get the theme right first, which helps with Act 1 and 3 of the piece, and then work around it to get Act 2 right – usually the toughest part.

The President’s working style with Favreau is no different.

“We wanted to make sure that we were going to pick one theme and not go all over the place. And the president said, “Look there’s the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and for 200 years the American story has been about making those promises real,'” recalled Favreau. For an underlying theme, they settled on the notion that “alongside our rugged individualism, there’s another strand of American belief which is that we’re all in this together e pluribus unum, out of many, one.”

Keep it short, keep it real

For cryin out loud, please keep it short. Everybody’s got ADD (thank you, Twitter!) these days, so holding their attention is gonna be your biggest challenge.

As Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s speechwriter, said about JFK’s speeches:

No speech was more than 20 to 30 minutes in duration. They were all too short and too crowded with facts to permit any excess of generalities and sentimentalities. His texts wasted no words and his delivery wasted no time.

And, boy did Kennedy’s speeches work because of that very fact:

For he disliked verbosity and pomposity in his own remarks as much as he disliked them in others. He wanted both his message and his language to be plain and unpretentious, but never patronizing. He wanted his major policy statements to be positive, specific and definite, avoiding the use of “suggest,” “perhaps” and “possible alternatives for consideration.”

Yes. Always be specific.

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

Nah, I wouldn’t recommend that rule because not all things that work for Hemingway work for mere mortals. But, Hemingway was right about one thing – relentlessly edit your work till its worthy of public consumption.

Editing is an art form with the structure depending on how you choose to approach it. In some cases, logic will be the guide:

“He’s known for his rhetoric, right?” said Favreau. “But he’s also got a very lawyerly, logical mind. And so the thing he always does best is putting every argument in order.”

The night before the inauguration, Obama was done editing. All that was left were words to underline so that they’d get proper emphasis in the delivery. The president did a read through in the map room of the White House that night.

And, in other cases, reason will dictate the contents of a speech as Ted Sorenson describes JFK’s goal with his speeches:

At the same time, his emphasis on a course of reason –rejecting the extremes of either side –helped produce the parallel construction and use of contrasts with which he later became identified. He had a weakness for one unnecessary phrase: “The harsh facts of the matter are . . .”–but with few other exceptions his sentences were lean and crisp. . . .

But regardless, if there’s one thing I’d like you to takeaway from this post, it’d be edit, edit, and edit until your post is worthy of being seen by people. Or as Hemingway said to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Put it in the wastebasket, not on your blog.

Filed under: Best-of, Leadership Communication, Public Speaking, Writing, , , , , ,

Bad Communication, according to Larry Page

I’ve written about great communicators like Steve Jobs, I’ve called out lame attempts by Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos who tried copying the master and failed, and I now gotta write about bad communication, courtesy of Google CEO Larry Page.

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Scott Edinger’s recap of Aristotle’s three rules of rhetoric helped me pull together the three elements of Larry Page’s bad communication skills.

1. Lack emotion and logic

Aristotle’s rules of rhetoric are credibility, emotion and logic. While credibility is a given with folks like Page and Zuckerberg, it’s emotion and logic (!) that these CEOs stumble upon.

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Let’s take Page’s comments on Google+, an area that’s obviously not Google’s brightest spot today. In Dec 2012, this is how Page addressed its “success“:

Fortune: It is a big bet. What’s most important to you? Is competitive with Facebook (FB)? Is it about weaving identity across all of Google’s products? You’ve talked about adoption being higher than you expected. What’s the measure of success going forward?

Page: I think it’s gone pretty well. I’m very happy if users of Plus are happy and the numbers are growing because that means that we’re on to something. We’ve got a huge team actually in this building. If you walk around, you see everyone’s excited and running around and working hard on it. I think that they’re doing great stuff. They’re making it better and better every day. That’s how I’m measuring it.

That made no sense. After months of touting meaningless numbers to showcase Google+’s “success”, the past couple of months have seen Page just bullshitting us with nada.

Take a another example just a few days ago, in Wired Magazine:

Wired: What’s your evaluation of Google+?

Page: I’m very happy with how it has gone. We’re working on a lot of really cool stuff. A lot of it has been copied by our competitors, so I think we’re doing a good job.

