What Have we Learnt from Ten Years of the iPhone?

Ten years ago this week (on 9th January 2007) the late Steve Jobs, then at the hight of his powers at Apple, introduced the iPhone to an unsuspecting world. The history of that little device (which has got both smaller and bigger in the interceding ten years) is writ large over the entire Internet so I’m not going to repeat it here. However it’s worth looking at the above video on YouTube not just to remind yourself what a monumental and historical moment in tech history this was, even though few of us realised it at the time, but also to see a masterpiece in how to launch a new product.

Within two minutes of Jobs walking on stage he has the audience shouting and cheering as if he’s a rock star rather than a CEO. At around 16:25 when he’s unveiled his new baby and shows for the first time how to scroll through a list in a screen (hard to believe that ten years ago know one knew this was possible) they are practically eating out of his hand and he still has over an hour to go!

This iPhone keynote, probably one of the most important in the whole of tech history, is a case study on how to deliver a great presentation. Indeed, Nancy Duart in her book Resonate, has this as one of her case studies for how to “present visual stories that transform audiences”. In the book she analyses the whole event to show how Jobs’ uses all of the classic techniques of storytelling, establish what is and what could be, build suspense, keep your audience engaged, make them marvel and finally  show them a new bliss.

The iPhone product launch, though hugely important, is not what this post is about though. Rather, it’s about how ten years later the iPhone has kept pace with innovations in technology to not only remain relevant (and much copied) but also to continue to influence (for better and worse) the way people interact, communicate and indeed live. There are a number of enabling ideas and technologies, both introduced at launch as well as since, that have enabled this to happen. What are they and how can we learn from the example set by Apple and how can we improve on them?

Open systems generally beat closed systems

At its launch Apple had created a small set of native apps the making of which was not available to third-party developers. According to Jobs, it was an issue of security. “You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” he said. “You don’t want it to not work because one of the apps you loaded that morning screwed it up. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because of some app. This thing is more like an iPod than it is a computer in that sense.”

Jobs soon went back on that decision which is one of the factors that has led to the overwhelming success of the device. There are now 2.2 million apps available for download in the App Store with over 140 billion downloads made since 2007.

As has been shown time and time again, opening systems up and allowing access to third party developers nearly always beat keeping systems closed and locked down.

Open systems need easy to use ecosystems

Claiming your system is open does not mean developers will flock to it to extend your system unless it is both easy and potentially profitable to do so. Further, the second of these is unlikely to happen unless the first enabler is put in place.

Today with new systems being built around Cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain companies both large and small are vying with each other to provide easy to use but secure ecosystems that allow these new technologies to flourish and grow, hopefully to the benefits to business and society as a whole. There will be casualties on the way but this competition, and the recognition that systems need to be built right rather than us just building the right system at the time is what matters.

Open systems must not mean insecure systems

One of the reasons Jobs gave for not initially making the iPhone an open platform was his concerns over security and for hackers to break into those systems wreaking havoc. These concerns have not gone away but have become even more prominent. IoT and artificial intelligence, when embedded in everyday objects like cars and  kitchen appliances as well as our logistics and defence systems have the potential to cause there own unique and potentially disastrous type of destruction.

The cost of data breaches alone is estimated at $3.8 to $4 million and that’s without even considering the wider reputational loss companies face. Organisations need to monitor how security threats are evolving year to year and get well-informed insights about the impact they can have on their business and reputation.

Ethics matter too

With all the recent press coverage of how fake news may have affected the US election and may impact the upcoming German and French elections as well as the implications of driverless cars making life and death decisions for us, the ethics of cognitive computing is becoming a more and more serious topic for public discussion as well as potential government intervention.

In October last year the Whitehouse released a report called Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. The report looked at the current state of AI, its existing and potential applications, and the questions that progress in AI raise for society and public policy and made a number of recommendations on further actions. These included:

  • Prioritising open training data and open data standards in AI.
  • Industry should work with government to keep government updated on the general progress of AI in industry, including the likelihood of milestones being reached
  • The Federal government should prioritize basic and long-term AI research

As part of the answer to addressing the Whitehouse report this week a group of private investors, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, launched a $27 million research fund, called the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund. The group’s purpose is to foster the development of artificial intelligence for social good by approaching technological developments with input from a diverse set of viewpoints, such as policymakers, faith leaders, and economists.

