4 storytelling lessons from Malala and Steve Jobs to compel big stages to chase you (and pay you)

I’ve been coaching public speaking clients for 12 years.  

The hardest thing for my women leaders is being authentic and sharing personal stories. I get it. It takes courage to be that openly vulnerable.

But at the same time, that courage is what leads to the big paycheck, the big stage, the big clients.

Recently, a client approached me. 

She was getting asks to give keynotes for free.

But she wanted to be paid.

How could she be –so compelling– about her brand of change management that people just HAD to hear her speak.

I went back to basics first.

What makes a compelling story? 

I break down the keynotes of two of my favorite public speakers Steve Jobs and Malala in order to illustrate:


Steve Jobs

In 2007, he had one message for his audience at the MacWorld stage: introduce the first iPhone. 

The keynote is a masterclass in how to drive change. Here is how he did it: 

Step 1. He built anticipation

Jobs came out of the gate citing Apple’s previous wins—The Macintosh computer in 1984 and the iPod in 2001).

He made a bold statement: “Today, we are going to re-invent the phone.”

It would be revolutionary because it would feature the wide screen of the iPod, touch screen controls, a phone, and access the Internet.  The twist? These weren’t three separate devices, but one single device: the iPhone.

Step 2. He used simple terms

Instead of going into the technical details of the multi-touch interface, he shared how simple and intuitive it was to scroll, zoom and tap in real-time. Instead, he focused on how the iPhone would fit into everyday life.

Step 3. He did a demo

He made a phone call, browsed the web, played music, and even checked the weather, all while maintaining 1 story: These features could be found in one device. He did storytelling about how these features would make their lives easier and more enjoyable.

What were Key Elements of the Narrative

A. He was relatable

Jobs got down to the level of the consuming public and addressed their frustrations in using the competitor’s smart phones, with their small Qwerty keyboards, small buttons, small screens. His message was about ease: the iPhone’s touch screen would be EASY compared to its competitors

He spoke directly to the audience’s experiences, making them feel understood and creating a personal connection.

B. He shared a vision and a purpose

Steve Jobs framed the iPhone not just as a product, but as a part of a bigger movement. Apple’s mission was to revolutionize the phone industry, positioning the iPhone as the future of communication.

This narrative of innovation and progress resonated with the audience, aligning the product with a greater purpose.

C. He shared emotion and excitement

Throughout the keynote, he was incredibly enthusiastic. His excitement was infectious, and it drew the audience in, making them feel like they were part of something groundbreaking.

He used humor, suspense, and surprise to keep the audience engaged, turning a product launch into a memorable storytelling event.

The Impact

He captivated the audience

His storytelling ensured that the audience not only understood what the iPhone was but also why it mattered.

The keynote set the standard for future product launches, demonstrating the power of effective storytelling.

And today, we all know how the iPhone story played out, with mass adoption.

To recap

  • How can you work to be more relatable?
  • How can you demonstrate your vision? Build a movement. Not just a product
  • How do you demonstrate your purpose for others to see and absorb?
  • How can you dig deep and share emotion when telling a story?
  • Are you excited about what you are talking about?

Let’s say you aren’t sparking a technology revolution, but are focused on something more human-focused.

Malala Yousafzai, at just 11 years old, was writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC Urdu, detailing her life under Taliban rule and her desire to attend school. Her storytelling provided a rare glimpse into the daily struggles and fears of a young girl in a conflict zone. The Taliban often targeted schools and imposed strict limitations on girls’ education.
On October 9, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while riding a bus home from school. The attack was an attempt to silence her growing influence and advocacy.
Instead of silencing her, the attack amplified her voice. Malala’s survival and recovery became a powerful narrative of resilience and courage. The global outcry and support that followed highlighted the universal appeal and urgency of her cause.
On her 16th birthday, after recovering,  Malala addressed the United Nations in 2013.

One clear message

In her keynote, she doubled down on one message: education is a fundamental human right. Education should be available to all children, regardless of gender.

Key Elements of her Keynote

She Shared a Personal Story 

Malala shared her lived experience. An audience that otherwise, wouldn’t care about educating girls around the world, cultivated empathy because of her individual story.  
By sharing her personal struggles and triumphs, Malala took something abstract for you and me, living in the US (educational inequality) and made it relatable and urgent.
She Shared her Story of Resilience 
Even in the face of extreme adversity, she rallied courage to ignite global change.
She overcame violence and fear to inspire others to believe in the possibility of change, regardless of the challenges.


She shared a Global Vision and Call to Action

Education has the power to lift communities out of poverty, promoting gender equality, and fostering peace. She shared this vision.
Her calls to action are clear and compelling: Governments, organizations, and individuals can and should support educational initiatives and policies that ensure access for all children, especially girls.


The Impact

She has been invited to speak at numerous international forums, including the United Nations.
The Malala Fund, co-founded by Malala and her father, works to secure 12 years of free, safe, quality education for girls. The fund supports local activists and advocates in various countries.
She aligned investing in girls’ education with broader developmental goals. Super smart move. That increased funding and attention for educational programs and reform.

To recap:

  • Personal storytelling can drive big change. 
  • How can you share a story of resilience, hope from your own lived experience?
  • Do you have a compelling call to action? Hers inspired and mobilized efforts toward educational reform worldwide. 
  • how can you be more Personal and authentic in your presentations?
  • how can you demonstrate vision?
  • how can your product or service align with a broader community goal?


In Conclusion

Maybe pulling back the curtain on how two people shared powerful personal stories on stage will scare you a little bit. But I hope it doesn’t.

I’m on a mission to create more raw and personal storytellers. Because I have seen, personally, how it brings a room to its knees each time I give a keynote.

This is how you become THE person who has to give the next keynote or talk. And maybe get paid for it.

So now that you know how the game works, it’s important to ask yourself…

Are you ready to play?



Whenever you’re ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:

1.Join the Samita Lab Mastermind. Join 7 other women leaders in the core program that sits at the center of my business model. The Mastermind teaches you exactly how to build a powerful person brand and the mindset to support it. It culminates in a TEDx talk on stage in front of 200 people at the end.

I only enroll for this program once a year.

The waitlist is open for the Class of 2025.

2. The Anatomy of a ‘No’ If you’re struggling to say ‘no’ gracefully at work, I created a free download here with scripts (15,000 downloaded)

I’ll add to it each week.

3. Help! I need confidence! ****Join 2500 people in taking my mini-public speaking Masterclass. Learn to organize a compelling talk and my framework for making it super easy.

Jeannette Prenger, CEO, Eccoselect
Janice Whaley shared Facebook post

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