Now, obviously there’s no way in hell this is how Google (one of the smartest companies on the planet) measures success for a key product, ranging from “excited employees, running around, working hard, doing great stuff” to “lot of is copied” so we’re doing good.

Now who does this kind of talk remind me of: Dubya!

He answers questions like an 8 year old does when they didn’t read the book.

He just describes facts.

People always say: “President Bush. I think he’s stupid.” He’s not stupid. When you listen to him you realize, he talks like he’s talking to someone stupid.

And that in essence is how Larry Page sounds most of the time. Especially when he’s talking about Google+.

Wanna know how it’s done right? I can give you so many examples of Jobs’ masterful answer to tough questions.

Jobs was one of those rare leaders who was able to combine both emotion and logic in his answers, much like he presented Apple at the intersection of Art and Technology. Even when heckled, Jobs knew how to respond to it with a unique blend of emotion and logic.

intersection

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the key here is to earn the respect of your audience.

2. Badmouth your competition

An unwritten law of communication is to not badmouth the competition, but somehow Larry Page sounds either condescending, like a douche (more on that in just a second) or plain clueless.

Wired: One area where people say that Google is indeed motivated by competition is the social realm, where in the past two years you have been working hard in a field dominated by a single rival, Facebook. That’s not the case?

Page: It’s not the way I think about it. We had real issues with how our users shared information, how they expressed their identity, and so on. And, yeah, they’re a company that’s strong in that space. But they’re also doing a really bad job on their products.

The part that really gets to me, is you can’t just throw stuff out like that without getting examples! It’s a whole other problem that the interviewer didn’t ask the obvious question: which Facebook products are you referring to? Wouldn’t that have made for a fascinating follow-up.

And it ain’t just Page; others in his “L Team” (yuck!) have done it earlier to which Jobs responded:

Just because you’re a competitor, doesn’t mean you have to be rude.

3. Sound like a douche

Finally, as I said earlier, you don’t wanna come off as condescending to your competition (or worse still) sound like a dick about your users.

Fortune: While the company has touted the success of Google+, its answer to Facebook, many analysts say they see little activity on the social network.

What you should want us to do is to really build amazing products and to really do that with a long-term focus. Just like I mentioned we have to understand apps and we have to understand things you could buy, and we have to understand airline tickets. We have to understand anything you might search for. And people are a big thing you might search for.

And so we think about it somewhat differently. We’re going to have people as a first class object in search. We need that to work, and we need to get started on it. If you look at a product, and you say the day it launched, “It’s not doing what I think it should do.” We say, “Well, yeah. It just launched today.” Part of this is you have to interact with it and you have to claim your name and make it work for you. And so I think for me I didn’t have any issues around that. I think that people weren’t focused on the long-term. And I think again it’s important if we’re going to do a good job meeting your information needs, we actually need to understand things and we need to understand things pretty deeply. People are a component of that.

As you can see in both instances people always seem to be “a component of” Google’s “need to understand things pretty deeply.” People are a necessary cog in Google’s need to “understand apps and things you could buy and they have to understand airline tickets.”!!!

Jobs on the other hand always began with the user in mind. Even in the example I gave above, he says:

One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re gonna try to sell it.

And as recently as with his last interview at the D Conference, this is a word cloud of his responses and as you can see “People” figures quite prominently.

steve-jobs-d8-wordcloud

So if I can leave you with two last words, two more lessons from Jobs, it’d be transparency and consistency. Transparency because every word you say on stage has to be backed up by your product actions not the other way around. Consistency because what you say today should match with what you say in your last interview.

And that’s something we can all learn from Steve Jobs. Especially if you are a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company.

Filed under: Best-of, Larry Page, Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking, , ,

Zuck & Bezos: LEAVE JOBS ALONE!

Problem with the game now, there ain’t no innovation
I see my shit all in your shit, we call that imitation
And they say that’s flattering, but I ain’t flattered at all
Matter fact y’all need to practice that more
J. Cole, Cole World

I’ve been planning to write a post ever since I watched Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote (where he launched Timeline – more on that later). But, then just last week I saw this and it creeped me out. So, Jobs, steps down as CEO and every Zuck, Bezos and Harry decide to literally rip off the presentation style of Steve Jobs. That’s just not cool.

But, I digress. Let’s catch some make-believe as CEOs try to play Steve Jobs.

