At iPhone 5 launch, should Tim Cook wear a black turtleneck?


Tim Cook, who has taken over for Steve Jobs as the new CEO of Apple, will make his first public appearance as CEO at the launch of the iPhone 5. (Tony Avelar/BLOOMBERG)
October 3, 2011

This piece is part of this week’s On Leadership roundtable exploring Tim Cook’s succession of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, and how to follow in the footsteps of an icon.

Tim Cook steps into the spotlight with his first big product announcement on Tuesday when he unveils the iPhone 5. Which has customer and investors wondering: Does Cook have the marketing flair to excite an audience? Will he adopt the look and affect that became such an iconic part of Apple’s leadership?

The man Cook is replacing is, of course, Apple cofounder and celebrity CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs is the charismatic turtleneck-clad icon who has become the face, heart and soul of Apple. And his personal style is very different from Cook’s.

Where Jobs is the tech visionary and influential innovator, Cook is respected for his operational genius, dedication to perfection, work ethic and intensity. Where Jobs sought the spotlight, Cook has kept a low public profile. Cook is often referred to as the soft-spoken yin to Jobs’ more volatile yang.

Steve Jobs is an original, and his charisma can’t be replicated. If Cook tries to do so, it’s a sure recipe for failure.

But just because Cook shouldn’t try to be Jobs doesn’t mean that he can’t learn from Jobs. In fact, there are seven presentation strategies that Jobs is famous for and that Cook should, and most probably will, emulate.

1. Maintaining positive eye contact

Jobs does an excellent job of maintaining steady eye contact with the audience throughout a talk. If Cook does as well, you’ll see him looking at specific individuals or small groups, holding their attention briefly, and then moving to another group or individual in another part of the room. If he struggles with this, you’ll notice his gaze sweeping the audience too quickly or getting “stuck” looking at only one part of the room.

2. Exuding confidence and competence

Jobs walks on stage with a relaxed, open face and body that tells an audience he’s confident and comfortable with the information he’s about to deliver.

While Cook is not the showman Jobs is, he’s a solid communicator in his own right –as evidenced by his performance at the Verizon iPhone announcement. I expect that he will make an entrance on Tuesday with a smooth gait, erect but comfortable posture and relaxed, open arms. All of which will project confidence and credibility.

3. Ditching the lectern

Jobs rarely uses notes or stands behind a lectern. He realizes that a lectern not only covers up the majority of his body, it also acts as a barrier between him and the audience. Jobs also rehearses his presentations so well that he doesn’t need a script. Instead of notes, he has copies of his slides on a video prompter placed at the foot of the stage. This helps to give his talks an impromptu feel.

I don’t think that Cook will change this effective AV set up. And with his reputation for perfection, you can bet he’ll rehearse until he knows the material cold.

4. Walking the stage

Jobs is famous for “prowling” the stage, and it is an effective communication strategy because the human brain is programmed to pay attention to movement, and it keeps an audience from becoming bored.

You can expect Cook to also walk the stage while speaking. But notice if he moves constantly. He shouldn’t. He’ll be most effective combining movement with physical pauses in which he stands absolutely still to highlight a key point.

5. Showing passion

Passion and enthusiasm are at the heart of Apple’s culture. As a result, Jobs presentations are filled with emotional stories, vivid analogies and expansive language. Unveiling the first 17-inch notebook computer, Jobs called it “miraculously engineered.” And he described the original Macintosh as “insanely great.”

He may not have Jobs’ flair for showmanship, but Cook brings his own brand of emotion to the mix. He did so when he introduced the Verizon iPhone: “It has features like FaceTime which brings the dream of video calling to reality.”

Cook’s challenge on Tuesday is to display genuine passion for the product and the company in ways that powerfully connect with the audience. Besides finding the right stories and vocabulary, he’ll need to watch his body language. Cook’s facial expressions must align with his rhetoric. If not, the disconnect will sabotage his message.

6. Talking with his hands

Like all great speakers, Jobs uses hand gestures to underscore what’s important and to express feelings, needs and convictions. And he keeps most of his gesture between the waist and shoulders.

Look for Cook to likewise gesture at waist height (it’s the “power plane” that signals status and authority). He will likely get more animated only when illustrating a key point or as a non-verbal sign of heightened emotion. Watch to see when he gestures with palms showing, as it is a sign of candor and openness. And note any steepling gesture (fingertips touching, palms separated) that spontaneously occurs as a sign of certainty or precision.

7. Keeping it visual

Jobs is a master of simple, compelling and highly visual presentations. There are very few words on any of his slides. Instead, Jobs prefers vivid images for illustration and interesting props for demonstration.

People are more likely to remember information when it’s presented as words and pictures instead of words alone, and Cook has seen how effective this approach is. There would be no good reason to change it.

There is one thing that you can bet will change: For Tuesday’s product announcement, you won’t see Cook in a black turtleneck. His preferred uniform is jeans with an open-collar shirt –and sometimes even a jacket.

After all, he isn’t Steve Jobs.

Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach and the author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help or Hurt How You Lead.

Related Articles:

Nancy Koehn: Putting Steve Jobs in perspective

William C. Taylor: Tim Cook, here’s how to lead Apple

Carol Kinsey Goman: Should Tim Cook wear a black turtleneck?

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