Oprah Winfrey delivered a stunning speech whilst accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes on Sunday. It was a speech which touched the hearts and minds of her entire audience bringing them all to their feet in unified applause.
Towards the end of 2017 I began writing a series of articles entitled, ‘The A to Z of Mindful presenting’. Oprah’s 9 ½ minutes acceptance speech included every element of what I have written about so far and will continue to share. Mindful Presenter was founded on a simple but powerful belief that; ‘Connecting is everything’ and Oprah’s words at the Golden Globes demonstrated our belief so eloquently.
At the very heart of her speech lay the next quality we believe every great speaker and presenter sets as their intention.
I – Inspire
Thankfully most business presentations taking place in meeting rooms in organisations all over the world today don’t need to revolve around speaking on injustice and inequality. Most are however still an opportunity to inspire.
Change – Action – Support – Belief – New thinking – A feeling
Whether you are updating your team on their monthly performance, pitching to a client or briefing the board, every presentation offers the space to inspire.
How do you do it?
Let’s take a look at how Oprah did it last night to see what we can learn from her.
Tell them Stories
Oprah opened with a story:
“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards.”
She later told us the story about Recy Taylor who “was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church.”
Stories are so alluring to the mind because they stimulate our imagination, they create an emotional connection and they create pictures that we can see and feel. A short, relevant and powerful story can add great depth to our audience’s perception and understanding of our message.
Make it personal
Oprah explained the impact watching Sydney Poitier receive an academy award had on her:
“I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.”
One of the most effective ways of connecting with an audience is by giving them an insight into who we really are.
Listen to any of history’s greatest speeches and you will be certain to find a simple but extremely powerful public speaking technique; repetition.
Last night Oprah concluded her opening remarks saying, “Amen, amen, amen, amen.”
She then went on to
“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.
Their time is up.”
Keep it real
Oprah didn’t make abuse exclusive to the entertainment industry, she referred to:
“They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
Notice once again the power of repetition in her rhetoric.
Have a sound bite
If you really want to inspire your audience and have your presentation remembered craft some simple, short but powerful words that they will share and repeat.
In Oprah’s case the essence of her speech was to ensure that “Nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again.
Don’t just say it, feel it
This wasn’t your typical or expected acceptance speech by any stretch of the imagination. As well as being mindfully content rich, Oprah delivered it with so much passion, belief and humility that no one in the room last night could possibly have left feeling uninspired.
Have a clear and powerful message
Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned speech expressed a clear view that sexual harassment “transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or work place” and crucially that “a new day is on the horizon!”
Most of us have endured lack lustre and uninspiring presentations and one of the key reasons for that is the lack of clarity and power in the message being shared.
Close with impact
Oprah closed her acceptance speech making her message abundantly clear:
“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.”
Everyone understands the importance of opening a presentation well but how you close it at the end is vitally important too. As well as creating a first impression, consider the lasting impression you’d like to have on your audience.
Presenting your ideas at work isn’t simply about showing people how much you know, how creative and how brilliant you are. It’s about making a difference and the best way to achieve that is by setting an intention to inspire them.
When Oprah Winfrey spoke at the Golden Globes last Sunday night, her speech lit up social media within minutes. It was powerful, memorable and somehow exactly what the world wanted to hear. It inspired multiple standing O’s — and even a semi-serious Twitter campaign to elect her president #oprah2020
All this in 9 short minutes.
What made this short talk so impactful? My colleagues and I were curious. We are professional speaker coaches who’ve worked with many, many TED speakers, analyzing their scripts and their presentation styles to help each person make the greatest impact with their idea. And when we sat down and looked at Oprah’s talk, we saw a lot of commonality with great TED Talks.
Among the elements that made this talk so effective:
A strong opening that transports us. Oprah got on stage to give a “thank you” speech for a lifetime achievement award. But she chose not to start with the “thank you.” Instead she starts with a story. Her first words? “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee.” Just like a great story should, this first sentence transports us to a different time and place, and introduces the protagonist. As TED speaker Uri Hasson says: Our brain loves stories. Oprah’s style of opening signals to the audience that it’s story time, by using the opening similar to any fairy tale: “Once upon a time” (In 1964) “There was a princess” (I was a little girl) “In a land far far away” (…my mother’s house in Milwaukee.”
Alternating between ideas and anecdotes. A great TED Talk illustrates an idea. And, just like Oprah does in her talk, the idea is illustrated through a mix of stories, examples and facts. Oprah tells a few anecdotes, none longer than a minute. But they are masterfully crafted, to give us, the audience, just enough detail to invite us to imagine it. When TED speaker Stefan Larsson tells us an anecdote about his time at medical school, he says: “I wore the white coat” — one concrete detail that allows us, the audience, to imagine a whole scene. Oprah describes Sidney Poitier with similar specificity – down to the detail that “his tie was white.” Recy Taylor was “walking home from a church service.” Oprah the child wasn’t sitting on the floor but on the “linoleum floor.” Like a great sketch artist, a great storyteller draws a few defined lines and lets the audience’s imagination fill in the rest to create the full story.
A real conversation with the audience. At TED, we all know it’s called a TED talk — not “speech,” not “lecture.” We feel it when Sir Ken Robinson looks at the audience and waits for their reaction. But it’s mostly not in the words. It’s in the tone, in the fact that the speaker’s attention is on the audience, focusing on one person at a time, and having a mini conversation with us. Oprah is no different. She speaks to the people in the room, and this intimacy translates beautifully on camera.
It’s Oprah’s talk — and only Oprah’s. A great TED talk, just like any great talk or speech, is deeply connected to the person delivering it. We like to ask speakers, “What makes this a talk that only you can give?” Esther Perel shares anecdotes from her unique experience as a couples therapist, intimate stories that helped her develop a personal perspective on love and fidelity. Only Ray Dalio could tell the story of personal failure and rebuilding that lies behind the radical transparency he’s created in his company. Uri Hasson connects his research on the brain and stories to his own love of film. Oprah starts with the clearest personal angle – her personal story. And along her speech she brings her own career as an example, and her own way of articulating her message.
A great TED Talk invites the audience to think and to feel. Oprah’s ending is a big invitation to the audience to act. And it’s done not by telling us what to do, but by offering an optimistic vision of the future and inviting us all to be part of it
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