Zuckerberg as Jobs

WTF! 7 minutes of Andy Samberg introducing a tech conference. You know that even in SNL segments we can’t take Samberg in more than 3 minute bytes. And, what’s with all the awful “humor” (I’m Zuckerberg, he’s Andy Samberg, and we couldn’t have Eisenberg here, so I’ll mimic Eisenberg). C’mon, guys. This ain’t high-school no more.

What’s worse is that this is a bit that Jobs introduced in his keynotes. First, in 1999 when Noah Wyle (who played Jobs in “Pirates of the Silicon Valley“) played Jobs on stage before Jobs’ adoring fans. Noah’s intro was less than a minute long. That was it. Well timed humor about the movie and a joke or two about Jobs temperament – for another minute. And, he’s gone. That’s how it’s done.

And, Jobs himself has overplayed that shtick. More recently, PC guy (played by the ever-adorable “The Daily Show” “reporter” John Hodgman) did a “I’m Steve Jobs” shtick and it was funny, short, and poked fun at Microsoft. Who doesn’t like an anti-PC ad, eh?

Bezos as Jobs

So, in short. The Samberg shtick was pure Jobs imitation. And, more importantly, it wasn’t funny and was way too long.

Things got a lil’ creepy when Bezos, whose maniacal laughter I fear, decided to jump on the “I’ll present as Jobs” world. This is him introducing the new Kindle at Amazon World or whatever it’s called. What’s with the deliberate stilted pacing that’ll make any viewer go nuts. C’mon, be yourself. Smile a little during your presentation. Don’t take yourself so seriously. And quit ripping off Jobs’ style. Trust me, it ain’t flattery.

One of the comments on the above Youtube video nailed it.

I love how dramatically he reveals things a la Steve Jobs to none of the cheers typical of an Apple presentation.

mgaums 1 day ago

This one’s even better…

and not a single fuck was given that day.

That crowd seemed so unimpressed it was almost sad.

TADA KINDLE FIRE!!!!!

yeah and?

MegatronSmurf 1 day ago

Please leave Jobs alone

As Jon Stewart would say: Zuck, meet me at Camera 3 (y’know, for a 1:1) – you’re a smart guy and developers love you. I know that for a fact cos they hate to see you embarrassed. I remember what a hard time they gave Sarah Lacy when you did a terrible job answering simple questions at SXSW.

They idolize you, the same way Mac fanatics adore Steve Jobs. There are very few folks in our tech world, who commands that adulation. You’re finally creating products that restore a sense of childlike wonder (more on Timeline later).

That doesn’t mean you can replace a black turtleneck sweater with a North Face jacket, sneakers with Adidas flip flops, Noah Wyle with Andy Samberg and turn into tech world’s great Houdini.

So, stick with creating great products, figuring out what works best for you on stage in your own unique way (it takes a while) and don’t let your handlers play you around.

And, I’ll let Jobs himself describe why a f8 or Amazon presentation will never be a Jobs presentation.

The problem with Microsoft is that they just have no taste. Absolutely no taste.
In a sense that they don’t think of original ideas.
So, I guess, I’m saddened not by their success. I’ve no problem with their success.
They’ve earned their success.
I have a problem that they make really third-rate products (replace with presentation).

There’ll never be another Jobs. You know that. So, quit trying.

Filed under: Best-of, Jeff Bezos, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , , ,

The Larry Summers Show: Straight Talk. Served Angry.

Yesterday, Larry Summers, whose words have landed him into trouble on more than one occasion was interviewed by Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute President and Steve Jobs biographer) at a Fortune conference. Of course, the blogosphere was abuzz, but I felt the interview was interesting on a couple other areas on CEO communications that I’ve spent quite some time talking about here.

Three more tips on being interviewed in public ensues… right after the pic.

BTW, I couldn’t embed the video here because WordPress sucks at embedding flash files (they cite security but what’s good for Tumblr’s good for me) on their posts and don’t give any other option either. Thank you very much! But, I digress.

1. Speak your mind. Don’t mince words. Not Angry.

Love him or hate him. You’ve got to give it to Larry Summers for speaking his mind — no matter, how controversial it is — and no matter how he is perceived at the end of the interview. Of course, he seems to get away with lecturing the audience in his professorial tone given his past history.

