As you know by now, Oprah Winfrey, the ‘people’s’ first lady, took to the stage at the Golden Globes.
She stood up to collect the Cecil B Demille award. Which officially made this an acceptance speech.
Acceptance speeches are often prime examples of how not to give a speech. Endless lists of thank yous to camera men and set designers we’ve never heard of. Poorly judged self praise. And that’s before the devil’s speech brew of hysterical laughter, tears and snot.
Oprah took a different route. Her ten minute speech set alight the room, the press and the internet. The world has been gushing ever since. Including Ivanka Trump. There’s even been talk of a presidential campaign bid.
We have previously come to bury acceptance speeches, not to praise them. But this was stunning. We regularly share simple ways to ensure speakers maximise the impact of their time on stage. This one ticked every box: well thought out, meticulously prepared yet conversational. It sounded like a woman speaking with her heart, but thinking with her head. So let’s briefly dissect what made these ten minutes, so special.
It’s always our number one rule. You start by thinking about your audience. What do they want to hear. What will get them going. How to avoid suffocating them with too much detail and self-indulgence?
A speech, especially one as personal as this, isn’t a one way street. It’s about interaction and she did it perfectly. It was obvious with all of the recent turbulence in the entertainment industry, that she would be dealing with tough subjects. But it’s how she did it that made it work so well.
Instead of jumping right in at the deep end, she opens with a delicate story of a young girl watching Sidney Poitier become the first black man to receive an Oscar. It’s sincere, and at times upsetting but never too heavy. But what’s important is that it’s a brilliant story. We are hooked. We want to hear more before her personal journey begins.
Her range is fantastic. Ups and downs, never too abrupt but enough to create dynamic shifts. Designed to keep the audience tuned in. She’s emotional but never tearful, and it’s a full gamut of emotion. Joy, regret, frustration, hope. Too often, speakers define ‘energy’ as SHOUTING. That’s clearly not going to work for more than a few seconds. Oprah kept her audience awake, interested and involved. Her words did even more. They made us feel alive. And thoughtful. Simultaneously.
And then the speech grabbed the issues more directly. She continued to test the room, building her energy along with that of the audience till she reached her final rousing crescendo. From a whisper to a shout, without any sense of disruption, and with the crowd hanging on her every word.
You can’t be too relevant. And relevance doesn’t just mean starting sentences with ‘you’ at the start of the speech. It means maintaining and developing empathy. Society is clouded by so many issues. So how to keep this one meaningful? Oprah did it through human faces. Herself as the young girl with aspirations beyond the slums of Mississippi. Rosa Parks.
Any time she had a point to make, she gave it a face. She reached out beyond the podium, beyond the camera and brought us all in closer.
It was never in any doubt what Oprah was here to say. Her message was as clear as daylight. Nothing was rushed, nothing garbled and each word was granted significance by the space which it was allowed to reside in. She commanded the room with her stance, and with her words, but it’s the gusto and consideration with which they were delivered, that was the key to their success.
Simplicity and Impact
When we first sit down with a client to help write a speech, we ask how they want it to be remembered. What they want the audience to take away. When they wake up the next morning what will they remember? Key lines. Big moments that condense and encapsulate as much of the overall message as possible. It’s hashtag logic.
The simplicity of #MeToo allows it to have universal meaning and has contributed to its success. And Oprah provided those takeaway lines; those central, pivotal moments so that no matter what happened at the Golden Globes after parties, there wouldn’t be anyone waking up on Sunday morning without her call to arms still ringing in their ears:
“We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. But their time is up. Their time is up!”
We can’t make everyone sound like Oprah (or these guys) but we would love to help take your public speaking up to the next level. Whether you have a speech looming or would like some coaching (for you or your team) please give us a call on +44 (0)207 118 1600.