Steve Jobs shows how to use an object as a visual aid (and how to speak about it)

When teaching and writing about the effectiveness of different types of visual aid, one that I always recommend for getting a positive response from audiences is the use of an object or prop to get your point across.

If you've seen Ann Brennan's speech (4th video clip in Claptrap 1), you might have noticed that the audience laughed and applauded when she held up a copy of the paper on equality that she was speaking about.

Earlier posts on the same theme include a clip showing the Archbishop of York taking off his dog collar and cutting it into pieces during a TV interview, another in which Bill Gates appears to release some mosquitos from a box in a TED talk about malaria and one in which a Nobel prize winner commends a lecturer for using a mock-up of turbine blades.

And so to the case of the announcement in 2008 of the MacBook Air notebook by Apple's Steve Jobs that was recently brought to my notice by Twitterers (to whom thanks) - and on which there may well be a few more posts in the near future.

One of the high spots, widely hailed as such in reviews of the event, was the way Jobs introduced the new notebook by pulling it out of a very ordinary looking office envelope - which occurred after an extended build-up in which he'd been contrasting the thinness and other virtues of the yet to be revealed MacBook Air with the thickness and other (inferior) features of its competitors.

Details worth noting in the video clip below include:
  1. A well-timed open armed 'iconic' gesture that gets under way just before he says ".. floating around the office" (on the timing of which, see also the recent post about iconic gestures in relation to Churchill's 'iron curtain' speech).
  2. The leisurely four seconds he takes to move across to where he can pick up the envelope.
  3. The instant positive audience response as he picks up the envelope.
  4. The way this response grows into hoots, cheers and applause when he holds it up in the air.
  5. The fact that he lets the applause continue for 8 seconds before his first attempt to continue speaking (for more on the 8 ± 1 seconds standard burst of applause, see HERE and HERE).
  6. His slow and unhurried removal of the MacBook Air from the envelope.
  7. After saying "there it is", waits until 9 seconds of applause has elapsed (i.e. within the 8 ± 1 second standard burst again) before saying anything else.
  8. Shows the keyboard and display before saying "full size keyboard full size display" (iconic gesture precedes the words again - see 1 above).
  9. On average, he pauses every 5.5 words - i.e. at a very similar rate to that found in speeches by accomplished orators like Churchill, Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton, Blair and Cameron (for more on which, see HERE)
  10. He walks (unhurriedly) large distances from one side of the stage to the other.
  11. And smiling for some of the time (but not all of the time) is no bad thing either.
Were any of these details actually noticed by any of those who were there at the time and/or who wrote about it as a masterful performance?

Probably not - other than, perhaps, that it was like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat whilst talking about it in a natural, confident and enthusiastic way.

The fact that it's almost certain that few, if any of these details were consciously identified by the audience is one of reasons why I think it's such an excellent example of effective speaking in action (as it was widely recognised as having been) - for the obvious reason that it confirms pretty much everything I've learnt, taught and written about in nearly 30 years of research, namely that the more details you can get right, the more impressed will your audience be.


The line-breaks in the following are where pauses occur:

it’s so thin
it even fits inside
one of these envelopes we’ve all seen floating around the office.
And so let me go ahead an show it to you now.
This is it.
Let me take it out here.
This is the new
MacBook Air
And you can get a feel for how thin it is.
Yeh – there it is.
Amazing product here – full-size keyboard
Full size display


  1. That's the beauty of a well-prepared speaker who goes for authenticity and naturalness over dramatic voice and movement; the drama is inherent in the details.

  2. Thanks for a really interesting post, Max. Steve Jobs is an outstanding communicator, which is why watching him in action always yields useful insights into how to craft and deliver messages that make audiences sit up and take notice. If you're not already familiar with it, I recommend watching his famous Stanford Commencement Speech, which he delivered in 2005. He doesn't use a teleprompter, he reads it from a script – but despite looking down for much of the time, he still succeeds in holding his audience in the palm of his hand. No flashy gimmicks, no PowerPoint – just the power of words! Here's a link:


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