Last Updated on October 7, 2021
Whatever else you might say about Steve Jobs, the man knew how to work a crowd. He was probably one of the most brilliant speakers of our time; his charisma was so powerful that one software engineer at Apple even described it as a “reality distortion field,” adding that Jobs could “convince anyone of practically anything.” Taking that into account, it sort of goes without saying that any guest speaker who wants to perfect their craft should study how Jobs conducted himself – there’s a lot of valuable stuff to be learned from him, after all.
That’s what we’re here to talk about today, naturally. Steve Jobs may no longer be with us, but the lessons we can learn from his presentations are most definitely still around. So, let’s get right down to business: how can studying Steve Jobs make you a better guest speaker?
Practice Makes Perfect
It’s sort of romantic to think that Jobs’ presentations were all off the top of his head – that when he presented himself on-stage, he improvised everything. It’s not like he wasn’t capable of doing so, right? Thing is…he didn’t.
Steve Jobs was all about practice and preparation.
“If you were an Apple employee, you had to script and rehearse your part several times; first with the team, then in front of your successive bosses, leading up to Jobs,” writes Romaine Moisescot. “The same applied even for guest speakers.”
“Jobs applied the same strict rules to himself, of course. He spent two days preceding the keynotes rehearsing. On the first day, he worked on the segments he felt needed the most attention. The product managers and engineering managers for each new product were in the room, waiting for their turn. This group also formed Steve’s impromptu test audience: he would often ask for their feedback.”
According to Moisescot – who quotes several Apple employees – Jobs rearranged and modified the keynote as he rehearsed, organizing segments so that they would have as great an impact on his audience as possible. What you can take from this is simple: straight up until the time of presentation, never assume a keynote is 100% prepared. Practice and rehearse as much as you possibly can, and always look for ways you can improve; be sure to focus on the little details while you’re doing so, as well.
You’re Not A Speaker – You’re A Performer
As anyone who’s watched one of Jobs’ keynotes can attest, he dominated the stage with his personality. His talks were made to entertain; his words were made to inspire. That was no accident. “Jobs thought of every presentation as an event, like a concert or theatrical performance;” says Anni M.
Today’s speakers and marketers are trying their best to emulate his style, often with mixed results. Jobs isn’t an easy act to follow, after all.
Keep It Simple
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” reads a piece on Manner of Speaking, quoting Jobs himself. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Basically, what he’s saying here is that you need to choose the key areas on which you’re going to focus with your presentation. Don’t be long-winded, and don’t try to shove too much information into a short keynote.
Excellence Above All Else
If there was one thing Jobs emphasized, it was quality – he always strived to be the best; even when he failed, he considered it a temporary setback. Follow his example. Give your audience something tangible to take away from your presentation, and if something doesn’t go well, do everything in your power to figure out why. Never strive for anything less than perfection.
Since this piece is already getting a little long-winded, I’m going to wrap it up here. There’s plenty more we can learn about public speaking (and marketing, and product development) from Jobs – but for now, the insights I’ve offered here will suffice. Before you go, however, I’ve just got one more thing left to share with you: a few of Jobs’ best speeches.
Have a look at them, and see what you can learn.
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