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Best Public Speakers Series: Tim Cook

Updated: May 24


By Ben Katz



We included Tim Cook on our “Best Public Speakers” list because of his powerful, resonant vocal presence, use of dynamic hand gestures and personal storytelling.



Best Public Speakers

Tim Cook has held the position of CEO at Apple since 2011, when he took over for co-founder Steve Jobs. In addition to his work at Apple, Cook has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights, and has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of shares in Apple stock over the years in order to contribute to philanthropic causes.

We reviewed Tim Cook’s Stanford Commencement speech from 2019 where he emphasizes the importance of responsibility in the professional world, and advises new graduates to never sacrifice their own personal agency in an increasingly technological world.



What are the main communication takeaways?


  • Vocal Presence: Tim has a strong, impactful vocal presence. He combines volume, pitch and pace in a way that is engaging, satisfying and connected with his content. He begins his speech in the motivational style, his face brightened with a wide smile. Tim uses dynamic pitch (scooping high to low), strong volume and a quick pace which is modulated by occasional pauses (0:00-1:30). The motivational style is particularly effective here, because his content is meant to inspire, enlighten and motivate his audience (graduates) to the next phase of their career and life. Cook also draws attention to his accent in a self-deprecating way, which makes him seem comfortable with himself, and able to make a joke.


  • Hand Gestures: Cook’s physical presence is also exemplary, and helps him establish and maintain a strong connection with his audience. He seems physically relaxed as he stands comfortably with his shoulders resting naturally. He does not rely on gestures and his hands are placed on the podium or by his sides for most of his speech. However, when he engages his hands, he does so with a specific intention: the pointer (~2:00), to denote teaching, or pointing out something very specific: the pincer (2:30), to hone in on a punch-line, or the open palms (~3:00), which he uses on the phrase “lifting us together.” Throughout, Cook uses gestures sparingly, and in doing so, increases the impact each time he uses one.


  • Storytelling: Tim Cook does a wonderful job of creating a compelling narrative throughout his speech. He begins (0:00-3:30) telling stories of his time in college to generate a personal connection with his college audience, and then pivots to his core message...with great power (a Stanford education + lightning-fast technological and social innovation) comes great responsibility. Once he establishes that premise, he weaves anecdotes from technology, politics, and even the Bible (5:00) to support his main point. He references the inventions conceived by Stanford grads, which have contributed to the tech boom, billions of dollars of revenue and have also changed the way people communicate. Then, he suggests that the same creativity has also initiated a trend of tech irresponsibility (6:00), which he challenges the new graduates to take sides on.



How could they improve?

There is nothing glaring to note on how Tim Cook could improve, even when you take a look back to his first ever product-launch keynote as Apple’s CEO in 2011. Cook here represents the best qualities of public speaking: personal, impactful and incredibly well-structured.


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