O is for Oprah: Six Ways to Speak Dynamically

We can’t stop talking about the inspiring speech Oprah Winfrey delivered as she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. Powerful. Enchanting. Engaging. That’s what many are saying. But why? Forget politics for a moment (please!) and look at the elements that bring this electrifying speech to life. Even more importantly, what can YOU borrow from her style to use in YOUR own presentations?

Here are six observations I’ve made:

1.Storytelling Details  We adore stories. We get lost in them. Instead of just telling us that Sydney Poitier won an Oscar, her story transports us to the linoleum floor of her home, and we’re now watching  the 1964 Academy Awards show with her. With her detailed description, we can almost see the look on her mom’s face as she opens the door, coming home from work “bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses.†Together with Oprah, we hear the “five words that literally made history.” Stories enchant us through their imagery. Her story virtually places us in her very humble world of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, like a 3D movie.

Question: What story do you have to tell about a person who inspired you when you were young?

2.  A Surprising History Lesson  One of the important stories she tells is of Recy Taylor’s connection with Rosa Parks. We discover “….the rest of the story†and that moment gives us a deeper appreciation of someone we thought we knew and someone we don’t know at all. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. When developing your keynote, have fun telling about a person (don’t forget the women) in history who led courageously in some way.

Question: What little known facts from history could you weave into your talk to bring depth and character? 

3. The Circular Nature of Life  Sidney Poitier was the first black man to receive this award; Oprah is the first black woman. She realizes that little girls are noticing—completing the full circle, yet moving us forward as a society. She masterfully weaves the themes of the evening: Time’s Up and Me Too. There’s also a circular nature of speaker/listener. She challenges us to move from listener of her words, to speaker of our hearts when she says, “This is what I know for sure: Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” With that, she moves us into the circle of hope.

Question: Do you have a powerful circular story? 

4. Gratitude  True to her values, and without gushing, she manages to thank almost everyone. She “shares this night†with men and women in the room, those who believed  in her during her early career, her friend, her partner, the Foreign Press Corps. Her sincerity has a magical way of blasting love to everyone—like a fireworks on the 4th of July.

Question: When you speak, what do you say to honor the group before you?

5. Inclusion: Oprah, of course, is a black woman. She references “little girls” who are watching  her. Yet she masterfully transcends race and taps into the “little child” in all of us who feels helpless in a great big bad world. She includes praise for those who have spoken up, and those who have endured abuse,”like my mother, who have children to raise, bills to pay, and dreams to pursue.†She has faith that “phenomenal men†will now listen to the women’s stories. I’m glad she includes men in her remarks because Joyce Bush Whalen recently stated, “Nothing changes for women until men change their support of women.â€

Question: How can you make sure to include individuals in your message? 

6. Passion Listen to each sentence. Listen to how she uses her voice, with a pause in just the right place, a repetition of a key phrase, and compelling vocal variety. Her projection reflects the urgency of her message. When she says, “What I know for sure,†we get ready to listen. Her message explodes with hope at the end: “A new day is on the horizon….and when that new day finally …†We cheered for her, for ourselves and for the possibilities ahead. She opens the door, and we see—if even for a moment—a better future.

Question: How do you express your passion when speaking to any group, large or small? 

NOTE: Contact Jan if you are interested in guidance with your next presentation. We have over 25 years of experience with happy clients. 623.466.5067 or [email protected]. 

Thank you Oprah! We needed to be uplifted, and you did it! In case you want to hear Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech again, here it is:


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