A Great Presentation and Why It Worked!

Graduation speeches are often a mere formality.  The graduates aren’t listening – they’re too busy thinking about the rosy future stretching out before them…without professors, tedious papers and endless exams.  But every once in awhile, a speaker comes along who not only has a clear message, but knows how to communicate it well.  Steve Jobs delivered one of those rare speeches at Stanford University’s commencement in 2005.

His address is a great illustration of the advice outlined in my article “Top Notch Presentations: 10 Tips for Connecting with Your Audience.”

Use Stories to illustrate key points

Steve framed his address around three engaging stories from his life.  He wove the threads of the stories into his larger message – “…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Begin your presentation with an attention getting announcement

When one of the most successful businessmen of the day begins a commencement address at one of the most prestigious universities in America with the news, “I never graduated from college,” he’s grabbed the audience’s attention.

Demonstrate your humanity

Steve not only talked about his successes, but openly shared about personal experiences of apparent failure and crisis.  These not only allowed the audience to identify with him, but provided illustrations for his theme.

Choose your words carefully.

Clear statements like “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” and “Don’t let the noise of the others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice” drove home the message theme.

In the end, Steve summed it all up with a pithy quote from a magazine of his youth, “The Whole Earth Catalog):

“Stay Hungry.  Stay Foolish.”

This was probably one speech which the graduates not only listened to, but remembered as they made their way into the world and choices of adulthood.

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