My wife teaches a public speaking course, and from time to time we talk about what examples of public speaking would be good for her students to watch. While we go through the usual speeches by luminaries such as President Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and also pick apart the speeches of politicians of our day, I always argue that, if you want to learn public speaking, you could do a lot worse than viewing and analyzing Steve Jobs’s many famous product launches. So much has been made of Steve Jobs’s keynotes that there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to them: Stevenote. He was a mesmerizing presenter.
I still think about how he unveiled the iPhone, which everyone in the audience at the time expected and knew would be a cell phone, but had no idea would be, well, the iPhone. He knew what the audience expected, and faked them out through the first half of his presentation about it. He said “Today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products” which upended the audience’s expectations. He repeated what those devices were—“An iPod, a Phone, and an Internet communicator”—as icons for those three things spun around on the big screen behind him, until the audience was laughing. Then he said, “are you getting it?” and people cheered as they realized that he was talking about a single product.
The thing that is amazing, re-watching the presentation, is that it is full of jokes, like the image of an iPod with a telephone rotary dial instead of a click wheel. It’s also amazing how Steve Jobs was able to sound so natural, even though he never ad-libs and never flubs a word. He extremely well rehearsed, and he made what he did look easy.
I like to think that he was genuinely excited about what he presented, and that is a key factor I have tried to bring to my own presentations. I’m not able to present anything as fascinating as the iPhone to my peers, but I have the creative freedom to come up with my own ideas when I made a presentation, and I can certainly be excited about them. The way I see it is that I present ideas, not just facts. Ideas are propulsive in ways that facts are not. Connecting ideas together is exciting—at least if done in such a way that you can keep the audience interested. Humor and surprise are effective tools to do so, as Steve Jobs so often demonstrated.