How Apple’s keynote formula keeps audiences engaged

  • Before every new iPhone and Apple product comes a keynote presentation.
  • Apple’s keynotes have been an essential part of its brand for over 20 years. 
  • Apple’s presenters use techniques that may not be immediately obvious, but they are effective, and they create enormous anticipation prior to Apple’s multiple product launches. 

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Before we get a new iPhone, we get an Apple keynote.

Tim Cook: We’ve got some really exciting things to share with you, and we’re gonna have some fun along the way.

Narrator: Apple has been holding this style of presentation for over 20 years. But it isn’t just showing new products; it’s telling a story. Over the years, the presentation has gotten flashier, but the story hasn’t changed.

The keynotes always open with a video, which conveys a theme or idea that the keynote echoes. It’s the introduction to the story. But it usually isn’t about products. It’s about imagination, accessibility, or even New York City.

♪ I happen to like New York. I happen to like this town ♪

Apple includes several more videos throughout its presentation. These build suspense leading up to a product reveal. And make a product feel larger than life.

Then, it’s time for a history lesson. Tim Cook takes the stage, says “good morning.”

Cook: Good morning.

Narrator: And shows how Apple has been in your life for years. He also explains the positive impact Apple has had. Part of that impact is growing communities. Apple products aren’t presented as just computers or phones. The devices bring people together. And improve their lives.

You might have also noticed that they exaggerate…a lot. Apple describes everything with superlatives. Just listen to this description of the Apple Watch. That same segment says beautiful seven times. Repetitive exaggeration drives home Apple’s message about a product. If a speaker keeps saying revolutionary, you walk away thinking this phone is revolutionary.

But you won’t find too many specs in an Apple presentation. Apple talks in percentages more often than specifics. It’s 40% lower power.

Phil Schiller: 40% more energy efficient.

Narrator: Or five times faster.

Tom Boger: Five times faster than before.

Narrator: You just need to know that this new version is better than the old one.

Schiller: The iPhone XS Max.

Narrator: Apple doesn’t spend time talking about RAM or milliamps. It prefers fancy marketing terms, like Retina or 3D Touch.

Then it improves on its own terms. Plus to Max. Retina to Super Retina. But it still manages to keep the message clear and simple, often using a single phrase per slide.

It also helps that Apple’s presenters are experts at keeping the audience engaged. They tell you exactly what to think.

Schiller: Well, you are going to be blown away with the pictures you can take with the iPhone XS’s camera.

Jeff Williams: We think you’re gonna love everything about the new displays on Series 4.

Schiller: We all love the cameras in our iPhone.

Narrator: And they talk in a conversational tone.

Cook: Wasn’t that a fun video?

Narrator: It feels like a small presentation you were invited to. Not a livestream that millions are watching. Apple’s keynotes started a trend that many other tech companies have followed. But companies like Google and Samsung aren’t nearly as effective as Apple. Compare the introduction of the Galaxy Note 10 to the iPhone XS.

Drew Blackard: The Note 10 is built for a new generation. It’s a generation that’s reshaping everything about how we work and how we live. These days, we’re catching up on work email one minute and gaming with friends the next. The line between work and play has pretty much disappeared. And that means we need technology that can seamlessly flow between the two.

Schiller: I am so excited to tell you all about iPhone XS. It is made of a surgical-grade stainless steel. It has a gorgeous new gold finish, on the front and on the glass. It is the most beautiful iPhone we have ever made.

Narrator: Apple is specific. It shows instead of just telling. And you’re made to believe this is the most beautiful iPhone ever because of Phil Schiller’s delivery. Samsung tries to be everything at once, and the message gets lost. But Apple is able to tell a cohesive story that keeps you engaged.

Layering these techniques creates a presentation that feels important. Nothing may be new, but it all feels groundbreaking.

Cook: That uses intelligent software to make the most stunning portraits. This was only previously possible with pro-level equipment.

Narrator: He’s just talking about the iPhone’s camera. Nothing specific or new. Apple uses bold statements to reinforce its importance.

Laura Legros: Now, the MacBook Air set the bar for great battery life in a thin and light computer, and the new MacBook Air is no exception.

Schiller: What the team has done is truly, truly break through. It’s called the A12 Bionic. Your photos look stunning on iPhone XS.

Narrator: And it works. These presentations build huge anticipation before a product launch. With Apple products, it often feels as though the design is more important than what’s inside. The same is true of these keynotes.

Apple is selling the brand, not an iPhone. And these presentations have become an essential part of that sale.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2019. 

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