Rhetorical Analysis – Ethos

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Man is like a rabbit; you catch him by the ears.
   -French Fable


This article deals how Steve Jobs presents himself in the iPhone Presentation (MacWorld 2007 Keynote) with social status, body language, dress code and many other ways to appear trustworthy and as “one of us” towards the audience. The rhetorical term for this is called ethos. Ethos deals with self-portrayal in various ways. Besides the factors mentioned in the theoretical background, there are also methods to express certain traits with the use of presentation material. Due to this the presenter has more control over his appearance in contrast to a normal speech, since the speaker has more control in selecting various materials. This is in contrast to behavior, which is more prone to subconscious influences during the delivery of the speech.

Ethos is the portrayal of a character, yet this character may vary and is composed of different sub-characters. In the upcoming analysis we call such sub-characters, characters and versions.

The Overall Factors

Social Status

The social status feature is to a certain degree predetermined, especially if a person is very famous. Which is the case for Steve Jobs in the United States and especially at the MacWorld Expo. Most importantly, he is known as a great public speaker, visionary and CEO of Apple Inc. Also it can be assumed that the local audience is mostly constituted of Apple “fans,” thus he has a high social status for the local audience. This is clearly reflected by the performance of the audience during his entry and on many other occasions. The audience – in the United States – has also a high chance of knowing – at least – a little bit about Steve Jobs. Additionally, there is an info box in the beginning that indicates that he is the CEO of Apple. Finally, any person that does public speaking is attributed with a certain degree of authority by the viewer.

Positioning and Relation to the Local Audience

When the video starts, Jobs is already on the stage. He stands on the stage in a common manner; it seems there was no triumphant or other special entry. The stage design is simple, there is a big screen and a small podium, which is arranged sideways towards the audience – not head-on. The stage itself looks to be quite low. Additionally, the seats are aligned in simple rows. It seems as there are no patterns in the seat arrangements or any VIP areas. During the keynote it appears that the high-ranking Apple executives Phil Schiller and Jony Ive are sitting somewhere in the audience; thus, underlining the egalitarian arrangement of the venue.
Steve Jobs seems to make eye contact with the audience most of the time. Yet, he does not look directly into the camera, therefore he does not “talk to the camera.” Also, he does not focus on anyone in the audience, thus he treats everyone equally that is not part of the show.

High Status and Dress Code

Steve Jobs is famous for his disregard of dress codes. During the keynote he wears his well-known keynote combination of blue jeans, a grey turtleneck, and white tennis shoes. This dress code expresses various things. It disregards traditional dress code and the IT industry is is known for casual dress codes. Finally, it is kind of an understatement. Overall, it is an expression of individuality, anti-traditional, and an egalitarian attitude towards IT workers.
This is one of the ways that is used by Steve Jobs to present himself as one of the crowd. Since he has an uncontested status in the Mac and Apple World such a self-portrayal strengthens his position and bonding. Bernard Bass has shown “that leaders are most effective when they can induce followers to see themselves as group members and to see the group’s interest as their own interest.” (Scientific American: New Psychology of Leadership)

Body Language

Steve Jobs’ body language is confident and energetic. He uses wide gestures and movements. He walks across the large stage, standing in front of the screen, flipping around the notes, playing around with the iPhone, drinking water, making faces, etc. His body language states clearly that this is his moment and his stage. There are a few exceptions in the beginning and especially before the John Mayer’s performance when he appears humble and affected, especially when he talks about the families; he stares at the floor and appears to be deeply concerned.
Throughout the keynote his body language supports his words. His gestures underline his words, e.g., when he talks about making a “leap frog product” [00:30:45] he moves his arm accordingly in a wide bow. Steve uses his body language with his guests to indicate that he is the host. This is expressed by touching his guests on the shoulders or on the back. With Jerry Yang this escalates since Yang grabs Jobs hand and arm with both hands during the final handshake.


Jobs varifies the speed of his voice; there are parts, where he speaks fast and others where he speaks slowly. He also uses pauses. There are pauses that appear to be thinking pauses, e.g., at about [00:34:36] “Now, software on mobile phones is like [pause] is like baby software.” This gives a spontaneous impression. He also uses pauses and slows down to raise tension, like in the beginning of the main part.
One notable example for his usage of the voice is at [00:47:00], when he uses a lowered voice and seems to be baffled by the “gorgeous” look of the artwork on the iPhone. He takes long pauses, speaks slowly and with a lowered voice from [00:47:54] to [00:48:28]. Also his body languages synchronizes, as he moves slowly and only a few steps.


