Refusing to rehearse, a CEO bombs

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

As Apple’s new CEO in 1996, Gil ­Amelio sought to put his stamp on the famous computer maker. But he left a different kind of mark.

As keynote speaker at the high-profile Macworld conference in January 1997, Amelio sought to build credibility in front of nearly 4,000 influential Apple fans. But he wound up losing his audience.

For starters, he dressed inappropriately for the event. A Wall Street Journal reporter declared that Amelio’s flashy sports jacket made him look “like a Vegas comic.” Another reporter concluded that Amelio dressed “exactly like your newly divorced uncle on his first date.”

What’s worse, Amelio ignored the No. 1 rule of good public speakers: He failed to rehearse. He didn’t work well with his speechwriters ahead of time, so he wasn’t familiar with the content.

Squinting into the teleprompter, he couldn’t make sense of what he was supposed to say. As a result, he ad-libbed and often lost his train of thought. The crowd grew increasingly impatient at Amelio’s long, incoherent presentation.

At one point, he recognized Muhammad Ali in the front row. Amelio was supposed to invite the boxing champ onstage to promote a website on Parkinson’s disease, but the befuddled CEO failed to do so or even explain why Ali was in the room.

Perceptive speakers can sense the audience’s needs—and deliver. The Mac­­world group clearly wanted to hear from their hero, Steve Jobs, who had just returned to Apple in an advisory role after an 11-year absence. But Amelio babbled for more than two hours before allowing Jobs to take the stage.

— Adapted from Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster.

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