The Secret of a Steve Jobs Sales Pitch

This article is my contribution to the latest Angela DeFinis Blog Carnival which is on the topic of “The Impact of Public Speaking on Top Sales Performance.”

Steve Jobs is a laid-back, softly spoken, jeans-wearing, middle-aged geek. So what makes him one of the best salesmen in the world? You could argue that he doesn’t have to try too hard because his company, Apple, designs such fantastic products. But great products don’t sell themselves. No, the key to Steve Jobs’ success is his way with words, and his consummate skill in using them to work a crowd.

Over the years, his Macworld keynote presentations – in which he announces his company’s latest products – have become legendary. He makes it look easy, but there’s a great deal of careful thought and artifice behind his masterful performances.

Take, for example, his historic 2007 Macworld keynote presentation, which launched the iPhone. Despite his understated delivery style, Jobs succeeds in drawing us in from the outset by quietly telling us that he’s been looking forward to this day for two and a half years.

In just three minutes he takes his audience from a state of hushed expectation to a crescendo of delight. He accomplishes this by repeating three key words: change, introduce, and revolutionary. These words leave us in no doubt that something amazing is about to happen.

Jobs is using the rhetorical technique of climax, and it’s interesting to note that the English word climax comes from the Greek word klimax, meaning ladder. It’s as if he’s leading his audience up the ladder of anticipation, one rung at a time.

Great political orators like Barack Obama appreciate what a powerful effect a word like change can have on an audience – and so does Jobs. And the juxtaposition of the word introduce – with its promise of delivering change – eventually whips his audience into a frenzy of applause; one that is sparked by the final curtain-raising phrase, “today we’re introducing…”

“…every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…Apple’s been very fortunate; it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984 we 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…”

Apple is of course one of the most powerful – and instantly recognised and understood – global brands in the world; and the three words encapsulate its essence: “introducing revolutionary change”.

Having taken his audience almost to the top of the mountain, Jobs then pulls off a masterstroke. He uses the classical rhetorical device of the three-part message to trick his audience. Having already told them that one would be very fortunate to get the chance to work on even one revolutionary product in the course of a single career, Jobs starts the drum-roll by announcing not one, but three such revolutionary products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communications device.

Next, in another carefully choreographed climax, he repeats the list four times; and then in final sleight of hand he uses a puzzle – or enigma, as the ancient rhetoricians would call it – to focus his audience’s attention before they finally set foot on the summit.

“An iPod (applause), a phone (applause) and an internet communicator… Are you getting it? (puzzle)” And in a final coup de foudre he removes the veil with a flourish. “These are not three separate devices. This is one device. (cheers!) And we are calling it: iPhone. (more cheers). Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone!”

It’s no accident that Jobs uses the present tense here, because it adds to the thrill of the occasion by fostering the illusion that the revolutionary new phone is literally being invented before his audience’s eyes. Now there’s showmanship that even the great P.T. Barnum would happily have doffed his hat to.


  1. Applause here after ‘an iPod’ and ‘a phone’ is also a version of the ‘clap on the name’ technique I blogged about yesterday ( – only in these cases, it’s ‘clap on the name of a product’ rather than a person.

    As you know, I too am quite a fan of Steve Jobs presentations (not to mention Apple products), and any of your readers wanting to learn more from him might also like to inspect his brilliant use of an object as a visual aid when announcing the MacBook Air laptop:

    But even he occasionally manages to get things wrong, as with the premature timing of some of his slide changes that can be seen at – so he is human, after all!

  2. Martin, Great article, thanks v much. I’d always heard that one of the factors in Jobs’ success is down to the amount of preparation time he gives to every talk (lots); one of my favourite aspects of his presentations is how he makes information meaningful e.g. the i-pod x gb storage=”1,000 songs in your pocket”.
    Max, I agree-I think fitting the laptop into the envelope was a fabulous visual aid!

  3. Martin Shovel says:

    Really pleased you enjoyed my post Isobel. Thanks too for your example of how Jobs transforms an abstract technical idea into something concrete and understandable – i.e. gigabytes into songs in your pocket.

  4. Roger says:

    Great blog. More Jobs anecdotes in Jon Steel’s book, Perfect Pitch – an excellent read by an entertaining and very successful adman. He also uses the OJ Simpson trial and the London 2012 final pitch in Singapore to illustrate technique.

  5. Martin Shovel says:

    Delighted you like my blogpost Roger. And many thanks too for the book recommendation – they’re always welcome!

  6. Great post, Martin. It reminds me a counter example, which happened last week at the hyper mediatized SXSWi event in Houston.
    Reading some comments on Twitter, I eventually learned about what happened thanks to PhilPresents ‘s Blog.
    Read Twitter CEO Evan Williams at SXSWi : Why it went wrong
    Or how to fail at building the climax, and eventually the Coup de Foudre!
    (Evan Williams should have taken the “Stairs” or the ladder to success!)

  7. Martin Shovel says:

    Thanks Marion. Phil’s piece is well worth a read!

  8. Too cool Martin – thanks for the introduction… hope i can learn something for my next public talk… if audiences can make the effort to turn up, the least we can do is make an effort to communicate properly.
    I also didn’t know climax meant ladder – thinking about it logically, it kind of makes sense 😉

  9. Angela DeFinis says:

    Martin, first of all thank you for contributing this excellent post to our Blog Carnival. Your behind the scenes peek at various rhetorical devices is enlightening. The fact that Jobs can deliver so well in just about any venue is a tribute to the powerful, technique laden prose. Who is his speechwriter? And on an entirely different subject–tell me about your last name.


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