The overall language of Steve Jobs is colloquial. He uses most of the time “gonna” instead of “going to,” “cranking out” instead of “producing”, or the typical Californian expression “you know.” He does not use any difficult or uncommon words, just plain simple English. The only exception would be words that are concerned with technology, but since it is an audience that is tech-savvy this is more of an appeal, then a turn-off.

Self-Portrayal – The Different Characters of Steve Jobs

This section discusses the self-portrayal schemes of Steve Jobs. Besides the rhetorical techniques, he also uses a larger variety of methods and materials, since the keynote contains audio-visual elements and technological gadgets. As mentioned in the background information, Steve Jobs is involved in the fine-tuning of the used material. Thus, it can be assumed there is no random picture or video used during the keynote. Even if the chosen material only reflects the taste of Steve Jobs, the effect would be the same – a certain self-portrayal. Yet, it can be assumed that most of the material was chosen with a certain intention.

The Descriptive Informer

is used in most parts of the keynote that contain a lot of information. This information is mostly delivered in descriptions (see logos analysis). In these parts Jobs uses a limited amount of enhancing adjectives, his voice is at a normal intonation and speed level. There are only a few emphases. Usually he describes something in more detail or lists some features. In this character he acts similar to a good, yet common public speaker. A typical example for this character is the description of AppleTV from [0:12:32] to [0:16:02].

The Innovator

is a character of Steve Jobs that shows no sign of modesty. This version ranges from dramatic towards dynamic. Both subversions portray certain signs of arrogance, most notably is his intonation and gesture during the delivery of the following sentence “it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.” at [00:27:36].

In the dramatic version Steve Jobs creates tension on the content, nonverbal, and paraverbal level. His voice is slow and deep. Similarly, his body language is slowed down and the number of gestures is reduced. He looks concerned at the floor and takes long pauses and puts emphasis on certain words. On the content level, he talks about great events. An example for this extreme is the beginning of the iPhone introduction, from [00:26:28] to [00:27:48].

In the dynamic version the voice is faster and more energetic than dramatic. His gestures are at a higher rate and he puts more energy and emphasis into his words. The sentences and phrases are less complex. He acts confidently, but faster than in the dramatic version. On the content level the themes are more specific and usually about concrete features instead of revolutions. An example for this character is the explanation of the multi-touch technology from [00:33:33] to [00:33:54].

The Enthusiastic Customer

is probably the most important character. Steve Jobs performs this version during various parts of the keynote, especially the tech demos. Whereby he acts between calm and highly energetic. His style of speech include a lot of short sentences, adjectives, superlatives, exclamations, and rhetorical questions. He acts happy and is fascinated by his own product, just like a customer that bought a great product. This character also resembles to a certain degree a child that is fascinated by the world and its new toy, as can be seen by Jobs’ playfulness and his sometimes unconcerned behavior in front of a few thousand people. This gives him an innocent and sometimes naive touch, which also creates a natural equilibrium for his exaggerations and sometimes cocky attitude.
A typical example for this behavior is from [0:41:47] to [0:45:05], when Steve “plays around” for the first time during the keynote with the iPhone. Typical phrases and words in this part are:

  • Exclamations: “Boom”, “That’s it.”, “… oh, look what happens! I’m in cover flow.”
  • The simplicity of just … “I just take my finger…”[00:42:35]
  • Rhetorical questions: “Isn’t that cool?”, “Isn’t that cool? Yeah, it’s pretty nice.” [00:43:40]
  • Commands: “Look at this gorgeous album artwork here.”
  • Statements: “Very simple.”, “It’s really easy.”, “It’s that easy.”, “Alright. I could play with this for a long time.” [00:45:05]

For an complete overview about his use of figures of speech and rhetorical measures see the article: Steve Jobs’ Use of Figures of Speech in the iPhone Presentation.

The Ordinary and Social Guy

is one way Jobs presents himself. He uses various techniques to demonstrate that he is just an “ordinary guy.” Throughout the keynote he listens, watches, and shows interest in popular and main stream media, e.g. Grey’s Anatomy (TV Show), Red Hot Chili Peppers ([01:24:27]), The Beatles, Heroes (TV Show), etc. Another element is the demonstration of casual habits, like the explicit statement that he wants to have a coffee at Starbucks ([01:12:40]) after the keynote. During the iPhone mail demo, he comments a mail with “shopping list” ([01:05:12]), which he opens shortly; the text is as follows: “Just a quick reminder of what we need from the market the next two days,” followed by a listing of items. Furthermore, the character is underlined with his dress code and the arrangement of the venue mentioned in Overall Factors.
This version is also reflected by the high amounts of “uh”s Steve Jobs uses in various parts of his keynote. In the pathos analysis there is a detailed analysis and discussion provided about the “uh”s. It can be assumed that they are used to give an impression of spontaneity and authenticity of the performance. These errors give Steve Jobs a more down-to-earth touch and represent him as a “mere mortal” – an expression Steve Jobs used in previous keynotes.

