Many of us would agree that Steve Jobs’ presentations can be considered to have ‘legendary’ status. We’ve probably come across them in some way, either through watching Apple’s WWDC, or reading articles and books such as Carmine Gallo’s that was dedicated to discussing his speeches.

Ever since the unveiling of the iPhone in 2007, the less-text, highly visual and ‘big picture’ style of presentations have grown in appeal to presenters from all walks of life. In fact, if you were to compare it to Bill Gates circa 2000, it would seem that Steve’s unorthodox approach to presentation visuals and their format was at odds with how the rest of the corporate world delivered their presentations at the time.

It stood out amongst text-heavy presentations that put people to sleep, gave audiences the breath of fresh air they needed to remain engaged, and enthralled many with the aesthetic presentation approach. This is why it is now the gold standard of an ideal keynote presentation.

But is that really the best?

Contrary to popular belief, this style of presenting may not always be the best catchall definition of an ‘effective’ presentation. Instead, presentations should be designed according to their contexts.

The problem is, most people tried to follow suit without understanding two things:

  1. Steve Jobs could get away with that style of presenting because he had the autonomy to do it.
  2. This format of presenting may be great for a keynote speech, but might not fit every setting.

Put it this way – if you had to speak to your company’s CEO and a five-year-old child about a topic, would you use the same tone towards both? Similarly, different presentation settings require different styles, and different audiences require different ways of reaching out to them. This is why a Steve Jobs, TED-style presentation will not work in a boardroom, and a text-heavy slide deck may not succeed at a conference.

Presentations that follow the style frequently used by Apple work best for on-stage presentations at large events such as WWDC or TED talks. These situations are occasions where visually impactful slides make a huge difference and help to bring across key messages quickly to numerous audience members in a short timeframe.

However, in boardroom meetings where critical decisions need to be made by the audience, such presentations may end up backfiring as they may seem fluffy and probably lack important information needed to support the decision-making process. Instead, the presentations have to go beyond inspiring audiences and should involve slightly text-heavy slides with fewer images.

In short – Just like how we dress appropriately for different social functions, presentations are most effective when they are designed with the audience and the context in mind. Touting one particular style of presenting as a catch-all method for various kinds of presentations might be a segue towards career suicide.

Regardless of whether you’re using PowerPoint or other presentation software, the principles tend to be the same – you need to cater your presentation towards the setting. We encourage learners in our presentation skills courses to always be aware of the context before developing their presentations.

So let’s talk about the five different styles of presentations you may encounter, and the best approach for each of them.

presentation matrix - HighSpark

The Presentation-type Matrix

1. Keynote Speeches

The typical objective of a keynote speech is to inspire and help the audience retain key points quickly. This is why the content generally focuses more on the “why” rather than the “what”; for example, in most TED talks, speakers pull together stories with the main take-home message that is both insightful and impactful. In these situations, the presentations generally involve fewer words, highly visual and meaningful images, and a couple of key points.

These speeches are commonly also littered with literary devices like analogies, quotes and other tools for presentations. Steve’s presentations are notorious for having lines like: “And one more thing…” and also anecdotes of how customers use Apple’s products.

A good example to check out would be organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s TED talk, ‘Are You a Giver or a Taker?’. He wove in various experiences from interactions with others into a narrative that highlighted his key message: Why helping others drives our success.

2. Marketing Presentations

Marketing decks are generally created with the aim of spreading awareness about a product, organization, or initiative, and hopefully, gain an initial buy-in, hence they’re shared across various platforms such as the internet or social media. One popular example would be SlideShare, a social platform that allows users to upload their presentations on the site.

Like many of the featured SlideShare presentations, the content of the presentation deck is generally structured in a narrative, with minimal text and visually impactful stock images and icons to sustain the interest of the readers.

The general rule of thumb here is that your digital presentations that need to stand alone should have just enough text for it to be consumable without a presenter to walk through it but at the same time brief enough to be skimmed through quickly. Steve Jobs was well-known to have his slides designed to be as brief as possible. The problem with this approach without a presenter is that the audience can’t make meaning from such presentations.