Why so serious?

The very first question was about a scene from the Social Network that portrayed him being dismissive of the Winklevii twins (I’m not gonna get into the details, but if you’re reading this blog, I guess you’ve watched the movie). Here was his no-nonsense answer to it.

I’ve heard it said that I can be arrogant.

If that’s true, I surely was on that occasion.  One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities.  One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole.

This was the latter case.  Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.

Of course, not everyone can pull this off, but for someone with Larry’s notoriety this was a great start to an entertaining interview.

2. The power of simple metaphors

I’ve said it before (while describing Steve Jobs’ style) and I’m gonna start collecting more examples of leaders who are effective at using simple metaphors to get across a point during interviews. In my opinion, this is the only way to communicate effectively to your audience. For instance, I thought Larry Summers probably made the simplest description of the debt ceiling debate in this interview:

Look, if we default on August 2nd, it’s going to be what happened after Lehman collapsed on steroids.  It’s going to be financial Armageddon.

The idea that adults who have some agenda, whatever the merits of their agenda, are really prepared to threaten sending the United States into default, to pursue their agenda, is beyond belief.

You know, I have had arguments with my college-aged children about spending, and sometimes we discuss whether they should spend less, whether they should pay, whether I should pay.  We don’t entertain the option that because we can’t resolve our argument, Visa should get stiffed

3. Got Stories? Share it.

I think one of the key reasons people watch keynote interviews is to learn something new but more importantly, to just hear some “exclusive” stories they’d normally not hear elsewhere. It’s kinda like one of the key reasons people read blogs instead of press releases.

My favorite moments from this interview were surely an answer on the different leadership styles of the two Presidents Summers has worked with: Presidents Obama and Clinton.

You’re working for Barack Obama.  If you have a meeting scheduled at ten o’clock, there’s a 25 percent chance that the meeting will begin before ten o’clock, and there’s a — you know what’s coming, and there’s a 70 percent chance that the meeting will have begun by 10:15.

If you wrote Barack Obama a memo before the meeting, it is a virtual certainty that he will have read it.  If you seek to explain the memo you wrote to him during the meeting, he will cut you off, and he will be irritated.  If he, as the leader of the meeting, will ask one or two questions to kick the tires, but will basically focus on how whatever subject you’re talking about fits with the broad vision and approaches of his presidency.

He will basically take the attitude if you’re his financial advisor, that if you can’t — it’s up to you to figure out whether preferred stock or subordinated debt is the appropriate financial instrument for your bailout, and that if he doesn’t trust you to figure it out, he’ll get a new financial adviser, but that is not the question on which he is going to spend time.

So it’s a very focused executive, big picture guidance, disciplined approach.  At the appointed time, his secretary will come in and will bring a card that says it’s time for his next meeting, and you will be out of that office within five minutes.  It is a certainty.  That’s working for Barack Obama, and it is a wonderful experience.

Working for Bill Clinton is also a wonderful experience.  It is a different experience.

(Laughter.)

And, here’s his experience working with President Clinton:

The probability that there is compensation for the fact that your meeting will begin late, it is virtually certain to end late.  Bill Clinton has a 30 percent chance of having read your memo before the memo.  Bill Clinton will, however, with near certainty, have some set of quite detailed and thoughtful perspectives to offer on your topic.

He will say things like “I was in the White House library reading the Journal of Finance, and there’s some really interesting thinking about the role of dividends in the system.”  “I went to a conference at the Brookings Institution 11 years ago, and do you know that there’s a really interesting experiment with providing credit access in Tennessee?”

“Did you read the latest issue of — the Asian edition of The Economist?  It had a perspective on Thailand that you might want to think about.”  There was a stunning, I mean you know, while he wasn’t reading your memo, it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing anything about it.

I’ve a couple more interesting themes on corporate social media I’ll start covering shortly as I continue my fluency of writing posts on here. In the meanwhile, follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

Steve Jobs as Luke Skywalker. Circa 1987.

Rockstars are made, not born. They practice tirelessly; honing their craft at every given opportunity, and with the help of Jobs’ 1987 Playboy interview, I’d like to shed some light on the early stages of Jobs’ communication savvy and the communication consistency that he has now perfected into an art form.

Jobs In 1987. p.s. What’s up with the bow-tie.

