INSIGHT: Steve Jobs - Six lessons from his public speaking

His ’reality distortion field’, in other words his ability to bring people round to his way of thinking, is well known and admired.

Using the right tool for the occasion, whether it is ethos, pathos or logos, and sometimes a combination of them, is another lesson business leaders can learn from Jobs.

Business leaders should try to understand the level of their perceived ethos and how credible they are with that audience. They can then adapt as appropriate as Jobs did.

4. Re-purpose and reframe to remain in control

While researching Jobs’ rhetoric I found the Apple icon was often able to re-direct a conversation if it seemed to be heading somewhere not in line with his objective or end goal.

A CNBC TV interview featuring Jobs was a prime example of this. The interviewer took a hard line on Apple’s shift from IBM to Intel as a supplier, but Jobs re-directed an aggressive line of questioning into his own way of seeing the situation.

He was able to reframe the tone from the aggressive ‘businesses is war’ line of the interviewer to more of a ‘business is a journey’ theme, presenting the decision as one made in the normal course of business as the paths of Apple and IBM diverged, casting Apple in a more positive light and avoiding any inflammation of tensions with IBM.

This ability to divert a potentially negative line of questioning and reframe situations can help you keep the audience on the message you aim to present.

5. A constant key message

Despite being able to customise his rhetorical style to different situations, Jobs was also able to present a set of constant messages or themes through all his public appearances, something I witnessed across a number of different scenarios involving the late Apple boss.

Across a variety of situations Jobs often referred to his company as looking towards the future, being on a “journey” and he did this by using strategies such as reframing using metaphors and evocative language.

Similarly, Jobs often liked to refer to the people element of his firm, to highlight how important to Apple talent was, and Apple’s commitment to getting the best people and keeping them happy.

A third constant message was about Apple’s pipeline of products, how Apple was focused on creating innovative products that the market loved; in order to create excitement and anticipation of what Apple would introduce next.

It is important for you as a business leader to decide on the key messages that you want to share. These should ideally be consistent across situations and over time, no matter what the context.

6. Make strong use of metaphors, stories or imagery

A solid use of metaphors, stories and more generally evocative language, especially in high-ethos situations, is another skill of the most charismatic leaders.

Jobs often used the ‘business is a journey’ metaphor, as well as the ‘circle of life’ metaphor, that he used to structure his famous and influential Stanford commencement speech in 2005.

Metaphors can help aid the understanding of even the most complex of topics and connect on an emotional level beyond typical conscious awareness.

People will remember these long after they forget about numbers and statistics. The exception to this rule would be if you are speaking to a specialist audience that wants to hear numbers – in that case, use numbers as well as stories and metaphors.

Even when using statistics, you are still selling a story, a vision of how things will be, and this is what brings the audience with you.

Read Professor Loizos Heracleous’ research paper on Steve Jobs by clicking here

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