I have discussed before about transformative technologies like the world wide web have impacted all of our lives, and not always for the good. I hope that initiatives like that of the US government (which will hopefully continue under the new leadership) will enable a good and rationale public discourse on how  we allow these new systems to shape our lives for the next ten years and beyond.

TEDx Brum – Power of Us


Last Saturday (11th June) Birmingham held its very own TED conference, TEDx Brum – Power of Us, at its Town Hall in Victoria Square. To say this was one of the most incredibly well organised events I have ever attended is a major, major understatement. Everything about TEDx Brum was just superbly well designed; from the beautifully laid out and printed program of events (below) to the military like precision of the event itself where a continuous stream of speakers and performers came out on stage and wow’ed the audience with their passion and the power of their messages.


Lauren Currie, one of the speakers at this years conference, has summarised why this event was so different and greater than its #PowerOfUs hashtag here. For me, her point ‘no painting-by-numbers’ really sums up why this was such a different conference from ones I, and I’m sure many others at the event, have attended before.

“It was a conference that wasn’t about ‘meeting new people’ or ‘learning new things’ – which are very middle-class objectives for actions. Nobody had an objective of getting new business cards. No speaker had slides full of ‘tweetable wisdom’. These weren’t presentations that had been done a thousand times before to a thousand different conference halls – this was new and real. There was no existing structures justifying themselves. Only the new, the vibrant and the experimental – at a stage where we can start to test and adjust and adapt and copy.”

Anyone who has watched a TED talk at ted.com will know that the presentation skills of the speakers are absolutely top-notch and something any of us that does public speaking, no matter how small or large the audience, aspires too. I can honestly say that every single one of the speakers and performers at TEDx Brum could easily have presented at a full blown TED and exceeded the very considerable speaking skills of those presenters. Whether it was @AdnanSharif1979 telling us about the horrors of forced organ donation (and why we should all sign up to be organ donors), @AnisaHaghdadi, founder of @beatfreeks telling us we needed to “build the thing that builds more things” or the heartfelt and incredibly brave talk by @JayneHardy, founder of Blurt who got a standing ovation for speaking about her own struggles with depression, everyone spoke with total and absolute passion and dedication to their own cause as well as the wider one of unleashing the #PowerOfUs.

As @ImmyKaur the curator of TEDx Brum says in her introduction to this years conference:

“Birmingham is an archetype of the future many cities face. This future will not come without hard work, disruption and genuine collaboration. We will need to come together across our traditional sectors and divides to create, imagine and build the future together. We must unleash the true #PowerOfUs to catalyse this transformation.”

There are lots of truly amazing things happening in Birmingham right now. I was part of an event a few weeks ago whose aim is to pull together the tech community in Birmingham and its wider surrounds. All of these strands need to come together to make the change that this great city deserves and which is long overdue. Here’s to the #PowerOfUs and all the great people in Birmingham that are making this happen.

How to Deal with the TED Effect

Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design and author of the books Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences and slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations has written a great blog post about what she refers to as the TED effect. The TED effect refers to the impact that the TED conferences have had on all of us who need to present as part of our daily lives.

Nancy’s basic assertion is that “in public speaking it’s no longer okay to be boring”. In the years BT (before TED) it was okay to deliver boring presentations because actually no one knew if you were being boring or not because most people’s bar for what constituted a good presentation was pretty low anyway. In the dark years of BT we would all just sit stoically through those presentations that bored us to death and missed the point completely because bad presentations were just an occupational hazard we all had to learn to deal with. If nothing else it gave us time to catch up on our email or quietly chatter away to a colleague in the back row.

Now though everything has changed! For anyone that has seen more than half a dozen TED talks we know that if we are not engaged within the first 30 seconds we are ready to walk. Not only that if we felt you were wasting our time we go onto Twitter or Facebook and tell the rest of the world how boring you were. If however you did engage us and managed to get across your idea in 18 minutes or under (the maximum time of a TED talk) then we will reward you by spreading your ideas and help you get them adopted and funded.

As technical people software architects often struggle with presentations simply because they are communicating technology so, by definition, that must be complicated and take loads of time with lots of slides containing densely populated text or diagrams that cannot be read unless you are sitting less than a metre from the screen. But, as Nancy Duarte has explained countless times in her books and her blog, it needn’t be like that, even for a die-hard techno-geek.

