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Steve Jobs: Small Words, Big Ideas

Posted: 08/25/11 05:30 PM ET

When most people hear the name Steve Jobs, they think innovation. After all, this is the guy that has revolutionized computing and technology time after time through the years.

As professional speechwriters, when we think of the Apple CEO, the first thing that comes to mind is his legendary 2005 commencement address at Stanford University. With millions of Youtube views, this may well be the most famous commencement ever delivered:

Watching the video is instructive. But this one deserves to be read as well. Text can be found here.

On a day when the world absorbs news of Jobs' resignation, this section is particularly poignant:

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." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

From a speech writing perspective, perhaps the most striking aspect of Jobs' speech is that the language is spare, simple and direct. Speechwriters can often fall into the trap of penning rhetoric that's too lofty, wordy or overwrought with phraseology. In this speech, Jobs proves that powerful ideas can be conveyed with simple words.

This post originally appeared on the Inkwell Strategies blog. It can be found here.

Inkwell Strategies is a Washington, DC-based executive speechwriting and communications firm. David Meadvin was chief speechwriter to the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

 

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