We have all heard commencement speeches before. Usually the valedictorian or the principal stands up at the graduation ceremony and gives some words of advice for the new graduates. This is seen in Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005. Jobs tells three stories that engages the audience and draws them in to make Jobs seem more credible, which in turn makes his speech more credible. His first story is appealing to the audience’s emotion by him telling his story of cancer. He then goes on tell us a second story of his creation of Apple and Pixar to establish credibility. In Jobs’ third story, he sums up his life experiences to show his audience that he really has been down a tough road in life and the life advice he gives should be taken as logical and valid. Steve Jobs convinces us to take his advice as he uses the three aspects of rhetoric, ethos, logos, and pathos to engage his audience and to make his speech more credible and believable.
Jobs’ implementation of ethos in his speech is what makes his speech credible; it is part of what makes people believe what he says is true. If Jobs was not credible, he wouldn’t get his audience to find what he says to be accurate. Jobs uses certain things to validate himself as a credible source of advice. One element that contributes to Steve Jobs’ ethos is the fact that he is so successful. He comes off as intelligent when he says he created Apple, a multi-billion-dollar company, and Pixar, the “most successful animation studio in the world.” This contributes to his credibility because his audience sees Jobs being successful and thus the audience naturally trusts that he knows what he is talking about. Again, Jobs adds on to his credibility by telling his audience he was a college dropout and still went on to be extremely successful. Despite the troubles he faced along the way, he didn’t get distracted on the road to success. This adds on to his credibility because he has been through the tough times of life and knows what it is like to be knocked off his feet and get right back up, which is why he urges his audience “don’t lose faith.” The audience is more likely to see Jobs as credible if he has experienced the things he preaches. Jobs tells his onlookers how he and his business partner started Apple in his garage at the age of twenty and then ten years later, Apple was a two-billion-dollar company with over four thousand employees. This contributes to his credibility because Jobs knows challenging work and proves it by sharing his story of how his company went from nothing to everything an entrepreneur could ever dream of.
If Jobs’ speech does not make sense and isn’t logical, no one will sit and listen to what he has to say. However, if he makes his speech coherent and make sense, then people will begin to find what he says as correct. Jobs attempts to tell his audience how to live their lives. He gives advice such as “never lose faith” and to “never settle.” Jobs ties in personal experiences such as him being adopted and him dropping out of college into his speech. This is a logical thing to include in his speech because it proves that he has been through tough times before and it influences his audience to believe what he says. Taking advice from a stranger is never a clever idea and Jobs is a stranger to most of the audience. Not many know him on a personal level. That is why tying in personal experiences is a rational thing to do. It makes it seem like from “three short stories” that his listeners all know him. By getting to know him, the audience is more likely to take his life advice. This is the most logical thing Jobs implements into his speech. Jobs’ presentation is logically structured in a way that keeps his audience attentive and interested. He makes it appear his speech will be short and sweet by saying his speech is “no big deal” and that he only has “three short stories.” This is a logical thing to implement into his speech because he is speaking in front of a crowd of new college graduates that just want to get their diploma and go home. Appealing to the audience’s emotion is a worthy strategy to get the audience’s attention and to make the audience feel a part of the speaker’s life. Right away Jobs appeals to his audience’s emotion by saying he was adopted and that the original set of parents that were going to adopt him, didn’t want him. This makes his audience respect him for all that he has been through, coming from a troubled beginning and becoming prosperous. Jobs goes on and shares with the audience that he had pancreatic cancer and, through many treatments, survived. Jobs was told that his cancer could not be treated and that he should go home and “get his affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die.” The fact that he defies the odds and lived inspires the audience to believe that you can overcome anything. When Jobs was at college, the brief time that he was, he did not have a dorm or even any money to buy food. Jobs was trying his best to get an education despite the difficulties of essentially being homeless.
He describes his process of living at Reed College as “sleeping in friend’s rooms” and having to walk “seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week.” This makes the audience feel sorry for Jobs that he had to go through all this just to get an education. Giving a speech is never easy. Nervousness, stage fright, and the fear of messing up are all common problems with giving a speech. However, a major problem underlies the common fears of speeches. Delivering your point to an audience of strangers is a major problem to speakers around the world. Not many people are likely to take advice from strangers, and this is the problem Steve Jobs faces in his commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005. Steve Jobs tells three short stories in his speech and all three represent a different rhetorical strategy to improve his speech and make it more believable for the audience.
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