Here’s my take on on how to deal with the TED effect:

  1. Just because you are given an hour to present, don’t think you have to actually spend that amount of time talking. Use the TED 18 minute rule and try and condense your key points into that time. Use the rest of the time for discussion and exchange of ideas.
  2. Use handouts for providing more detail. Handouts don’t just have to be documents given out during the presentation. Consider writing up the detail in a blog post or similar and provide a link to this at the end of your talk.
  3. Never, ever present slides someone else has created. If a presentation is worth doing then it’s worth investing the time to make it your presentation.
  4. Remember the audience is there to see you speak and hear your ideas. Slides are an aid to get those ideas across and are not an end in their own right. If you’re just reading what’s on the presentation then so can the audience so you may as well not be there.
  5. The best talks are laid out like a book or a movie. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. It often helps to think of the end first (what is the basic idea or point you want to get across) and work backwards from there. As Steven Pressfield says in the book Do the Work, “figure out where you want to go; then work backwards from there”.
  6. Finally, watch as many TED talks as you can to see to see how they engage with the audience and get their ideas across. One of the key attributes you will see all the great speakers have is they are passionate about their subject and this really shines through in their talk. Maybe, just maybe, if you are not really passionate about what your subject you should not be talking about it in the first place?

A Tale of Two Presentations

Popular consensus would seem to have it that the 2007 presentation by Steve Jobs at MacWorld where he unveiled the iPhone is one of the all time best business presentations ever. Not just in terms of the delivery but also in terms of the impact it had on the world.

As a stark contrast, according to Ron Galloway in the Huff Post Business Blog a recent presentation by Sony introducing the PS4 will likely go down as one of the worst business presentations ever. I’ve not seen the Sony presentation but according to Wired they held reporters hostage for two hours and never actually showed them their new console, just the controller, and revealed very little about what the new console would be like.

Amazing that a company as large and influential as Sony can make so many fundamental presentation mistakes but a salutary lesson to us all I think.

There is some very good presentation advice at the end of the Huff Post blog by the way. So useful it’s worth cutting out and sticking to your presentation notes.

  1. Respect your audience and their time.
  2. Get on stage.
  3. Make your assertion.
  4. Support it with visual evidence.
  5. Repeat your assertion.
  6. Leave the stage.

More Presentation Tips from the Frontline

Here are some more tips based on some experiences gained this year from giving (lots of) presentations. I’ve also included a few good suggestions that have been suggested by friends and colleagues (they know who they are and I am happy to acknowledge them by name if they don’t mind being publicized here).

  1. Don’t give people negative information about you or your material. They will only use this against you in feedback. If you’re not happy with the material you are delivering or its content you really should not be presenting it however at times we all have to deliver a presentation with dodgy slides or containing messages we may not agree with or fully understand. Try and spend time up front pulling out the key messages and deliver those rather than try to justify or apologise for poor slideware. Spending time practising is key.
  2. Check out the room you will be presenting in ahead of time and if it is big or has poor acoustics which will make it difficult to project your voice make sure you get a microphone (or be prepared to shout all through the presentation).
  3. Be aware of an audiences mood. Glazed eyes, playing with smartphones and doodling means you have lost them. Re-engage by throwing a question or two at the audience but better still follow 4 below.
  4. In the excellent book Brain Rules its author, John Medina, says that audiences tend to “check out” after 10 minutes and it is therefore important to pepper your presentation with attention grabbing events. These can be anecdotes, personal stories, jokes (if they are relevant to the presentation) or maybe playing a short video. Medina even recommends designing your presentation in 10 minute chunks where the end of each 10 minutes has one of these attention grabbing events.
  5. Buy yourself a good quality wireless presenter (AKA a ‘clicker’). It gives you freedom to move around and blank the screen to avoid distractions during discussions. I have one of these which has served me well (always carry spare batteries though). Having a clicker more easily allows you to do number 6 as well.
  6. Don’t stand still and just talk at the audience. If you, can walk around and engage with people (use eye contact when speaking). If you have any influence over the layout of the room make sure tables and chairs are laid out in such a way you can move in between them. Even if you are on a stage you can still move around (watch any Steve Jobs presentation to see what he does). Also use your pitch and volume to emphasis the key points of the presentation.
  7. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know when asked a question. Unless you are an extremely good bluffer you will be rumbled and lose all credibility. Better is to admit you don’t know the answer and offer to follow up afterwards (which you should do if you say you will of course).

