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Lesson Eight: Develop Your Speaking Skills
Do a quick search on YouTube or any search engine right now on Steve Jobs, and you will be sure to find many video clips of his speeches given during product launches, commencement ceremonies, and other public gatherings. Many of his most memorable quotes come from presentations he made for big product unveilings or lectures he gave to students or business groups.
In his speeches, Jobs seems very much at ease with his material. In reality, he did not start out as a strong public speaker. Jobs realized early on that if he were to be an effective leader, he would have to project an image of steady confidence, and the most striking way to do this would be through his presentation skills, which he set out to improve throughout his life.
The key to Steve Jobs’ success as a presenter was his preparation. He would spend hours going over his material, practicing at home in front of the mirror and doing rehearsals in front of his team well before he was scheduled to speak. Every detail would be scrutinized, and he wanted visuals, lighting, sound, and effects timed right down to the second. Each public speech was a performance in and of itself, and he knew that his every word would be viewed and studied over and over again. Because of this, he demanded perfection from himself and those around him.
His biggest rival, Bill Gates, knew firsthand how seriously Jobs took his presentations. “I mean, it was just amazing to see how precisely he would rehearse,” Gates is quoted in the book Becoming Steve Jobs. “And if he’s about to go onstage, and his support people don’t have the things right, you know, he is really, really tough on them. He’s even a bit nervous because it’s a big performance. But then he’s on, and it’s quite an amazing thing.”
One of the most popular speeches Jobs ever delivered was a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. Jobs is said to have written the speech and rehearsed it at home over and over again, in front of his children, even during dinner time. Laurene, his wife, said she had “almost never seen him more nervous” than during the days prior to that speech. He was focused on making it as precise a performance as he possibly could.
Jobs’ speeches are highly entertaining and equally informative with just the right amount of inspiration thrown in. How did he do it? He drew from his own experiences, packaged his stories into everyday language, and made sure to use colorful descriptions that painted a picture very clearly in the minds of listeners.
Why is it important to improve your presentation and public speaking skills? In your many roles in the workplace or your chosen profession, you will be called upon to present your proposal, defend an idea, or simply engage in meaningful discussions about important decisions your group will be making. With the power of presentation, you can deliver a strong case and convince people around you to share your vision and enthusiasm.
Jobs effectively used visuals with short, quotable headlines to drive his message home. In addition, he patterned many of his speeches as stories, mostly with a villain (a problem) and a hero (the solution they have discovered). He focused on the benefits of what he was presenting, such as product features, and he zeroed in on what he knew his listeners would be looking for: things that would improve their personal lives.
Because he prepared and rehearsed incessantly, Jobs avoided reading notes while giving his speeches. Rather, he would keep a list of bullet points to guide him through the presentation, and he knew the material by heart. As a leader, it is important for you to come across as personal and engaging to every single person you are addressing. This can best be achieved by establishing eye contact with as many people in the room as you can. It may seem difficult at first, but with practice, you can improve this skill and become just as effortless as Jobs seemed in his appearances.
Of course, Jobs never forgot to have fun during his speeches. Once, when showing how easy it was to use the maps feature on the iPhone, he prank called a Starbucks number and asked to have 4,000 lattes to go (for his audience). Everyone laughed, and it was an icebreaker that relaxed the audience and also made them more willing to listen to what he had to say. When appropriate, you can lighten the mood or share funny anecdotes that connect you to your listeners and break the monotony of listening to one person speaking for a long period of time.
It’s often said that public speaking is an art. But it is also a science, much like designing machines or troubleshooting complicated computer systems. It requires an understanding of who your listeners are and what interests them, and how you can position your message in such a way that would inspire them to get on your side and accept what you are offering. With intensive preparation and practice, you can also increase your leadership status by excelling in your presentations.
Lesson Nine: Plan for Succession
No matter what your position in your company or organization, you will not last forever in that role. A wise leader prepares for this reality by ensuring there are plans in place for grooming the next leader to take his place, as well as a smooth transition.
Steve Jobs fully understood and accepted the fact that sooner or later, someone would replace him at the helm of Apple. He prepared for this by delegating various responsibilities and training people he knew would be well-equipped to take over. In particular, he worked closely for many years with Tim Cook, Chief of Worldwide Operations for Apple, who would eventually become CEO.
In the book, Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, it is revealed that succession planning at Apple started even as early as 2004. When Jobs had medical issues in 2004 and 2009, Cook had already taken over indefinitely. Cook knew very well that Jobs was not looking for an exact replica of himself – just a worthy successor.
