A Lesson in Making an Impact

For a master class in how to sell an idea with emotion—and, in this case, a product as well—watch Steve Jobs’s June 12, 2005 Stanford commencement address. It’s one of the most moving and effective pieces of oratory I’ve ever seen.

During the speech, Jobs talks about something powerful. He discusses the tremendous amount of time that we spend working at our jobs. If you’re going to spend that much of your life doing one thing, he tells his audience, don’t you want to do work that matters?

He also gave the Stanford 2005 graduating class a great piece of advice. He said, “For the past thirty-three years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, if today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Jobs’s call to action at the end of his Stanford address was equally interesting. He said, “When I was younger I got great advice. Be foolish.” By that he meant, “Be foolish, and be hungry.” Those are the two calls to action he left with his audience.

Balancing the Head and the Heart.

Jobs showed vulnerability, which was palpable and powerful. He was reminding us about the importance of asking questions when you don’t know the answers. He talked about how hunger and foolishness often lead to inquisitiveness, and how that inquisitiveness yields drive, building qualities and intangibles inside of us that are so important that we can’t even measure them.

Here was a man who was often the smartest guy in the room; but, notice how he often camouflaged his intelligence with emotion when he spoke. When Jobs introduced the iPod, he didn’t talk about hardware or software. He talked about the prospect of having a thousand songs in your pocket. It was delivered in language that was easy to follow, packed with emotion, and translated easily from speaker to listener.

For members of an audience, there is often a tug-of-war that is fought between their intelligence and their hearts. They feel one thing, but their minds tell them something else. Most speakers start with the mind, and then try to get to people’s hearts. I encourage my clients to do the opposite. To make a real impact, reach people’s hearts first and their minds will inevitably follow. Learn more about how to harness the power of emotion in your next presentation—join my monthly newsletter.

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