Oprah Winfrey’s moving speech last Sunday at the 2017 Golden Globes Awards was superb by every measure – powerfully delivered, filled with rich and relevant stories, resonant personal details, ample humility, and sincere appreciation. (Not every Cecil B. DeMille award winner has such a moment, but lately the women have been more memorable than the men.)
And now the volume has been raised on Oprah’s political future.
But before we travel too far from Oprah’s shining moment, I want to do something with her speech that Oprah has always done throughout her career: educate and elevate.
None of us can be Oprah Winfrey; there will only ever be one. But Oprah’s masterful establishment of a clear point is something all communicators can learn from and emulate to increase their own impact.
As a public speaking trainer and author, I consider these three moments from Oprah’s speech the most valuable as presentational learning tools:
1. “It's the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies.”
2. “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
3. “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… 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.”
These three moments elevated Oprah’s speech above a simple conveyance of personal appreciation and stirring historical references. With these words, she established her specific point and used it to inspire hope for the future, even in these bleak, truth-abused times.
All of us can similarly use strong, clear points to create impact. The critical piece is knowing – as Oprah did – the highest value of our ideas and the impact we hope to inspire, whether the goal is a job offer, a new client, a more efficient approach, a revolutionary way to save lives, or the pathway to a better world. But all too often in our professional lives, instead of giving potent speeches we’re giving pointless talks: status updates, history reports, meandering anecdotes, and meaningless platitudes. This is as true for the CEO as it is for the junior manager.
Ultimately, a “great speech” does more than just wow an audience, because what’s the societal value of an audience simply being impressed by a speaker? Ideally the speech is a catalyst for awareness and action. Oprah showed us the way, and we can not only travel that upward path with her, but use her communication techniques to blaze our own.
For Oprah, the big point is Truth Can Save and Elevate our Culture.
Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for a national nonprofit organization, a frequent public speaker, a public speaking trainer, and author of the just-released leadership communication book “Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Ideas and Make Your Words Matter”