“Apple would not be served well to have a CEO who wanted to or felt like they needed to replace him precisely. I don’t think there is such a person, but you could envision people trying. He knew that I would never be so dumb as to do that, or even feel that I needed to do that.”
Cook also narrated how hands-on Jobs’ approach was in training the next generation of leaders at Apple. “Steve cared deeply about the why,” he told authors Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. “The why of the decision. In the younger days I would see him just do something. But as the days went on he would spend more time with me and with other people explaining why he thought or did something, or why he looked at something in a certain way.”
Because he put a plan in place early on, Jobs was able to personally inculcate many of his strategies and visions to his team, ensuring that the transition, once he was gone, would be one that is smooth and without the feeling of sudden upheaval among those left behind. This succession planning was also one of the reasons why Jobs started Apple University. It would train Apple’s next leaders by reminding them of the company’s past successes and mistakes.
Whoever replaces you will never be able to exactly replicate what you have done or how you run the company and make decisions. This is not the end goal of succession planning; rather, an intuitive leader will train the next person to have the same vision and passion for excellence necessary to lead the organization to greater heights. He should do all of this while staying true to the established brand and delivering promises to the target market as well as stakeholders.
It can take years to find someone who fits this role. However, it is more than likely the ideal candidate is someone already within your team who understands the culture and has been through most of the ups and downs to know why certain decisions are made, and how priorities are set. Jobs had the advantage of actually being able to personally mentor Cook well before he stepped down, so he knew his company would be in good hands.
This need not be an elaborate task. You may be able to creatively include this in your regular activities as a way to train next leaders and also see potential team members who have that drive you are looking for. During proposals or presentations, you can delegate assignments and see which team members display the passion and attention to excellence you are looking for. Spread out big projects across your workforce and look for those natural-born leaders who take charge and become the key drivers in their respective circles.
Leaders plan for the future, and succession is an important part of that. To this day, many in the business community consider Steve Jobs’ handover to Tim Cook as one of the more successful transitions in corporate America because it involved long-term strategy and personal mentoring. It was this careful planning and vision that enabled Jobs to resign with confidence and send out this message as he stepped down:
To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:
I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.
I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, Director and Apple employee.
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.
I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.
I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.
Lesson Ten: Be Inspired
In 1996, Steve Jobs was quoted, “Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ — and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Yet Jobs and his company, Apple, protected their patented ideas furiously, suing Microsoft and HP in 1988 for alleged copyright infringement (regarding Windows and New Wave’s similarities to the Macintosh and Lisa). More recently, Apple also filed numerous lawsuits against Google’s Android operating system, specifically targeting Samsung, HTC, and Motorola for their similarities to the iPhone and iPad.
So what did Jobs really mean when he bragged about how they stole great ideas? When Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, was asked to explain this statement by Jobs, he said:
“I think what he meant by ‘steal’ was you learn, as artists have, from past masters; you figure out what you like about it and what you want to incorporate into your idea, and you take it further and do something new with it. I can see why people might confuse that with the current use people have for that phrase. You don’t just say, ‘I want something that looks just like yours and I’m going to sell it too.’”
Jobs, it appears, was referring to taking inspiration from others and making their ideas your own in order to create something new, rather than just copying ideas and then passing them off as yours. When you take what works for others, tweak it to make improvements while adding more value and features, you are no longer just stealing or copying from others, but improving on past successes and creating new ideas altogether.
As mentioned in previous chapters, computers, mobile phones, and other devices already existed when Jobs entered the picture and started to revolutionize design. He set to make these devices more user-friendly, better-designed, as well as more relevant to their modern life. This is why he is still regarded as a leader in innovation. He may have borrowed ideas from those around him, but he executed better and pushed the boundaries of creativity and functionality, blending them into well-loved consumer tech products.
This recognition of the value of culling ideas from other inspirations may have come from Jobs’ love for art and music early in life. He described this artistry in an interview with the Smithsonian:
“I think the artistry is in having an insight into what one sees around them. Generally putting things together in a way no one else has before and finding a way to express that to other people who don’t have that insight so they can get some of the advantage of that insight that makes them feel a certain way or allows them to do a certain thing. I think that a lot of the folks on the Macintosh team were capable of doing that and did exactly that.”