Remember, in the digital world, most of us have extremely short attention spans. Think of your marketing materials as a hook – provide just the right amount of information to arouse interest, so that the audience is motivated to find out more. If there are too many details, it is difficult for them to maintain interest.

3. Sales Decks

Like what its name suggests, sales decks are generally used by salespeople to present their product to a client, with the aim of closing a deal. Chances are, you’ve gotten a foot-in-the-door beforehand with your marketing materials and numerous follow-ups, so your audience already knows the big picture. Now that they’re in the buying-decision process, what they want are the key details.

Here, both information and visuals hold equal importance, as the audience needs to visualize in order to be persuaded. At the same time, details should be included to add credibility, and concrete case studies of the products will help to paint a clear picture in their mind on how they can benefit from what you’re offering.

There are three main pillars of a sales presentation: Problems, Solutions, and Benefits. You need to show your audience that you understand the problems that they’re facing, how you can be their solution, and what are the benefits of choosing you instead of your competitors or sticking to the status quo. So when you meet your prospect for the first time, command their attention by addressing their key challenges, before ever talking about the solutions you offer.

In these presentations, technical aspects and details of your solutions are not required during the first stage of discussion. Instead, leave them until the end, when your audience is at least half-invested in what you’re offering. Unlike a ‘Steve Jobs style’ presentation where you speak about most topics at a high-level, sales presentations sometimes require you to get into the nitty gritty of your solutions.

Auston case study highspark presentation design

Example: Auston Institute Sales Presentation

4. Internal Review Presentations

Mostly used in corporate settings, the main objective of an internal review is usually to align goals amongst the stakeholders and propose areas for further improvements. This is where slapping an image onto a slide without any text just won’t cut it – details are key in this situation.

This can be said to be a polar opposite of Steve’s style of presenting. In many companies, especially larger firms, gathering stakeholders can be a challenge, and not everyone may be able to turn up for the meeting, increasing the likelihood of the presentation deck being disseminated after the meeting. Without sufficient details, the reader will not be able to understand, hence rendering the deck useless. If you try sending something out of Steve Jobs’ presentation during the Worldwide Developer’s Conference, it’s likely you’ll get a mouthful from your boss and colleagues.

In this case, information including ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘Who’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, and ‘How’ are extremely important, and should be presented in order for stakeholders to make a decision.

This doesn’t mean that your slides have to look wordy and cluttered – your content can be arranged in a fashion that draws your audience’s attention to the key message, and be designed with visuals that add value to the communication of the content.

Internal reviews might not always look pretty, but they need to first and foremost ‘work’.

5. Investor Decks

This is more relevant for startups and new companies on the rise. To reach into the deep pockets of your potential investors, you have to be extremely clear and specific about your strategy to be a highly profitable and successful company. Details need to be shown to give the investors confidence in both your idea and your team.

However, many investor pitch decks (notably the public ones during Demo Day) are required to be delivered in 5-7 minutes. This is why you’ll need to keep your text minimal to allow them to focus on the key message of your pitch. At the same time, every important detail must be shared and highlighted.

So think of it as an elevator pitch – if you only had a minute to convince someone to buy into your idea, what would you say? That’s where your key message lies. When in doubt, have a look at some of the successful pitch deck examples online and you’ll get a good sensing of what’s required.

This is why (similar to keynote speeches) investor decks include fewer words and more images. The emphasis is on getting your audience to see your vision, and envision the same things you want to achieve. The only caveat is if you need this investor presentation to be read by others – then you might need a separate version to stand on its own. In some instances, Steve’s style might work on Demo Day, however in closed doors situations, you might want a little more data on your slide to back you up and support your pointers.

There you have it, five types of presentations for different situations apart from the Steve Jobs ‘TED style presentations’. Remember that those techniques we highlighted above aren’t always the gold standard, you’ll need to apply them correctly for it to be effective.

For your next presentation, keep your audience and purpose of the deck in mind. From there, you can figure out the appropriate style, and apply the right balance of text and images.

Have fun and all the best!

Psst – Which of these styles work best for your presentations? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jesmine Woon

Jesmine is the Accounts Executive at HighSpark. She has a penchant for well-designed presentations and effective communication among many other things. In her free time she enjoys a cup of bubble tea and an intense game of Dota.

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