When we first thought of deconstructing a good speech, it seemed like such a great and obvious idea to showcase our public speaking programme.
After exhausting a month’s worth of data on YouTube, we realised it’s not easy to pick just one. When it comes to great, world-changing orators, there are so many to choose from!
After much thought and discussion, we finally picked Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at the Stanford university’s 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005 – 29 million views and counting!
For us, two things immediately stand out –
- The power of storytelling
- He is reading it out from his notes!
But seriously, one of the reasons we chose this talk – apart from the fact that this is a great example of a memorable speech – is to debunk the myth that a good speech has to be memorised!
Now to be honest when it comes to the delivery style, this speech doesn’t hold a candle to Martin Luther King’s famous civil rights speech or Winston Churchill’s radio address or Hitler’s power-packed performances.
There are no quotable quotes, no deep voices, no arm throwing – yet it is memorable; you will remember his life stories, and you will remember the last few words (Stay hungry, stay foolish) forever!
Let’s find out why this is a good speech –
Humans are wired to listen to stories, and when those stories are about love and loss and overcoming difficult life situations, we empathise! We root for the underdog, and we revel in his victories. In the end, we come out feeling good!
The speech follows the arc of his life – mapping three crucial milestones and each reinforces the same core message – Do what you love, believe in yourself, and everything will work out!
Let’s look at the first story – we start with a baby boy left in limbo while his birth mother holds out for the right parents. He builds up the importance of education and then destroys it in favour of individuality, and he does this in one of the best and most expensive educational institutions in the world; in front of hundreds of graduates – how’s that for a beginning!
And before it all gets too heavy and sentimental, he times it just perfectly to give the story a happy ending with a little bit of fun in the form of a humorous swipe at his biggest competitor –
“If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”
Moreover, he returns and employs this storytelling structure in the other two stories as well – starts with an idea or a hint to what the core message could be; talks about a terrible period of his life and finally presents a uplifting success story – the audience is literally living the highs and lows of his life with him.
“My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.”
“I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery, and I’m fine now.”
And then there is the message at the end of each story! He leaves the audience with these uplifting, life-changing mantra that inspires and transforms them. The 3 stories define a full circle – the speech is not just a collection of unrelated anecdotes from his life – they trace the pattern of birth, life, and death itself! And each episode come back to the core message – Find your calling, don’t settle for less.
We deconstructed this speech to find out some specific takeaways. We wanted to list some of the reasons that made this speech so memorable – it is certainly not the delivery style; there are no theatrics or even a slide.
After much discussion, we listed these features that we can replicate to make other speeches memorable –
- Grab attention right at the start with a shocking or out of the box fact, story or an idea.
- Use humour to gently bring down the audience from an emotional high.
- Use the classic dramatical structure to build tension and give a resolution.
- Work with one core message that you can reiterate again and again during the speech.
- In the end, leave the audience with an inspiring thought or a vision that they can connect to personally. A universal idea that they can unite behind.
- Finally, keep it short – Steve Jobs’ speech was barely 15 minutes!
This is just the tip of the iceberg! For those of you who might want to apply these learnings to your presentations and public speaking engagements, we have put together some more recommendations (all those hours on YouTube threw up some gems). So, if you have some time – take a look and be inspired!
A deconstruction of one of the most popular TED Talk given by Simon Sinek.
And certainly, take a look at this landmark talk on The Secret Structure of Great Talks by the guru of Presentations, Nancy Duarte
If you are feeling a tad overwhelmed before your big talk or presentation, then why do it alone. Reach out to us and we will be able to help you structure your content for maximum impact. Click on the Request Consultation button above.