Top three speeches by Steve Jobs

Brennon Slattery
1 September, 2011
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Steve Jobs

As a CEO, Steve Jobs will be remembered for many things – not just as a purveyor of innovative, landscape-changing products. He’ll also be remembered as one of the most powerful and charismatic orators and marketers of our time. Here are my top three picks for Steve Jobs’ most compelling speeches.

Apple’s Partnership with Microsoft at Macworld Boston, 1997

Steve Jobs handled a lot of tough crowds (a recent example was Antennagate, which was easily quelled by handing out free iPhone 4 cases). But perhaps Jobs’ toughest situation came in 1997, after Bill Gates and Microsoft bailed Apple out of impending bankruptcy with a US$150 million stock purchase – and a few added provisions.

Some of those provisions were positive: Microsoft Office arriving on Apple’s platform was greeted with cheers. But as soon as Jobs announced that Internet Explorer would become the Macintosh’s default web browser (around minute 2:23), the auditorium fills with boos and groans.

Ever the master, Jobs laid on the charm and made the problem disappear with just one line, delivered with a smirk: “… since we believe in choice” (2:42), reminding his grumbling audience that Mac users can, of course, change their default browser settings. And change they did: Internet Explorer is no longer available for the Mac.

The ‘one more thing’ moment (4:29) isn’t a new product, but a special guest: Bill Gates, who appears on the big screen much like Big Brother did in Apple’s 1984 Macintosh SuperBowl ad. This, too, caused a wave of dissent from the crowd, and Jobs, who had looked defeated up until Gates’ visage left the screen, followed through with words advocating a complete change (around minute 7:15).

“If we want to move forward, see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. And if others are going to help us, that’s great … And if we screw up and don’t do a good job, it’s not somebody else’s fault – it’s our fault … So the era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over as far as I’m concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry, to get healthy and prosper again.”

Jobs then switched to a slide of Apple’s logo and Microsoft’s logo together, and then got serious about Apple’s ‘Think Differently’ marketing campaign, ruminating on how Apple products are for “people who aren’t just out to get a job, but for people who want to change the world.”

It’s a clever and heartening follow-up to a situation that seemed, to many, like the beginning of Apple’s eventual downfall … which, of course, never happened.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Merging the themes of life, growth and death, Jobs’ 2005 commencement address to Stanford University was stirring in a way that transcends many cut-and-paste graduation speeches.

In his address, Jobs told three stories set in three pivotal moments of his life, one of the most important being when he was fired from Apple (7:14):

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

The speech as a whole is a must-see, stuffed with killer lines – “Keep looking. Don’t settle.” – and a deeply personal and original take on the common theme of death and its uses as an inspirational tool (9:39):

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers … Keep looking. Don’t settle.”

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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’ speech was so inspiring, in fact, that its even been ripped off by others around the world.

Apple iPad 2 Keynote, Special Event, March 2011

Jobs’ unexpected appearance at the iPad 2 event in March 2011 caused a lot of stir. He had just taken an indefinite medical leave of absence, and already people were wondering what Apple would look like post-Jobs.

His keynote didn’t contain the flourishes audiences had grown accustomed to. In fact, Jobs seemed in poor health and spoke in a quiet, gravelly voice. But during his discussion of the post-PC world Jobs linked his long-held philosophy about the marriage of technology and the liberal arts – an idea that Jobs espoused in a 1985 Playboy interview when discussing how work computers needn’t be dull: “If we can inject that liberal-arts spirit into the very serious realm of business, I think it will be a worthwhile contribution. We can’t even conceive of how far it will go.”

At the iPad 2 event, Jobs said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

Simple, yet it cuts straight to the core of not only Apple’s philosophy when it comes to building products that change the tech landscape (as well as our everyday lives), but also the thinking of one of our century’s greatest inventors and public speakers.

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