Leadership, Motivation, Writing Skills

Steve Jobs had it right with his Stanford Commencement speech

3 Jun , 2014  


Get to the point. Quickly. Most often audience members are left asking themselves “why” are they attending your speech. While there are many schools of thought over what ways are most effective when writing speeches; for example opening with an anecdote versus a joke, the most effective speeches do not stray away from the main objective. To keep it “Simple, direct and concise.” Identify the problem, offer a solution; conjure a call to action. Parham Aarabi, professor at the University of Toronto, Canada and author of The Art of Lecturing: A Practical Guide to Successful University Lectures and Business Presentations, points out that the attention span “…for most audiences…tends to range from about 10 minutes to 40 minutes, with an average of 25 minutes…” (Cambridge University Press 2007.) Though not surprising, Aarabi’s findings suggest that short, is probably “better.” People’s time is precious. If the problem and/or issue(s) are more significant and need considerable more time to digest, then it’s not only important to get to the point without hesitation, but also important to ensure that you accurately convey your message to as many audience members possible.

Being clear and direct can help avoid disinformation from geminating in the imaginations of your audience members. Knowing your audience is key ¬– What brings them there? Why are YOU giving a speech? Do you have some expertise to share? Start by addressing the issue that requires your consultation. “Then and only then, talk about your area of expertise as the solution to that problem,” says Nick Morgan, the president of Public Words, Inc., and author of Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. Once you establish a rapport with your audience and understand their circumstance, you can inform them of your credentials. While most people do not possess a degree in public speaking, one could ask, what qualifies you to make a speech? “Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University” is an example of a revered short speech that is not by someone that has a degree ¬–at all. Its opening was concise, and it broke the would-be-15-minute-long-speech into three stories; another gambit, effective in its ability to make longer ideas seem smaller making it easier to digest.

He wasted little to no time though yes; he respectfully paused for applause. He got right to the pith. CEO of Apple and Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs’ first words after thank you are “I’m honored to be here with you today…” He establishes respect with his dual CEO titles but earns their curiosity and trust with the line, “Truth be told – I never graduated from college.” He also attempts to humor his audience with a little candor “This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation,“ these strategies playing to his advantage. Each story that Jobs’ tells has a moral. The first being – trust yourself, your heart, your gut, and have faith in that everything will come together. “Sometimes life’s gonna hit you in the head with a brick – don’t lose faith.” The second love what you do. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” –and never settle – find what you love and be proud to call it your work: your great work. The third, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” telling his young audience to essentially not allow other’s opinions drown out your inner voice and have the courage to give that voice a helping hand. Jobs’ ends his speech reciting “Stay hungry; stay foolish,” which is his wish for the audience. Not in the literal sense, but rather hinting with his stories to be resilient and persistent. To have faith in their intuition, especially when veering off the-road-most-traveled. His speech was excellent in many ways, proving that a degree is not needed to put together a brilliant speech.


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