As a leader, you should not be trapped in a bubble of your own ideas and perspectives. This is a dangerous position that hinders growth and limits your potential for expansion. Rather, you should always be learning and open to fresh ideas from others around you with more experience, or who have made errors in the past and have learned from them. There is much you can learn from networking with peers, attending seminars or business lectures, or reading up on current events and biographies of influential personalities who can add to your knowledge.
People are no longer discovering new musical notes, and yet we continue to hear great new music using those very same musical patterns. Why does it sound fresh to our ears? It is because musicians and songwriters are simply figuring out new ways to combine past influences with their own melodic patterns and rhythmic combinations, coupled with lyrics that speak to the human experience.
It is ironic that while Jobs mentioned that he got his famous quote from Picasso, the painter himself was said to have never uttered those exact same words. Rather, the quote seems to have been passed along in various iterations from T.S. Eliot, Igor Stravinsky, and William Faulkner. Funny enough, the very idea being espoused by Jobs – building on the great ideas of others – seems to have found a perfect example in the question of who really said this line originally.
However, whether it was Picasso or Eliot, the lesson remains and that is to be a receptacle of great, positive ideas you will find every day. These inspirations may come from your family, friends, colleagues, peers, perhaps even your closest competitors. Build on these concepts, add your own touch, and expand your horizon as an effective leader.
Conclusion: Leadership Is About Leaving a Legacy
Steve Jobs was an incredible individual who revolutionized the digital world. His ideas will continue to influence several generations of innovators across the world. His ideology, charisma, vision, and dynamic nature have managed to revolutionize the way technology has been integrated into our daily life. He was not only a great innovator, but also an exceptional leader. He was the founder of Apple, one of the most successful companies in the world, and was also able to lead Pixar and several other organizations to success. Jobs truly believed that passion is that one thing that has the power to change the world.
More significantly, Jobs recognized the sobering, but all-important truth, of the preciousness of time and the urgency of leaving a positive impact on the world. In a public speech, he once declared, “Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.” You may not think of it much, but your actions as a leader now have a ripple effect on the lives of people around you for years to come.
In his visionary designs and innovations, Jobs always looked to the future, knowing well that his work would become the framework for even greater, grander achievements in the generations to follow. This is why he was known as a perfectionist who obsessed over the smallest details, and demanded excellence in every aspect of operations. He was acutely aware of his finite role in the universe, and wanted to make the most out of it in the limited time given to him.
His acceptance of the inevitability of death gave him a sense of urgency because he felt he had so many dreams to turn into reality. According to Jobs, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Jobs was aware that his life was ending, and that he had to make it all count. In his speech at Stanford, he said that “all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving behind only what is truly important”. Death is the best motivation there can ever be, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t follow your heart when you know that death is unavoidable. All those dreams that seemed silly — maybe it’s time that you start doing something to turn them into reality.
The people who have made the most impact in our world are the ones who were looking beyond what they can see with their own eyes, to a future that was better and greater than what they could have imagined. This is what ignited their passion to invent automobiles, airplanes, electric lighting, telephones, wireless communications, printing presses, industrial equipment, vaccines and computers. Their legacy lives on to this day because what they focused on were ideas that transcended the physical limitations of their time.
How much of an impact will Steve Jobs have on future generations? It remains to be seen, but it is safe to surmise that his immediate impact – revolutionizing technology, communication, and entertainment – will continue to grow as the next generation of innovators and dreamers continue on the path that Jobs and others have forged.
The question you should ask yourself now is: “How will people remember me when I am gone?” Your legacy, or how you lived your life or made your mark, should matter more than any material wealth accumulated or professional achievements. Every little thing you are doing now has an impact on the future, and how you will be remembered.
Your leadership in your immediate circle will also be your legacy; your contribution to your community. Use your time wisely, enhance your skills, make the most of the opportunities presented to you, and you will have lived life the way Steve Jobs did:
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
Steve Jobs was an inspirational leader who managed to influence everyone around him with his confidence, adaptability, vision, and ability to think outside the box. After reading this series of posts, we hope you find yourself inspired to be a better leader. Follow the lessons in these posts and you’ll be one step closer to unlocking your true leadership potential.
Remember: becoming a great leader isn’t something that can be done overnight; it takes constant daily practice. As Jobs said, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” – keep challenging yourself, take risks and remember that the only limits that exist are those you place on yourself.
For a deep-dive into the life of Steve Jobs, I highly recommend the biography by Walter Isaacson.
Here are some more articles that we used for research that go further into some of the topics we covered:
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