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Steve Jobs’ Stanford Speech Rhetorical Strategies Essay

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Updated: Sep 3rd, 2021

Public speaking is never easy. Whenever addressing a certain sort of audience, one must take into considerations the key features of the people who the given speech is aimed at and, therefore, develop an elaborate speech strategy, combining different rhetoric strategies to win the audience’s attention. Analyzing examples of public speeches and specifying the means which are used in the latter to address the audience properly, one will be able to see the way in which different rhetoric strategies can be implemented and what effect these strategies have on people. The topic of the given paper is the analysis of major rhetorical strategies, taking Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford Commencement as an example.

Speaking of the goals which Steve Jobs pursued when having a public speech in front of the students of the Stanford University, one has to mention that these goals had nothing to do with Jobs’ company, product advertisement or anything of the kind. Quite on the contrary, it seems that Jobs was aiming at telling the students the secrets of how to succeed in their own life, sharing his experience with the youth.

The first strategy to spot in Steve Jobs’ performance is the so-called argument from analogy. Jobs emphasizes from the very start that he is going to speak about three different issues, or, to be more exact, three different experiences in his life; however, as Jobs implies, these experiences are all aimed at conveying a single message to the students. Jobs claims that these are just three stories and nothing more: “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories” (Jobs); however, the fact that he picked three particular stories speaks for itself – it is obvious that these stories are somewhat tied to the fact that the speech is meant for students. Judging by the above-mentioned, one can claim with certainty that Steve’s here stories are supposed to help the students understand that life experiences can be hard, but it does not mean that, when encountering the first obstacle, they have no other choice but to lay down and die. And, to convey this idea, Steve uses all sorts of rhetorical devices, both entertaining the audience and getting his message across in a very successful way. Hence, argument from analogy was the first strategy which Jobs used in his speech.

Another peculiar rhetorical strategy which one can track if following the chain of Steve’s arguments is narration. As it has already been mentioned, Steve tells the stories which occurred in his own life; moreover, he tells about his experiences in a chronological order, which can be defined as a narrative rhetorical strategy. One can argue, however, that Steve does not mention any concrete dates in his speech, which triggers considerable doubts about the chronology of the stories in his speech. However, there are certain issues brought up in the speech, which allow to suggest at what time or how long certain event took place. For instance, in the first story, Steve tells about his experience as a student, the second one mentions him as a member of Apple, and the third relates to the operation which he underwent.

The latter event is obviously the logical continuation of the previous two. It is necessary to mention, though, that the logical thread of Jobs’ narration is interrupted at certain points with flashbacks into the previous experience. For example, when telling about his third experience with the disease, he mentions the quote which he came across in his teen years: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’” (Jobs).

One more curious rhetorical strategy which Steve Jobs uses only in the end of his speech and which is not encountered elsewhere in the Stamford performance is repetition. As it has already been mentioned above, when talking about one of the things that inspired him for his further discoveries and the development of a brand-new company with brand-new services, Jobs mentioned The Whole Earth Catalogue, in which the author addressed the readers in the following way: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” (Jobs). He repeats these words in the very end of his speech as well, right before saying goodbye to his audience and thanking them of attention. Hence, the importance of these words, which has already been emphasized by repetition, is tripled. Therefore, in the given example, a case of using two rhetorical strategies at the same time can be spotted; one of them is repetition, and the other one is leaving the key message of the speech at its very end. There is no need to mention that the given technique works perfectly well; out of all the things that Jobs said in his speech, the latter words will be remembered best – moreover, they will be memorized for good.

Finally, it is crucial that Steve Jobs uses in his speech such strategy as analogy. And, which is even more important, Jobs does not simply use it once in his speech – on the contrary, he is constantly driving parallels between various, seemingly unrelated to each other issues. To start with, Jobs compares his company to the Google Corporation: “It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions” (Jobs). The given strategy might seem somewhat risky for the Apple Corporation, since Google is one of its major rivals, and drawing attention to the given company when mentioning Apple can possibly trigger people’s interest in Google rather than Apple. However, the nonchalant manner in which Jobs compares the two also presupposes that Apple is such a great company that it does not fear giving credit to their rivals.

Thus, it can be considered that Steve Jobs’ speech is a graphic example of the use of several most essential rhetorical strategies. With the help of these strategies, Jobs managed to capture the students’ attention in the least obtrusive way. Moreover, with the help of carefully picked strategies Jobs managed to present his speech in such a way that the students would not take it as another lecture; while talking about serious and important things, Steve Jobs told a couple of jokes that made some good laughs; all in all, the given speech is a perfect example of an entertaining learning process, when the necessary information is offered as a string of amusing stories and witty ideas, which is a result of using the aforementioned rhetorical strategies.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Steve Jobs’ Stanford Speech Rhetorical Strategies'. 3 September.

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