Apple Keynote 2019 – Speech Review

“Give people wonderful tools and they’ll do wonderful things”

Apple Keynote 2019

Apple released its annual product launch this week, and along with it, their always-anticipated keynote speech. As a public speaking consultant and trainer, my job with Present Perfect is to ensure even the most established of professionals and companies are prepared to give killer keynote speeches. Ever since Steve Jobs gave his revolutionary reveal speech in 2007 introducing the iPhone, Apple has built a reputation as ninjas in the field of public speaking. But, as we’re only as great as our latest success/failure, I decided to break down Apple’s latest keynote and examine which parts of the speech (not the actual products) I found effective and not so effective.

3 Things I Loved in the Apple Keynote 2019:

  1. Tim Cook’s Heart Gestures

    According to Mark Bowden, an expert in body language, communication, and human behavior, body language can be categorized into four different zones: ideation (gestures made around the head), passion (the heart area), trust (the stomach area), and grotesque (below the belt). When presenting, I normally recommend the majority of gestures be in the trust zone, around your waist. Using open handed gestures in this area (versus closed gestures, such as clasped hands, crossed arms etc.), exposes your body’s center and conveys trust and honesty.

    However, the first thing that jumped out to me in Apple’s speech was just how many of CEO Tim Cook’s gestures came from his “passion” zone, around the heart. I might go so far as to say the majority of his gestures originated from this area. Now, I normally would have classified this tactic as too much of a good thing, but in this specific situation, it worked. Cook utilized everything from prayer hands, to a clenched fist to his heart, to crossed hands over his heart. And when he wasn’t using one of these gestures, his palms were always facing up, guiding our eyes to the same area. Given the intent of the speech was to inspire and pump people up, this dominant use of passion gestures ended up being appropriate and effective. Cook appeared sincerely passionate and heartfelt about the new developments Apple is about to unleash to the world, which transferred an equal amount of excitement to us in the audience.

  2. The 2-Second Pause

    A good speech shouldn’t be rushed through at a rapid, lightening-speed pace, but rather be delivered steadily and slowly, making use of strategic pause points. Pauses allow information which was just covered to sink in before transitioning to a new thought and can create a dramatic moment of anticipation before revealing an important piece of new information. The Apple team clearly got this memo in their inbox. You could almost hear each of the speakers systematically counting in their heads, “one one thousand, two one thousand,” each time they made a pivot. The presentation never seemed rushed or overwhelming, the pace allowed us to easily understand the content, and the pauses created excitement in our minds about what was about to come next.

  3. Ethos and the Apple Watch

    Aristotle, the granddaddy of public speaking, classified rhetorical appeals into three modes of expression: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos makes use of emotion, pathos makes use of credibility, and logos makes use of logic. One would expect when launching new tech devices, pathos and logos would be the go-to cornerstones. After all, technology isn’t normally considered a “tear-jerker.” Through their section devoted to the Apple Watch however, Apple surprisingly capitalized on ethos to pull at our heartstrings a bit. A video montage presented customers who had experienced lifesaving and life-impacting moments thanks to the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitoring feature; everything from a pregnant expectant mother going into an emergency labor, to a middle-age man having a heart attack, to a young boy overcoming challenges of autism.

    People want to be associated with something more meaningful than just blanket consumerism, and to believe their money is going toward a good cause. While I know 100% of a tech reveal presentation can’t realistically be based in ethos, I would have loved to have seen more moments like this one where Apple could have sprinkled in some additional warm fuzzies. After all, as Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said… but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

3 Things I Didn’t Love in the Apple Keynote 2019:

  1. The Length

    At just under two hours, Apple’s presentation made me want to reach for some popcorn, a comfy blanket, and some juju beans. Speeches should be as short as possible, otherwise they run the risk of making the information hard to digest. Now if there was any exception to this rule, Apple would get my “get out of jail free” card. But a two-hour speech can be difficult to keep the attention of even the most enthusiastic tech geek and at Present Perfect, the communication agency I work at in Paris, we have coined a term called “killing the puppies.” When length is an issue, cutting presentation material can often seem like you are forced to terminally get rid of your favorite furry friend. However, it is a necessary evil in order to make your content more easily absorbable and understandable for your audience.

    Apple could have benefited from killing some puppies. Specifically, in the gaming section. While probably exciting for a very specific niche, this section did not appeal to the larger, general audience at whole and could have significantly been condensed by eliminating lengthy demos of each new video game (I counted 4). And while the development of Apple TV+ to include more blockbuster movies and TV Shows (including the upcoming movie “See” and the series “The Morning Show” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell) was attractive, including full-length trailers could have been cut to save on time.
  2. Too Many Speakers

    Hello, stimulus overload! Apple rounded up 13 presenters for its latest keynote, often passing the baton to a new speaker every few minutes. And ten minutes into the speech, the audience had already been introduced to 5 different speakers! I appreciate Apple’s effort to move away from its traditional all-boys club to include a broader spectrum of presenter demographics (including five women), but we’re a long way away from the original 2007 Apple speech which had only four speakers total. Trying to focus on all the different speakers was a bit like watching a tennis match. My neck hurt afterwards. A more impactful approach would have been to give the few, more talented presenters more content to cover and to cut the “non-essential” speakers who were less engaging and ended up doing more harm than good to the overall presentation.

  3. Too Scripted

    Which brings me to my last point…. the entire presentation was way too over-scripted. Obviously, it’s to be expected that Apple would carefully write out each person’s portion of the speech, leaving as little room for error or mistakes as possible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be prepared. But having zero room for error also translates to little room for moments of levity, relatability, and authenticity. Apple’s presenters often seemed robotic in their mannerisms and speech, which at its worst I perceived as ingenuine and inauthentic. This provided for some frequent cringe-worthy moments when the speakers were clearly instructed to recite expressions of enthusiasm and excitement, such as, “let’s jump in,” “wow- thanks Peter that was incredible,” “{this feature} makes it…so much fun,” that instead came across as flat, monotone, and fake.

    I get it, it’s hard to be awesome on stage when you didn’t write your own speech and you have to recite someone else’s words. And most tech execs aren’t the next Meryl Streep. But Apple should have had the genius to realize this fact and understand that scripting moments of emotion usually has the reverse effect ethos is intended to have: instead of appealing to the audience’s emotions, it repels them.
Apple Keynote

A major part of what made Steve Job’s 2007 iPhone launch speech so memorable was his appeal to the audience. Yes, you could tell his speech was planned out and rehearsed, but it wasn’t SO scripted that it sounded like a robot was performing it. He was funny. There were moments he said “um.” He ad-libbed. In short, Steve Jobs had charisma. The latest 2019 Apple keynote speech was engaging, informative, and diverse, but it lacked charisma.

Apple’s keynote speeches have become so overproduced in the wake of the tech giant’s success that they have lost touch with some of the rhetorical foundations that made their speeches so successful in the first place. There should always be room for creativity- not just in the products themselves, but in the way companies present said products to their future and potential customers as well. My favorite moments in speeches are often the unscripted ones, the ones that aren’t planned, that play off the specific dynamics with the particular audience that day. For 2020, Apple should focus less on how “flashy” they can make their newest keynote, and more on how they can reproduce some the spirit of charisma, authenticity, and relatability that Jobs brought to us in 2007.

Review by Lindsey, public speaking coach expert in retail and branding

To watch the 2019 Apple Keynote 👉🏻 : https://www.apple.com/fr/apple-events/september-2019/