Fine tuning the metaphors:

Nobody hits a home run on Day One. Some have an in-born talent but it’s always a work in progress. Steve Jobs’ D8 presentation, his keynotes, his Stanford commencement speech — is the culmination of years of assiduous practice. I’m gonna walk you through three examples of Steve coming up with metaphors to describe nascent technology that most people (at the time of the interview) didn’t grok.

Let’s see how his thinking and his metaphors are fine-tuned over time.

Let’s take his earliest interviews, the Playboy one in 1987 is a great example, and look at his response to what is a computer. I know. Bear with me here. The year is 1987 and people still don’t get the PC revolution that’s gonna hit them. It’s amazing how hard it is to impress upon the reporter what a game changer the Mac is gonna be.

His first attempt to describe computers is kinda rambling:

Computers are actually pretty simple. We’re sitting here on a bench in this café. Let’s assume that you understood only the most rudimentary of directions and you asked how to find the rest room. I would have to describe it to you in very specific and precise instruction. I might say, “Scoot sideways two meters off the bench. Stand erect. Lift left foot. Bend left knee until it is horizontal. Extend left foot and shift weight 300 centimeters forward…” and on and on. If you could interpret all those instructions 100 times faster than any other person in this café, you would appear to be a magician: You could run over and grab a milk shake and bring it back and set it on the table and snap your fingers, and I’d think you made the milk shake appear, because it was so fast relative to my perception. THat’s exactly what a computer does. It takes these very simple-minded instructions––”Go fetch a number, add it to this number, put the result there, perceive if it’s greater than this other number”––but executes them at a rate of , let’s say, 1,000,000 per second. At 1,000,000 per second, the results appear to be magic.

That’s a simple explanation, and the point is that people really don’t need to understand how computers work. Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh––but you asked [laughs]

Wow! Quite verbose. It’s got the early stages of his story-telling but it’s definitely too technical for a reporter and not impressive since he asks him again the same question. Steve takes a second shot at it, which goes…

A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go. Right now, computers make our lives easier. They do work for us in fractions of a second that would take us hours. They increase the quality of life, some of that by simply automating drudgery and some of that by broadening our possibilities. As things progress, they’ll be doing more and more for us.

Meh. Kinda there, but he’s hinting at the potential it possesses as a revolutionary, incredible utility. Still not convinced, the journalist asks him a pointed question on computers for business and Steve ends with:

There are different answers for different people. In business, that question is easy to answer: You really can prepare documents much faster and at a higher quality level, and you can do many things to increase office productivity. A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.

Still not there, and as you can see, reporters are always going for the pithy answers that even a 12 year old will understand. But, then in a later interview (video after quote), Jobs gives a far more succinct metaphor to evoke the possibilities of a computer.

One of the things that separates us from primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in a third of the way down the list. But, Scientific American tested the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle.

And, a man on the bicycle blew the condor away; it was completely off the top of the charts. And, that’s what a computer is to me. It is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.

To me this is one of the early stages where you can see the power of the evocative metaphor being used by Jobs. Fast forward to 2008 where Jobs, yet again, takes a stab at explaining a new product that Apple’s betting on big – the iPad.

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

As you can see, no technicalities on what an iPad does well, no reference to a study by Scientific American, nothing. Just a nuanced metaphor on trucks and cars that everyone in America and the world will understand.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hope you’re having a great Sunday. Say Hi on Twitter!

I’ll leave you behind with a behind the scenes video of a young 23 year old Steve Jobs prepping for a TV interview. Young Luke Skywalker.

Filed under: Best-of, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

So, you’re on Live TV! Now what?

I’ve written a couple of posts (just in recent memory) on tips for you to glean some presentation secrets from Steve Jobs. Thought I’d rewire my blog timing with a simple post along similar lines that didn’t garner too many votes on Quora.

I’m sure at some point of time in your lives, you’re probably gonna face a camera to talk about your work. At those times many of us fail to impress, cos it’s not something we practice regularly. So, I thought I’d jot down 3 key tips to really excel in those situations. Hope you find this helpful. And, feel free to share your personal experience either in the comments or @mariosundar.

Live TV interviews can sometimes be like this…

Here’s a couple more thoughts to ponder — this is true for most interviews — but with live TV the challenge is exacerbated since you’ve got to perform flawlessly (in one take; if you will).

