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7 Communication Lessons from Steve Jobs iPhone Launch

Posted on May 26, 2022 at 9:50 AM

On January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers, announced a new product that he believed would change his company and industry - the iPhone. The iPhone, and the knockoff competitors it inspired, have changed the world. They have connected people in new ways - e.g., face-to-face video calls, mobile internet browsing, enabling uncensored witness videos to be immediately shared worldwide. They have also fueled the development and growth of countless social media and other new applications. 


Jobs had long earned a reputation as a master communicator. His first public communication about the iPhone was no different. Jobs announced the iPhone at the end of a two-hour speech and product demonstration at the annual MacWorld conference in 2007. Here are seven highlights from his talk that demonstrate his skills and techniques in leadership communication.


1 - Open with a Reason for the Audience to Listen - Jobs started his talk with a simple, yet bold, statement - “Thank you for coming. We’re going to make some history together today.” He wanted everyone to know why they should listen to him. He told them that this meeting was going to be part of history. He was letting them know they would want to remember it, so they should pay attention. 


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Tell your audience why they should want to listen carefully to what you are about to tell them. Tell them what is in it for them. 


2 - Establish Credibility After opening with such a bold assertion, even Jobs had to back it up with some evidence. So he said this - “It was just a year ago that I was up here and announced that we were going to switch to Intel processors. A huge, heart transplant to Intel microprocessors. And I said that we would do it over the coming 12 months. We did it in seven months, and it was the - it’s been the smoothest and most successful transition that we’ve ever seen in the history of our industry.”


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Give your audience a reason to believe your claim that they will want to pay attention to what you are about to say. Point to other times your words have mattered to them.


3 - Save the Best for Last - Once Jobs had his audience’s attention, he pushed the information that he needed to share, not that they most wanted to hear. He knew people would be closely tuned in to hear when he started talking about the history-making thing he teased at the beginning. He used this audience attention to push a lot of information about the performance of his company’s activities in other product lines - computers, music, video, and even the most recent TV ads - that he needed stockholders and other stakeholders to hear. Jobs did this so often that audiences started to wait to hear him say something like “wait, there is one more thing” at the end of his talks. 


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Once you have the audience’s attention, you may want to take advantage to push some other information you need them to hear but that may not have enticed them to attend. If done right, you will both get important information across while building anticipation for the big news at the end. If done poorly, you may lose your audience or train them to ignore your communications until the end. 


4 - Give Perspective - Because Jobs was ahead of his audience, he had to give them context to understand what he was talking about. He had to give them something to connect themselves to the bold news he was going to tell them. He did it this way that day: “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been - well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. 1984, introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple. It changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry. Well today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class… An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. These are not three separate devices, this is one device and we are calling it the iPhone. Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone…”


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Stories from history can be helpful to connect an audience to new concepts. Analogies can also be helpful in simplifying complex concepts. 


5 - Define Problems that Need to be Solved - Jobs did not introduce the iPhone by describing all the innovative technologies it contained. Instead, he started by describing why the current state of phones was a problem that needed to be solved: “The most advanced phones are called smart phones, so they say. And they typically combine a phone plus some email capability, plus they say its the internet. It’s sort of the baby internet, into one device, and they all have these little plastic keyboards on them… Now why do we need a revolutionary user interface? Here’s four smart phones, right. Motorola Q, the BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Nokia E62 - the usual suspects. And what’s wrong with their user interfaces?… They all have these keyboards that are there whether or not you need them to be there. And they all have these control buttons that are fixed in plastic and are the same for every application. Well, every application wants a slightly different user interface, a slightly optimized set of buttons, just for it. And what happens if you think of a great idea six months from now? You can’t run around and add a button to these things. They’re already shipped.”


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Focus your communication on the problems that your audience cares about. In this case, Jobs knew he was talking to techies instead of end users, so he focused on why the iPhone solved problems for technology developers. If he was talking to end users, he may have focused on showing how the compact iPhone would have replaced the need to carry a separate phone, camera, music player, and internet browser. 


6 - Make Solutions Seem Obvious - After he had demonstrated the problem, Jobs made the solution seem obvious by saying it was actually an old problem in a new guise: “Well how do you solve this? It turns out we have solved it. We solved it in computers 20 years ago…. We solved it with the mouse… So how are we going to take this to a mobile device? What we’re going to do is get rid of all these buttons and just make a giant screen… We don’t want to carry around a mouse, right?… Nobody wants a stylus… We’re going to use a pointing device that we’re all born with - born with ten of them. We’re going to use our fingers… So we have been very lucky to have brought a few revolutionary user interfaces to the market in our time. First was the mouse. The second was the click wheel. And now, were going to bring multi-touch to the market.”


LEADERSHIP LESSON => If you make a solution sound obvious enough for the audience to explain to others, they probably will. And every time they explain the problem and solution to others, they will take more interest — and maybe even a sense of ownership — in the problem and solution as you have outlined.


7 - End by Looking Forward - After Jobs did a thorough demo of the capabilities of the new iPhone, he closed his message by looking forward. He set a goal for how many iPhones they could sell this way: “Let’s take a look at the market and how big it is… Mobile phones, just about a billion last year, worldwide… 1 percent market share equals 10 million units. This is a giant market…. One percent market share, you’re going to sell 10 million phones. And this is exactly what we’re going to try to do in 2008 - our first full year in the market.” Then he set his sights even higher by saying that his aspirations for his company would no longer be bound by traditional boundaries: “So, today, we’ve added to the Mac and the iPod. We’ve added Apple TV and now iPhone. And you know, the Mac is really the only one that you think of as a computer… So we’re announcing today we’re dropping the computer from our name, and from this day forward, we’re going to be known as Apple Inc. to reflect the product mix that we have today.” Jobs closed by sharing a quote that he thought could best communicate the mission of his company going forward: “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very, very beginning. And we always will. So thank you very very much for being a part of this.”


LEADERSHIP LESSON => Leave the audience motivated and pointed in the right direction to use the energy you have built in them. End with a description of how your message fits into your organization’s broader mission and vision. 

Steve Jobs was a rare leader who led his teams to multiple industry-changing innovations. Few, if any of us, can replicate even parts of his vision and force of personality. Hopefully, we can learn from a few of his communications techniques.


Photo Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steve_Jobs_Headshot_2010-CROP.jpg, Matthew Yohe, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Communication Skills, Meeting Effectiveness