In June 2005, Steve Jobs found himself standing before the soon-to-be graduates at Stanford University. He gave a speech that many say set him apart from most other admired business leaders. It was a talk that fixed his place as the most inspiring business leader of a generation. There are lessons we can all take from what he said that day, but there are also lessons to take from how he said it. Why? Because it’s not just what you have to say, but how you say it that counts.
Jobs was a master of simple elegance. It washed over everything he did. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when he spoke- no matter how complex the topic – he chose simple, yet elegant words. It was if he were sitting next to you on the sofa with no reason to impress you, but did so time and again. People who speak as Jobs did earn your trust.
I like everything about the Stanford speech. One of my favorite parts comes about midway through the talk.
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”
People who inspire us, whether it’s on a large national stage or in a small business conference room, use words that are accessible. Simple, short words in simple short sentences. It makes it so they can say things that roll off the tongue. More importantly, they are easy to recall. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”
Jobs always spoke with the clarity that comes with simple language. This speech at Stanford scores better than 75 on the Flesch scale. That score tells you that what he said was very easy for the listener to follow and to grasp the nuggets he was serving. That special quote that I like about the brick and not losing faith scored a perfect 100.
A lot goes into how we write or talk. You are the product of your upbringing and your habits and tendencies have formed over many years. But leaders prepare. They practice. They get better and better. So can you. Start by running everything you write through a tool like the Clarity Tool I have here on my site. It’s free. Be eager to revise and run what you have written through the tool again. And again. After a while, you will find that you are naturally using simpler words. As that happens, you’ll find that you will make better word choices when speaking, too.
If you have the time, read Steve Job’s entire speech. You can do it by following this link to the page on Stanford’s website.