Public Speaking Tips from the Apple Store

One of the things that we’re going to miss most about Steve Jobs now that he’s retired is his wonderful speaking style.

But you can learn just as much about communication from the Apple retail stores as from Apple’s founder.

I needed something for my new MacBook Pro recently. So during lunch one day, I went to the Apple Store at Lenox Square. You would have thought they were giving away money in there.

The other stores were almost empty. Why wouldn’t they be empty?  It was a weekday in the middle of March!

But the Apple Store, as always, was like a carnival.  Why?

The answers can tell us a lot about how to connect with people and sell ideas.

They’re Selling Bold, Life-Changing Ideas

Every time Apple puts out a new product, it’s positioned as something that will change your life. To the folks at Apple, the iPad isn’t just a new handheld computer. If you’re buying one for business, the advertisements say, it “changes the way you work.” If you’re buying it for school, “It’s a whole new kind of learning.”

Bold, life-changing ideas excite people. Or course, we can’t all be selling iPads.  But we can position our ideas more powerfully.

Next time you’re invited to speak to your client on workplace laws, don’t talk about “Changes in Sexual Harassment Legislation.”  Focus on something that people can get excited about: “Wipe Out Sexual Harassment in your Office.”

Don’t speak on “Everything you wanted to know about Non-disclosure agreements.”  Speak on “How to protect your business’ most important assets.”

The People are Authentic and Passionate

The Apple sales staff must be one of the most diverse collections of characters in the history of retail. They have nose rings and tattoos.  They’re from all ethnic groups and age ranges.  The elderly gentleman that helped me had a “ZZ Top” beard.  And he was passionate about Apple products.

That authentic passion makes going to the Apple store fun.

I’m not suggesting that you pierce your eyebrow before your next presentation. But neither should you try to be something that you’re not.  Be the same person that you are with your close friends.

I once worked with an accountant that told me that she wanted to learn to speak like one of the senior partners in her firm.

“I can’t help you with that,” I told her. “The goal is to be who you are when you’re talking to a good friend about something that you’re excited about.”

You get to do stuff in there

Before leaving the store, I took a moment to play with the new iPad. It was pretty cool.  Of course, lots of people go there just to play with the toys and never buy a thing.

What does this have to do with public speaking and persuasion?  It’s important to realize that people today gather information in a highly interactive way.   We click on links that take us places. We play games. We watch short videos.   We talk back by posting comments on blogs and message boards.

It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when people went out at night and listened to speeches as entertainment.  No more. We almost never let one person deliver information to us by talking at us non-stop for 30 minutes.

So if you’re speaking and you’re talking non-stop for long periods, your audience is probably not fully engaged.

At the very least, let your audience ask questions. Even better, give them puzzles or hypothetical questions to address.

At the Apple store, they understand that engagement is everything.  By focusing on big ideas, being ourselves, and making our messages interactive, we can engage as well.

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