1. Take your time to answer: The biggest problem I notice with individuals being interviewed is their urgency to respond to the question and get it over with. So, they blurt out a quick PR planned response only to regret it later.

Steve Jobs is the best at giving a thoughtful, well articulated response that’s both thought provoking and (frankly) entertaining. Here’s how he’d answer difficult (really tough one here) question in front of thousands.

2. Build a rapport with the interviewer beforehand: Establish a camaraderie with journalists and media personalities, way before you have to be interviewed by them.

One of traditional PRs biggest shortcomings is treating journalists as a carefully “managed” entity while keeping CEOs and executives away from them.

Welcome to the new world of social media.

Proactively, find journalists and media personalities and follow them (on Twitter and Quora). And, most importantly engage with them. You’d be surprised to find you share a lot with them in common. And, should an opportunity arise to be interviewed by them — you won’t be tongue tied — because you understand each other well.

3. Practice makes perfect: It’s tough to perform on command. That’s why actors get paid the big bucks. If you don’t wanna suck at interviews, start practicing at events and panel sessions.

Start with panel sessions (easiest) but go with a plan (in terms of what you’d like to communicate). A good way to prep would be to write a blog post about your panel session (before or after) the event. You’ll find that writing a blog post on your upcoming session clears your mind and helps you organize your thoughts. Follow that up with a tweet linking to the post and chances are the journalists you follow or connect to on LinkedIn may read that as well.

Graduate to solo presentations (to audiences of increasing size), and before you know it, you’d have internalized your responses to a degree that will make you sound fluent and sharp when in front of a camera.

And, just practice.

Filed under: Best-of, Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

Zuckerberg ain’t Jobs. 3 Ways to Try.

This post has been a long time coming. As someone who earns a living in the PR space and one who obsessively follows the unique craft of tech CEO presentations, I had to concur with CNN’s recent piece on Mark Zuckerberg’s recent product announcement and why it was a giant FAIL compared to a Jobs presentation!

C’mon. Comparing Zuckerberg to Jobs is like expecting Shia LaBeouf to act like Marlon Brando. While Transformers may sell $750 million in box-office receipts — that doesn’t a Brando make. This seems like a perfect time to finally share my thoughts on Steve Jobs’ virtuoso D8 interview – yet another instance of Jobs’ public speaking savvy.

Here are three of the Jobs’ unique speaking skills that you can glean from his presentations — seemingly simple but tough to emulate:

Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field can be emulated. 3 Simple tricks below.

If you’re telling a story, make it gripping:

There are a million boring ways to tell a story. Just ask Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer (don’t even get me started), but Jobs has a penchant for telling an elegant story that hooks you from the get go.

Juxtaposing Jobs’ d8 presentation with Zuckerberg’s presentation would be interesting, but if you ran a word cloud through Jobs’ presentation, here’s what you’d have seen. It’s all about people.

His very first anecdote about Apple’s resurgence (overtaking the market cap of Microsoft) recounts the bygone days when Apple was down in the dumps to highlight what a glorious triumph this is:

Well, Apple was about 90 days from going bankrupt… (Boom!) in the early days. It was much worse than I thought when I went back.

But there were people there (I’d expected all the good people would have left), and I found these miraculous people, great people and I asked them as tactfully as I could: Why are you still here? And, I’ll never forget. A lot of them had this phrase: because I bleed in six colors. (Note: I remember having a “Apple bleeds six colors” poster on my cubicle wall a few years back)

You know what this reminds me of:

Don Draper, Season 4, Episode 1 (Public Relations). After learning the craft of telling stories to reporters, Don is asked if he’s the definitive entity in his newly formed ad agency. Here’s the story he relates:

Last year, our agency was being swallowed whole. I realized I had two choices: I could die of boredom or holster up my guns. So, I walked into Lane Pryce’s office and I said: Fire us! (Boom!) — Cue Background Music.

Two days later we were up and running at the Pier Hotel, within a year we had taken over two floors of the Time Life Building.

Again, start with the nadir of the story to pique the viewer’s curiosity and build up to the finale. The cadence of story-telling between the two quotes is uncanny but good story-telling always remains the same.

