Let’s jump in the wayback machine and take a look at Steve Jobs, master salesman, first teasing a fall 1983 audience with the first showing of the now famous “1984” Mac ad, then bringing a January 1984 audience to its feet with the unveiling of the Macintosh.

Now sure, he doesn’t have to work very hard to make the sale. His audiences are both favorable Apple crowds. They want to cheer. They already see Jobs as a hero. Of course, living up to such high expectations can be a challenge in itself.

But we see here two examples of stunning visuals that resonated worldwide. The “1984” ad appeared once on television — once — and has been talked about ever since. Notice that the ad doesn’t really have a lick of logos; it’s all pathos. It uses the word computer once. It doesn’t mention IBM. It doesn’t need to. Jobs sets up the industry history and the challenge before his company; he then fires a visual ICBM into the cultural metaphorosphere to declare his intent to fight and win.

The Mac unveiling is a very different kind of visual aid speech. Jobs does much less talking in this clip than I expect you to do in class for your visual aid speech. However, in his context, his stepping aside to let the product speak for itself is brilliant salesmanship. He doesn’t have to use his words to persuade the audience; he just sets his machine center stage and turns it on, a move that by itself takes guts (just ask Bill Gates).

The Mac demo looks laughably cheesy just 25 years later; you probably get better graphics on your cell phone. But recall: the only font most people had ever seen on a computer was something like Terminal. The only voice most people had heard from a computer was the WOPR in Wargames and HAL in 2001 (and they both wanted to kill people). In 1984, the Macintosh was amazing.

Odds are you won’t come up with a visual aid for your Speech 101 performance that will bring 3000 people to their feet and change personal computing forever (but don’t let me stop you from trying!). But when you’re preparing your speeches, when you’re getting ready to persuade an audience, think like Steve Jobs. Look for a visual that will grab your listeners’ attention, make them say, “Wow!” and fix you and your message in their minds for a very long time.

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