Presenters, Take Heart: Steve Jobs was no LeBron James

By R.L. Howser

Watching LeBron James play basketball is amazing. His rare combination of height, strength and athleticism has allowed him to dominate the league as no one has since the heyday of Michael Jordan. It’s inspiring to know that you are watching one of the best who has ever played the game.

I have a similar feeling when I watch Steve Jobs speak. I have seen every presentation of his that I can find on YouTube. As a business communicator, I know I’m watching an all-time great.

I often show my students video clips of Jobs to demonstrate his masterful stage presence, his deceptively simple style and his use of narrative structure to deliver his message, but sometimes I think it is counter-productive. Watching Jobs seems to almost discourage my students.

LeBron James is an inspiration to many, without ever making them think they can do what he does. Few are blessed with the size, grace or athletic skills necessary to play in the NBA, let alone to be a superstar.

My students seem to think the same of Jobs. They can’t imagine that they could ever command an audience with such assurance or speak with so much skill or authority. They see him as inspirational, but not instructional.

There is, however, an important difference between James and Jobs. As incredibly skilled as Steve Jobs was as a speaker, he was not doing anything that you and I can’t learn to do.

I can’t learn to be 6 feet 8 inches tall. I can’t develop the speed, especially at my age, to run a fast break or build the athleticism to leap and slam the ball through the hoop. Physically, I simply cannot do it.

But all Steve Jobs did was stand on a stage and talk. I can do that…and so can you.

You can learn to refine your thoughts down to a single, crystal-clear message.  You can learn to structure your presentation to deliver that message with impact. You can learn to stand and move with at least the appearance of calm assurance. You can learn to use pause and pace to build anticipation.

Steve Jobs wasn’t a great speaker because of any innate talent or freakish physical advantage. He was a great speaker because he trained himself to speak well, because he thought deeply about what he wanted to communicate and how he needed to say it and because he prepared tirelessly for his presentations. Anyone, at any age, with any type of body, can do that.

I can do that…and so can you.

About the Author:

R.L. Howser is a speaker, writer, university professor and journalist with more than 30 years of experience as a professional communicator. He teaches presentation and communications skills at Keio University, Tokyo University of Science, Hosei University and the Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business. Howser also was the 2010 and 2012 Toastmasters Japan Champion of Public Speaking. For more from his company, Presentation Dynamics, visit


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