Lessons in Authenticity from Steve Jobs

By September 8, 2010March 30th, 2020SpeakerNotes

Steve Jobs, Stamford Commencement Speech 2005

Ever watch Apple co-founder and CEP Steve Jobs on stage? Sure, you have — the media gives us regular glimpses of his famous keynote addresses, generally delivered during a high-profile product launch like the iPad or iPhone 4.

But have you ever seen an awkward, under-rehearsed and somewhat uncomfortable Steve Jobs presentation? I have. The speech I’m talking about is Jobs’ address to the 2005 graduating class of Stanford University. Under rehearsed, looking rather awkward and clearly reading his script, he still managed to keep me glued to the computer screen.

Working against the odds — minus sufficient rehearsal, with no production team and lacking the comfort of speaking to his usual Mac-manic audience — Jobs may have not been perfect, but he still connected with his audience in an undeniable way.

The Cult of Steve Jobs

Whether rehearsed or off the cuff, Steve Jobs manages to make a powerful connection every time he speaks. Some thoughts on the secrets to his success:

He makes it personal. From the start of his Stamford address, Jobs risked sharing bits of his very personal private life — not simply reciting facts, but relating his struggles and his triumphs in a very visceral way. Listeners saw an awkward, vulnerable side that let them know this powerful figure was, in a nutshell, human

That’s the authenticity that allows truly great speakers to do more than convey information. Authentic speakers create change and inspire motivation. They achieve results.

He creates an adventure. Apple devotees know that whenever Jobs speaks, you’re guaranteed to be whisked away on an adventure. At Stamford, he invited students into his life, to experience the world the way he did, to feel the uncertainty and the exhilaration of being Steve Jobs.

Whether Jobs is talking about his personal life or his dreams for Apple, listeners are transported into a world full of innovation and fun.

He keeps it simple. Whenever he speaks, Jobs tends to follow a basic template. He starts out with a headline — in the case of Stamford, it was, “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life” — that both introduces and summarizes his entire presentation.

Jobs is the icon for simplicity. Rather than making his audience think about what he’s saying, he invites us in and lets us experience it for ourselves.

He enjoys the conversation. Partnered with his simplicity and authenticity is Jobs’ conversational style. He speaks with the familiarity of an old friend, someone with whom you immediately reconnect regardless of how long it’s been between visits.

Despite his CEO status, listeners are never left with the sense that Jobs sees himself as a rock star or a celebrity. He simply wants to connect and share his ideas, the way you’d sit down with a good friend over coffee or a beer.

Choosing Authenticity Over Perfection

Though Steve Jobs has certainly become a more polished presenter over the last five years — no more nervous habits like rubbing his chin or avoiding eye contact — he’s managed to retain the authenticity that commands attention from start to finish.

By applying that same level of personal authenticity to your next high-stakes presentation — be it a board meeting, a product launch, or even a graduation keynote —you’ll command an equally powerful level of attention. And you won’t have to invent the iPod to do it.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • TJ thanks for offering your insight. I recently purchased a copy of your book, “How to give a Pretty Good Presentation” and look forward to reading it.

  • TJ Walker says:

    Jobs has improved greatly over the years as a speaker. Bill Gates has too, though few people ever mention it. I credit Jobs for consistently trying to be interesting and saying something new.