Prepared Remarks

by Site Author

In 2011, a reporter for the BBC interviewed Ed Miliband, a British politician, about public-sector workers who had gone on strike. Miliband argued that the unions shouldn’t have gone on strike while they were still negotiating with the government. You can see how he put it in a compelling video of the interview that the BBC posted online. Miliband said:

I urge both sides to put aside the rhetoric, get around the negotiating table, and stop it happening again.

A nice message, to be sure. The reporter than asked a second question about the strike. Oddly, Miliband responded by repeating the exact same words. And then it happened again: the reporter asked a different question, and Miliband just repeated himself. All in all, the reporter asked five questions, and Miliband responded each time with the exact same sound bite.

Miliband obviously assumed that the reporter would just edit his interview down to one compelling quote, and so he kept on regurgitating the same prepared comment. But the BBC aired the entire interview, shedding some rare light on how often reporters capture nothing but memorized sound bites.

In general, it’s easy to forget how often eloquent, off-the-cuff remarks are scripted and rehearsed. It’s hard, in that sense, to judge how articulate anyone is, since you don’t know how much time they’ve spent memorizing the words coming out of their mouth.

One person who was famous for articulate remarks was Steve Jobs. Jobs’s keynotes, introducing the public to the Macintosh, the iPhone, the iPad, and other products were wonders of clarity and salesmanship. (His keynotes have a devoted following and their own Wikipedia page.)

In their recent biography of Jobs, Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli describe how rigorously Jobs prepared. They quote Bill Gates describing Jobs’s knack for the events.

“I mean, it was just amazing to see how precisely he would rehearse. And if he’s about to go onstage… he’s even a bit nervous because it’s a big performance. But then he’s on, and it’s quite an amazing thing. I mean, his whole thing of knowing exactly what he’s going to say, but up on stage saying it in such a way that he is trying to make you think he’s thinking it up right then…” Gates just laughs.

Throughout the biography, Schlender and Tetzeli make clear that Jobs would spend months preparing remarks. They include in the book a photo of Jobs taken during the “endless” rehearsals for a product launch. The photo shows Jobs standing on stage, carefully reviewing his script.

Schlender and Tetzeli describe Jobs’s famous Stanford commencement address. The speech was wonderful, perhaps one of the best commencement addresses of all time. Schlender and Tetzeli describe the hours of preparation that Jobs put into that speech.

In the days before the event he would recite [the speech] while walking around the house, from the bedroom upstairs to the kitchen below, the kids watching their dad spring past them in the same kind of trance he’d sometimes enter in the days before MacWorld or Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Several times he read it to the whole family at dinner.