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When CEOs take the stage, they follow Jobs's script

Lex Friedman | Sept. 26, 2011
Thursday's f8 keynote began with comedian Andy Samberg doing an imitation of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

It's no surprise that Steve Jobs's approach to keynotes now feels like the obvious (and only?) way; Jobs's Apple inspired the same feelings with smartphones, tablets, and desktop operating systems. He's surely accustomed by now to seeing his innovations emulated.

Close but no cigar

But though the endless similarities between Zuckerberg's f8 keynote and a typical Jobs performance were obvious, equally apparent was the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is no Steve Jobs. Set aside leadership styles, inventions, and technologies: Zuckerberg simply lacks Jobs's charisma and natural stage presence. Zuckerberg's presentation style was decidedly more wooden than Jobs's ever was. There were moments where you could observe Zuckerberg recalling the next lines of his script, flubbing a word or two, and even occasionally starting the next line--and stopping himself--before finishing the preceding one.

Most assuredly, Steve Jobs worked from a script, too. But you'd never know it to watch an Apple event live: He never stumbled for a line, never seemed to need to gather his thoughts, and spoke with the same smooth, calm delivery you'd expect between friends at dinner.

I don't fault Zuckerberg for his more stilted style. Public speaking is hard; public speaking in front of massive crowds (more than 100,000 people were watching the live video stream, not to mention the in-person audience) with no notes is harder still. And I don't fault Zuckerberg for attempting to take a page out of Steve Jobs's playbook either: Apple clearly honed the craft, and was continually successful at building tremendous excitement with its presentations.

Surely, however, there's someone at Facebook who could skew more Jobsian on the performance side than Zuckerberg is able. Steve Jobs didn't run Apple's keynotes because he was the company's CEO; he ran them because he was the company's best presenter.

What's next for Apple

It's widely expected that Apple will host an event of its own sometime soon to unveil new products, like the next model iPhone. All Things D reports that Tim Cook will "preside over" the event. Cook has been in the public eye before--he was Apple's representative at the Verizon iPhone launch earlier this year and he joined Jobs on stage to field questions at last year's press conference regarding iPhone 4 antenna issues. But this will be his first time running the show.

Though the presenter will change, it's unlikely that Apple's presentation format will vary dramatically from the showmanship we're accustomed to. We don't yet know whether Cook will seem as comfortable as Jobs did, or skew closer to the less-polished Zuckerberg approach. Should Cook--and his audience--find that the presentation role doesn't suit him, one hopes that he'll be confident enough to delegate that task to a better option the next time around.

After all, Apple's keynotes aren't designed to showcase the greatness of their presenter, but rather the products they're presenting.


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