One interesting aspect in the keynote is the living story inside the keynote. Instead of telling a story about having dinner with one of his employees, Steve Jobs sets up a dinner and a visit to the cinema during the keynote in numerous steps. He used different features of the iPhone for this, like SMS, email, and calling. Thus, he also utilized the presentation of the iPhone to showcase certain personality traits.
Besides the usual effects of narrative elements, it is also more vivid and through its reoccurrence it can create a stronger resonance. Additionally, it gives an impression of spontaneity, playfulness, and creates a funny appeal, especially since he arranges a sushi dinner in front of a few thousand people in a keynote he introduced with “We’re gonna make some history together today.” Thus, this also relates to the Funny Guy character below.

As mentioned above, Phil Schiller and Jony Ive are sitting in the audience during these living stories, yet they do not sit in the first rows. As it appears they sit somewhere in the audience, thus expressing that even these high level executives are not guaranteed a first row seat or a special treat during the keynote.

The Geek Artist

is the self-portrayal of Steve on various occasions. His dress code is probably not eccentric enough for an artist, but for a CEO, that resembles in certain parts a geek, it is. His selection of excellent photos with some architecture shots, the overall style of the venue, and slides give the keynote more the touch of an art performance than a tech exhibition. During the presentation of Google Maps, Steve Jobs appears to be anxious to show the audience at least the Washington Monument, the Eiffel Tower, and the Colosseum. All three of them are not only of cultural importance, but they are likewise appealing to an audience with a technical and engineering background as well. The high amount of technology, and Steve Jobs positive and fascinated attitude towards it, clearly underlines the geekiness of this character.
The picture of the geek artist is rounded up with the liberal and international affiliations presented. The three buildings shown with Google Maps are composed by only one American monument and two European buildings. Steve Jobs’ liberal affiliations are underlined by using the New York Times homepage as the test for the Safari web browser on the iPhone. Additionally, Al Gore called him, yet it is not mentioned that Gore is on Apple’s board of directors.

The Funny Guy

is a recurring version of Steve Jobs that is not as potent or present as the other characters, despite its frequency. It is more like a general theme in the background. Jobs uses many occasions to show that he enjoys humor, comedy, and thus is a funny person. He tells various jokes and also selected movie and TV clips that are mostly from the comedy category. We go into further detail about the effect of the jokes on the (local) audience in pathos. Ethos is about expressing to be a funny person, whereas pathos deals with the emotional effects of jokes.
Here is an overview about the clips:

  • Good Shepherd Trailer (Movie (Thriller) – Trailer)
  • Zoolander Clip (Movie (Comedy) – Humours Clip)
  • Heroes Clip (TV Show – Humours Clip)
  • The Office Clip (TV Show (Comedy) – Humours Clip)
  • 30 Rock Clip (TV Show (Comedy) – Humours Clip)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Clip (Movie (Action))


Steve Jobs uses three speaker characters that are used to support his messages in a more direct manner, which are presented via traditional rhetorical measures like content and style. These are contrasted by three versions that deal more with his overall appearance, which are mostly conveyed with symbolic references from the used material. See Figure for an illustration of the characters. These versions transmit a clear and simple message:

  • Descriptive Informer – “I’m gonna show you something new.”
  • Enthusiastic Customer – “That is so cool, let’s play together.”
  • Innovator – “What we did, do and will do is great, point blank and period.”
  • Geek Artist – “I’m (still) a nerd.”
  • Funny Guy – “I’m fun person to be around.”
  • Ordinary Social Guy – “I’m a mere mortal too.”

The enthusiastic customer type also reflects to a certain degree the portrayal that Steve Jobs gave about his employees in an interview in February 2008. He states that Apple employees are their first customers: “And the reason that they worked so hard [on iTunes] is because we all wanted one. You know? I mean, the first few hundred customers were us. […] We figure out what we want.” (Fortune: Steve Jobs speaks out)

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