Use evocative metaphors that ring true and wise:

Throughout history, all the great teachers have spoken in parables. More importantly, when asked questions use plain speak metaphors from every day life that each and every one of us can relate to. Before you frame your answer, ask yourself: would a 12 year old understand what I’m about to say? And, go…

Here are a couple of examples from Jobs (from just this interview):

On why they ditched Adobe: Apple is a company that doesn’t have unlimited resources (Reality Distortion Field in effect). They way we do that is by looking at technical vectors that have a future. Different pieces of technology kinda go in cycles: they have their springs and summers and autumns, then they go to the graveyard of technology.

We try to pick things that are in their springs. And, if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work rather than trying to do everything. (true and wise)

To a question on whether the tablet will eventually replace the laptop:

I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks cos that’s what you needed on the farm. But, as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, and America started to move towards them. Cars got more popular and innovations like power steering, etc. happened.

And, now, maybe 1 in every 25 vehicles is a truck where it used to be like 100%.

PCs are gonna be like trucks.

Such a nuanced answer that yet again, aims to simplify and would communicate effectively to any 12 year old in the audience.

Here’s one more from the past on how computers are like a bicycle for your mind. Watch the video.

Clarity and consistency in thought and messaging

I recently read an essay on “Politics and the English language” by George Orwell, 1946, that I’d recommend to anyone with a fleeting desire to revisit their usage of the spoken and the written word. The essay culminates in 6 simple rules for clear writing and I think that can be extended to clear speaking as well.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy.

I think Jobs best defines this in every single interview he’s done. I could go on. But, let me pick an example from D8’s interview for his thoughts on privacy – an area where every company from Google to Facebook have had their fair share of stumbles but I think the clarity and simplicity of Jobs’ definition of privacy is startling.

We’ve had a very different view of privacy. We take it very seriously.

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for… in plain english, and repeatedly.

I’m an optimist and I believe people are smart. Some people want to share more data. Some people more than others do. Ask em. Ask em every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them.

Let them know precisely what you’re gonna do with their data.

And, finally speaking of consistency of values that shines through every single interview Jobs has done, was this quote:

You know (long pause). When this whole Gizmodo incident happened, I got a lot of advice, that said: you’ve got to let it slide. You shouldn’t go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.You should let it slide.

And, I thought deeply about this. And, I ended up concluding.

That the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and gain a little more influence in this world, is if we change our core values and if we started letting it slide.

I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.

We have the same values now as we had then.

And, that consistency is true of Jobs impeccable communication skills. Watch the entire D8 Jobs interview here.

Filed under: Best-of, Facebook, Leadership Communication, Mark Zuckerberg, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs, , ,

5 ways leaders win tough arguments in public

Being a leader is a tough job (just ask these guys).Often you are facing some really tough questions from a lot of folks — your shareholders, developers, etc. — sometimes that happens in the public limelight. Now, you’ve got three options – fight the good argument and earn respect, spin, or just evade said question.

This past week, a video of Jobs at the 1997 Worldwide Developer conference (h/t: Quora) parrying questions from a mostly receptive developer audience began circulating. Most questions were curious developers as to the direction of Apple, except for one really combative question from a developer (obviously pissed off at what happened to a business division that was likely to be closed).

Mr. Jobs. You’re bright.(Jobs: smiles – here it comes…)

It’s clear you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’d like you (for e.g.) to express in clear terms how (say) Java, in all its incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc.

And, when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you’ve personally been doing for the last 7 years.

(audible gasps from the audience. I’m almost sure I heard someone say: “ouch”)

How do you answer this? Right after the jump.

Viewers: You may wanna skip to the 50:23 mark in the video below for the tough question I’m referring to.

This has got to be one of the toughest questions a CEO could face (see how Carol Bartz handled a similar question). BTW, Jobs was an advisor to Apple when he faced the dev community here but subsequently became CEO.

Lessons from Jobs: 5 ways CEOs can win tough arguments in public

1. Have a sense of humor:

While the questioner was setting up Jobs for the tough question, Jobs senses the tension and starts off by saying: “here it comes” and holding up his chair to playfully indicate he’s deflecting the tough question. Either way, his demeanor changes after he hears the question as he composes his thoughts.

