Steve Jobs wasn’t born a great presenter. He followed this 5 step rehearsal strategy

Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs. Photo: Getty Images.

Jobs’s rehearsal strategy can help you build confidence and captivate audiences.

Practice is not something you do because you’re bplaceholderad; practice is what you do because you’re good. Great communicators make a habit of rehearsing for presentations like they’re preparing for a theatrical performance.

Few business leaders devote as much time to practice as Steve Jobs did, which is one of the primary reasons the Apple co-founder is still considered one of the best corporate storytellers of all time.

After speaking to several former Apple executives who participated in several major product launches with Jobs, I’ve compiled five steps that Jobs followed to rehearse his now famous keynote presentations.

Follow these steps to build your presentation confidence and wow your audiences.

1. Start rehearsing early

Former Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda once told me that one of Jobs’s “great secrets as a presenter” was that he practiced — a lot.

“He went over and over the material until he had the presentation honed and knew it cold,” Kocienda recalls. Kocienda should know. He developed key features of the iPhone and was part of the rehearsals for the product’s launch in 2007.

Many observers — even people working at Apple — assumed that Jobs was a naturally gifted public speaker. But only a handful of people saw behind the curtain. And what they saw was a speaker who became great only after years of deliberate practice before every major public presentation.

2. Refine every slide, every line, and every gesture

Kocienda and others also noticed that Jobs brought his intense focus to the practice room. He scrutinized every slide and made suggestions about the design. For example, if Jobs thought slides were too cluttered, he’d make notes on how they should be simplified.

Jobs even paid careful attention to the gestures he made with his hands at key moments, as well as the pace of his delivery. He picked up his vocal pace during some parts of a presentation and slowed down when he wanted the message to sink in.

Pay attention to the details.

3. Rehearse out loud

Jobs rehearsed for a presentation like an actor would rehearse for a stage performance. A “rehearsal” was a full rehearsal on stage, delivering each slide out loud.

Former Apple executives who had the opportunity to watch Jobs rehearse say they were surprised at how their boss went in and out of character during practice sessions. Once he took to the stage, Jobs raised the volume of his voice and made more expansive gestures, like he was speaking to an auditorium filled with people — even though only a few people were seated in front of him.

Most presenters prepare by flipping through their slides quietly. That process won’t help you build the confidence you’ll need when you’re really standing and speaking in front of an audience. Practice out loud.

4. Ask for feedback

Once Jobs stopped, stepped out of character, walked off the stage, and asked for feedback. He wanted to know what people thought of a slide, a sequence, a message, or a turn of a phrase.

Many presenters don’t ask for feedback, and that’s where they go wrong.

If you really want to get better, you’ll need help. Ask trusted peers or friends to watch you practice and ask them for specific parts that need improvement — slides or messages that require further explanations, clarification, etc.

5. Schedule dress rehearsals

A little-known fact about Jobs is that he would clear his calendar an entire month before a major product launch to schedule dress rehearsals. Then he would show up at the designated time dressed in his now-famous uniform (black mock, jeans, running shoes) and ready to take the stage. In other words, Jobs made rehearsals a priority.

Don’t make practice an afterthought. Schedule rehearsal time and keep the appointment.

Nobody is born with a presentation clicker in their hand. A quality presentation takes work. Great presenters put in the time to make their presentations great.