By Nick Kyonka
When technology magnate Steve Jobs died on Oct. 5, countless obituaries and editorials around the world detailed every aspect of his stellar career and the seemingly super-human powers he possessed.
From his uncanny technological and social foresight, to his business understanding and near-Machiavellian prowess: it seems that everything has been said about the remarkable skill-set the Apple Inc. founder and former CEO used to lead his company to the top of the tech industry.
But as Jobs himself was so oft to say: there is one more thing.
While Jobs’ innovative insight and managerial knowledge were both vital to Apple’s success under his leadership, equally so was his powerful yet entertaining approach to communications, especially when it came to presenting.
Casually walking back and forth across the stage while delivering his keynote address at annual Macworld Expo events, Jobs was constantly a passionate salesman: friendly but on message.
Using the stage as a platform to launch Apple’s newest high-tech toys, Jobs succeeded in captivating audiences in a way his Silicon Valley peers have never quite duplicated, piquing immediate interest in his products by both tech geeks and ordinary consumers.
How did he do it?
For starters, he made the stage his home. Typically wearing a comfortable pair of blue jeans and his trademark black mock turtleneck, Jobs was always at ease on the stage. He was never uptight or overly formal. He was also attentive to treat his audience members as his guests, and to take efforts to keep them entertained. This was evident during the 2007 Macworld event when a broken clicker temporarily derailed the presentation. Jobs identified the issue quickly and humored his guests while his technicians fixed the problem. “They’re scrambling backstage right now,” he joked with a sheepish grin. He then launched into an impromptu story about his childhood friend and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, and a prank the two had played in college using a device they invented called a “TV jammer.” “A bunch of folks would be watching like Star Trek, and [Woznaik would] screw up the TV and somebody would go up to fix it,” Jobs explained. “Just as they’d have their foot off the ground, he’d turn it back on,” he continued to moderate laughter. “Within five minutes he’d have somebody like this,” Jobs said while contorting his body as if holding an antennae under his leg, “for the rest of the Star Trek episode.”
Of course, more than just quick on his feet, Jobs was a bold communicator who wasn’t afraid to take a giant leap to sell Apple’s products, even when it meant that bravado was bordering on brashness.
This corporate character trait was shaped in the classic “1984” commercial announcing the release of the Apple II home computer, and was consistent throughout Jobs’ tenure as the company’s lead communicator.
It was there when a series of funky and colourful cartoon-like iPod ads helped brand Apple as hip halfway through the last decade, and it was there when Appleproclaimed (to much angry response), “if you don’t have an iPhone, well—you just don’t have an iPhone.”
For Jobs the presenter, this bold attitude was never too long from the stage. It was present when he unveiled the first iPod and declared “this amazing little device holds 1,000 songs, and it goes right in my pocket.”
It was present when he gave the world its first glimpse of the “truly magical and revolutionary product” he unveiled at the start of 2010, the iPad. And of course, it was always present with all of those other “little” things he had to tack onto a presentation, just when you thought it was done.
While we’re on the topic, there is one more little thing that should be said about Jobs’ skills as a communicator: they came from the heart.
When he called the iPad revolutionary, it was because he believed it. If he boasted about other products, or other corporate milestones, it was because he honestly believed that Apple products were the ultimate consumer experience—a path to a better world. This is probably why Jobs was so successful at convincing people to buy those products: because he seemed to honestly believe that he wasn’t just selling them a bunch of high-tech gadgets. He was selling them dreams. He was selling them their own future. And it was his skill as a communicator that made him so good at doing it.