See also here for tips on creating technical presentations and here for what not to say when presenting.

Five Things Not To Say When Presenting

Whilst I cannot confess to have never said any of these myself here are five phrases that you should avoid at all costs when delivering a technical (or indeed any) presentation.

  1. I’m sorry you can’t see this at the back. Are you really sorry? I suspect not otherwise you will have made sure everyone could see what you are presenting before showing the slide. Know how big your room is and how big the screen is. As a matter of course never make any font size less than 24 point. Better still avoid words altogether and use pictures or diagrams instead.
  2. I’m just going to skip over the next few slides. Why? Either the slides are relevant to what you have to say or they are not. If they are not then they should not be there. There is always a great temptation to include extra slides “just in case”. Don’t! You should include only that which is relevant to what you have to say and discard everything else.
  3. Sorry but the colours on this slide don’t show up very well. Using colour in presentations is a great way of getting across information. When used properly colour can be used for emphasis as well as categorising data or information. However, be aware that the way colour can appear on a computer screen and how it can appear on a data projector can be very different. Always use bold colours and, if possible, check out the projector you are going to use before starting your presentation.
  4. You probably can’t hear this but I’ll play it anyway. Use of sound and video can be a great way of getting information across and also helps to keep your audiences attention. However if you are using sound make sure you have an effective sound system and don’t, what ever you do, rely on the speakers on your laptop. If you are using sound or video make sure there is adequate kit in the room. As a standby carry a set of portable speakers with you but these will only have limited reach.
  5. I’ve only got 30 minutes and we need t get through 75 slides. Or any other large number that will be impossible in the given time. Actually there is no golden rule for how many slides you can present in a given amount of time. If each slide has only a single word or picture then 75 slides in 30 minutes is entirely reasonable. However most times those 75 slides are densely packed with information which is impossible to assimilate in the amount of time allotted. As I’ve said elsewhere don’t pack too much information into your presentation. Instead just focus on the key points and use handouts for detailed stuff.

Tweets, Cocktail Parties and the Real-Deal

You can have the greatest idea in the world but if you can’t present it effectively, aiming it at the interest level and time your audience has, then it’s not going to fly. Here’s a three-pronged approach to getting your ideas across I have borrowed from Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (if you want a quick, animated summary of the book check this out).

You need to be prepared at all times to explain your idea. The amount of time you have to explain it will depend on a number of factors, not least of which is the amount of ‘face-time’ your stakeholder will give you. Here are three formats you should have prepared for selling your idea depending on how much time you can get:

  1. The Tweet version: A tweet (as delivered via twitter) can be a maximum of 140 characters. The challenge is can you describe your idea in 140 characters or less. Samuel Johnson (or Mark Twain or Winston Churchill depending on who you believe) said “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead”. This version is the most challenging of all. You really need to be brutal and pare your idea down to just the key facts.
  2. The Cocktail Party version: This is a variant on the elevator pitch. Can you describe you idea in 100 – 150 words or a maximum of one minute of talking (talking fast doesn’t count). Again you need to focus on the bare essentials but here you have a bit more leeway to focus on the business benefits.
  3. The Real-Deal version (with supporting takeaway): So you twittered your idea, you met some guy at a cocktail party (or in the elevator) to entice him a bit more and you finally got invited to present your idea. The presentation is the real-deal because this is really your chance to stand up and sell (and hopefully clinch the deal). Don’t, therefore, screw-up by preparing an overly busy presentation with slides full of tightly packed text (remember PowerPoint bullets kill interest like real bullets kill people). Suppose you have “an hour” to present. Aim for a presentation that can be done in 30 minutes allowing for 15 minutes of questions and five minutes or so either side for people to be late or have to leave early. No one can retain an interest for more than 50 minutes anyway so 30 is good. For some thoughts on presenting see here. I prefer not to follow rules like “one slide every two minutes”. The important thing is to structure the presentation first (probably before opening up your favourite presentation software) then write it, then practice until it fits into 30 minutes. For an interesting alternative view on how big a presentation should be see here (a slide every 12 seconds maybe!). Finally, because you will inevitably have had to leave out some detail prepare a short (two to four pages) takeaway which explains your idea that you can leave behind for your audience to take-away. Make sure you include the tweet as the “management summary”. You never know, your stakeholder may tweet it herself giving you a bit more publicity!

PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid (Says the US Military)

A timely follow-up to my recent blog post. I got this via Seth Godin’s blog entry here. According to the US military (as reported here) “PowerPoint makes us stupid”. Brigadier General H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, likened PowerPoint to an internal threat. He says: “it’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bulletizable”.

US commanders say that “the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan”.

Incredible! Has the world gone mad? Imagine if PowerPoint had been around in the time of John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi? Would their speeches have been enhanced by using a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points summarising their key messages? I think not. As Seth Godin goes on to say “guns don’t kill people, bullets do”.

How to Create Effective Technical Presentations

One of my great bugbears in life is the dire nature of the average technical presentation produced by IT folk in general and architects in particular. I’m not saying all architects produce bad presentations or that architects are the only culprits. It’s just that I tend to see more presentations from this particular group so am more inclined to comment on them. The main problems I see are:

  • Too much text/information on a slide.
  • Text too small to read unless you are in the front row and have 20-20 vision.
  • Inconsistent use of colour.
  • Poor layout.
  • Use of dreadful and completely irrelevant clip-art.
  • Far too many slides given the length of the presentation.
  • Unnecessary and confusing animations.
  • I could go on…

Before I go any further I confess I have produced some pretty dreadful presentations in my time where I have fallen foul of most, if not all, of the above at some point. However I’ve recently been reading the books (Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design) and blog of Garr Reynolds and thinking how what he says can help with people who need to produce technical presentations. Here are five tips based on the advice from Garr’s books that will help you next time you have to create a technical presentation.

  1. Don’t put more than you need to in the presentation. The first, and I think best piece of advice, is to recognise the inherent limitations of presentations as a communication mechanism and try and mimimise the amount of information you present. Hopefully the audience is there to listen to what you have to say not to see how good you are at slideware. Presentations should summarise, mainly in pictures and in as few words as possible, what you have to say. If you do need to provide additional information then hand this out as a supplement at the end of the presentation. Never just hand out your slides, that’s just cheap and shows you don’t care! Anyway, a good presentation should, by definition, not stand alone. It should only work when the speaker is there to present it.
  2. Make use of all the space on a presentation slide. This means removing all the unnecessary garbage that can often be found on a presentation template. You know the sort of thing I mean, there is a header and footer showing various aspects of your companies logo that take up more room than the presentation content itself! The only place a company logo should appear is on the title page. After that you should have complete use of the limited space you have available to you. Whilst talking about space you should not feel you have to fill all of the space with content. Sometimes having empty space is just as important as the content as it can provide contrast and at the same time help direct the viewers eye to the positive elements.
  3. Use words rarely. This is the most difficult piece of advice to take. It is tempting to fill a slide up with words because you are worried you will forget some important piece of information so you have to write this on the slide. Unfortunately giving a good presentation does mean you should practice, practice and practice and memorise what you want to say as much as possible. If you are in a rush and don’t have time then use cue cards but don’t read the words on the slide. Where you do need to use words to summarise key points then I like to try and follow what I call the five by five rule. That’s five words in a line and a maximum of five lines (yes really). Finally text should be viewable from people in the back row. To check this put PowerPoint in slide sorter mode, make the slides 100% and make sure you can read the text without squinting at the screen. This is the view people in the back row will have. Actually, I lied, that wasn’t the final point on this. You should also use consistent and clear typography throughout. Don’t go overboard with lots of different fonts and font sizes.
  4. Use colour, layout and other design techniques for diagrams. Technical presentations by there very nature often include lots of diagrams. By necessity these will usually need to be simplified in order to get the key points across. Make use of colour to show contrast, lay things out in a consistent and meaningful way and follow some basic design techniques such as the rule of thirds to ensure your diagrams have maximum impact.
  5. Use pictures wherever possible. I’m a recent convert to this. I love the idea of using pictures to get across key ideas and concepts. As a keen photographer I try and use my own images wherever I can however where I need something that I don’t have to hand I use stock photos (yes, which I buy with my own money). Don’t be a cheapskate and download low-res images from the web. Spend a few £££’s or $$$’s and get good quality stock images from somewhere like istockphoto.

This is a very short introductory set of ideas for making effective technical presentations. Try some of them next time you have to do a presentation and see what comments you get.

Finally, if you want to view some good quality presentations take a look at the technical presentations at slideshare.net.