Steve Jobs has a near-mythical reputation in the presentation world as someone who has regularly wowed audiences over the years with his new product announcements at Macworld.  But just how good a public speaker is he really?  You can see highlights from the last 10 years of Macworld presentations here:  I’ll probably get grumbles from Jobs’ fans for saying this, but he’s a good, not a great, speaker. 

To be sure, in business the bar is set very low, and of course Jobs is a better presenter than Bill Gates, but what you see when you review the decade-long run of new product announcements is someone who is never fully comfortable in his skin.  At the beginning of his run, he’s a classic geek – introverted, full of rough edges, intense, and passionate.  His public speaking clumsiness is offset by his passion, but he goes on too much about the bits and bytes – he a geek talking geek-speak.  It’s all about him and his products.  As time goes on, he matures as a speaker, opens up a little, and starts to relate to the audience a bit more strongly. 

In fact, his best performance is after his liver transplant.  He’s simpler and more direct, and it helps.  Your first aim as a speaker should never be to amaze the audience, but rather to take them on a journey that’s relevant to them.  If they get amazed along the way, great, but that’s not job one.  If you focus solely on that, you go for the presenting bells and whistles at the expense of substance, inevitably. 

From start to finish, Jobs’ best moments come when he waxes passionate about some cool new Apple product.  That’s when the subject, person, and audience meet most happily.  Technically, he’s still wandering around the stage a little too much, and he’s still using his hands to protect himself rather than connect with the audience, but the passion covers those public speaking sins pretty well.    

What can you learn from watching Steve Jobs?  Passion is the essence of good public speaking, but it doesn’t hurt to learn the craft as well. 


  1. Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech was terrific (2005, I believe) and is sneaking up on legendary status. But I agree with Nick – Jobs is not an exceptional public speaker. The Stanford performance drew its power from the personal revelations and connections he illuminated – he told us why he’s passionate about what he does and how he got there. That’s a lot more satisfying than watching him demo the new iPhone.

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