Now what…

2. Breathe. Take your time to answer:

Aight, so now you’ve been asked a really tough question. What next? Yes, a lot of people are waiting for you to answer and the press may pore over your remarks – so there is a lot riding on this – so take time to answer as you collect your thoughts.

How many times have we been in an argument with folks when we’re asked something that could potentially make us look silly. Worse still, if that’s in front of other folks. So, magnify that a thousand times in this situation. A lot of folks come right outta the gates with a quick quip or retort, and then they may try to move past it as quickly as possible. But, if you do brush it aside you don’t earn the respect of the audience.

Jobs (as always) is finely tuned into both the psychological intent of the question and is very empathetic with his answer both of which are essential when you’re responding to someone combative.

But remember to breathe. Or, like Jobs, take a swig off that bottle of water while you compose your thoughts.

3. Frame your answer before you begin:

This is a corollary to the take time to answer suggestion. While you take your time, not only do you build viewer interest, but it also gives you time to frame your answer. It’s the same with writing a blog post. I always remember Jeremiah‘s recommendation to frame your post before you start writing it (since it helps nail the key points as succinctly as possible).

4. Every answer is a story waiting to be told:

Jobs is such a master story-teller. Even with his tough questions he takes the audience on a journey. Not everyone is good at it and frankly, no one comes close to what Jobs does here, while answering (tough) questions.

For e.g. in the above clip (starts at 50:23), Jobs starts off with:

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”, right off the bat setting the stage for context, perspective and drama. But then, he pauses and continues setting the context for his answer.

[LONG PAUSE] but… [PAUSE] One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that… people like this gentleman…

[PAUSE]

… are RIGHT! [PAUSE. Bam! Storytelling, baby!]… in some areas.

5. Appeal to reason in a smart way:

Let’s not forget, the end result of this speech or any CEO or congressman or public figure is an appeal to a common sense of purpose. Everybody wants a sense of assurance minus-evading, spinning, or flat-out ignoring the questions – since it won’t earn you any respect.

I think the key to the answer was how Jobs not only tried to assuage the gentleman’s concerns (“that there are probably things that OpenDoc does that’s better than anything in the market and stuff that even I don’t get”) but he goes on to explain how critical it is to focus, think big and to realize how every product fits into a cohesive larger vision that allows you to go big ($8 Billion Big).

Also, he explains how when prioritizing a million great products – always start with the customer experience and work backward with the technology

“I’ve made this mistake more than anybody in this room, I’ve got the scar tissue to prove it and I know it’s the case… And, I think that’s the right path to take”.

The Laser printer example narration is priceless. After elaborating on it. He once again says:

“I’m sorry that OpenDoc is a casualty along the way. And, there are many things I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about…”

But, then insists, why it’s important to rally the troops, support them and support Apple in the market. He gives examples of other engineers who are working their butt off on executing around the priorities that have been set by the company.

At the end of the day, the gentleman may not have bought Jobs’ answer no matter how convincing it was, which goes back to the very first thing Jobs began with his answer.

“You can please some of the people, some of the time”.

Bam!

Coda: HOW-TO take tough questions without flinching and earn the audience’s respect.

What Jobs is a master of, is the ability to tell you (in as reasonable a manner as possible) what he think, why he thinks so, and why that’s a great idea. And, he’s been doing that consistently through his career (both when Apple was down right up to this very day). The above video is a perfect example of that mastery.

But still this is a template for answering negative questions, esp. when you’re a CEO or a leader in the spotlight to summarize the above. Here goes…

  1. Acknowledge the negativity / elephant in the room.
  2. Assuage the naysayer’s concerns
  3. Restate it in the right context (user experience first, not tech first)
  4. Be humble (accepts his own failings in that regard, humbly suggests this is just his idea, gives an example “laser printer story” of why user experience matters and show-not-tell)
  5. Straight talk: Mistakes have been made and will be fixed.

So, that’s a quick summary of how I see Jobs deal with questions: good, bad or ugly. Lot of lessons in there. Plus, the most important thing is that — throughout that interview, Jobs kept stressing on focus and this answer too fit within that overarching holistic theme.

And, in the long run Jobs was proven right as he took Apple to unprecedented hights surpassing even Microsoft.

Feel free to share this on your favorite social network. Thanks!

Filed under: Best-of, Crisis Communications, Public Relations, Public Speaking, Steve Jobs,

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