Apple CEO Tim Cook as Communicator: “Needs Improvement”
Ever since Tim Cook replaced Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple in 2011, people have been wondering how Apple would fare. Would the company continue to innovate, and reward shareholders? Or would it falter and become a high-tech “also ran?”
We’ll leave it to others to try to answer those questions. Our interest is in Cook’s communication skills, and if he should think about taking a CEO communication class.
Jobs, of course, was a consummate communicator. His product introductions were legendary. Audiences attended those events as much to see him perform as to get a look at the newest Apple products.
This past September, Apple introduced its iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, Apple Pay, and Apple Watch at a two-hour event in California. Cook was the primary speaker. So, how did he do? Does he need a CEO communication class?
Overall, we’d give him a “B,” along with the following advice on how to step up his game:
- Cook knew his subject matter, and it was obvious that he practiced his remarks, which were delivered fluidly and seemingly without error. But he sounded scripted. The words didn’t sound like his words. And while he had the right balance of eye contact with the audience and use of the monitors as a prompt, he sounded as if he were reading. (This was especially noticeable when he spoke too slowly.) In a CEO communication class, this is something we work on with our clients. The paradox of successful public speaking is making prepared remarks seem spontaneous. One way to do that is to go “off script” a few times, or express an idea in different words from those in the script. It keeps the audience from thinking about the fact that you are delivering from a script. Cook seemed unable to do that. For example, at one point, the audience gave him a standing ovation. When the clapping stopped, Cook missed an opportunity to improvise briefly; he simply continued following the script.
- He was in constant motion. Perhaps this was how he released nervousness (although he neither looked nor sounded nervous). Moving during a presentation is totally acceptable; it’s visual energy. But moving constantly is distracting and annoying. What he needed to do was to move, select a spot, plant his feet solidly (any movement now is from waist up) and stay there. After a while, move to another spot and repeat the process.
- Without a doubt, Cook is passionate about Apple, and listening to and watching him, you see and hear energy. But his energy and passion seemed forced. It was as if there were prompts at various points in the script where he was told to deliver with especially high energy. Some of that was his script. One line was, “We could not be more excited.” A better approach would have been to say, “We couldn’t be more excited,” and to deliver that line believably – with natural energy. Cook has some solid “platform” skills, but he’s not a natural performer. Performing on stage (and Apple product intros have always been performances), including introducing and interacting with the rock group U2, is not really his thing. And it showed.
- One last observation: Cook, who has gray hair, was wearing jeans, a dark T-shirt under an untucked shirt, and sneakers. From our perspective, his dress seemed out of sync with his personality. Jobs was comfortable in his signature jeans and turtleneck. Cook strikes us as someone who’s more comfortable in more formal or business casual attire. Perhaps Apple wants to continue a tone set by Jobs. But we’re reminded of Shakespeare’s adage: “To thine own self be true.”
Throughout his presentation, Cook got a lot of applause. But we think it had more to do with the technology he unveiled and the large number of Apple employees in the audience rather than because of his presentation skills which, with a CEO communication class, could improve.
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