2005 Stanford Commencement Speech by Steve Jobs

In his commencement speech to the class of 2005 at Stanford, Steve Jobs began with a story about dropping out of college. Obviously, it is not the best choice for a commencement address. My initial reaction was that he hadn’t analyzed his audience or the occasion thoroughly enough. A brilliant speech, however, is often unconventional, and I was soon won over.

His craft is impeccable. He keeps the structure simple and only uses simple sentences. Opening >> Three stories >> Conclusion. That’s it.

Each story illustrates the main theme of his speech, which is that death is lurking for all of us, and we must chase after our dreams with the limited time we have. Each story Mr Jobs tells is chock full of details, and each one builds in intensity and personal revelation, from his decision to drop out of college, to finding out he was fired from Apple, to being diagnosed with cancer. He punctuates the speech with witty, touching quotes. These quotes illustrate his main theme, and make you laugh, even as the lump is building in your throat.

Jobs executes effective pauses before and particularly after key points to allow the audience time to digest his points. For example, he concludes his first story with an apparent reference to Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken: “even when it leads you off the well-worn path… and that will make all the difference.” This is followed by a full six seconds of silence.

Admittedly, Jobs’ speech is a traditional one, and he only employs the most basic and classic skills in public addressing. But nevertheless, it is a great example of what speech making at its finest can accomplish; it can remind us of our shared humanity, and propel us to identify with our highest potential.


Edwin Lou


1 comment so far

  1. robgentle on

    I agree that Jobs did an excellent job executing the “power pause” after his first story. While six seconds sounds like too long of a pause, the placement of the pause does not feel like an awkward silence but a small time to reflect on what he said before moving on to his next story. Without that long pause, I don’t think I would have had enough time to fully digest the previous story. Even though rhetorical devices weren’t deployed that often, this is a perfect example of a power pause.

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