Five Reasons Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech Rocked

When we are called upon to make a speech, we can go through the motions, and pull together something that is adequate, or we can think carefully about the tremendous opportunity we have for creating change, and craft something that calls people to ACTION.  Thankfully, Oprah chose the latter last night with her rousing Golden Globe speech.  Here are five reasons the speech ROCKED:

  1. She opens with a powerful, personal story – Her story about being a little girl watching Sidney Poitier win the Cecil B Demille award was deeply affecting.  The reason it worked was that she shared personal details about her life, and brought us into the sensory experience of what it was like to be there; sitting on the cold linoleum floor watching the television, seeing her mom come home from a hard day of work cleaning other people’s houses, etc. It’s important to share your story, but it’s equally important to draw the audience into the experience of your story.
  2. She had a single, powerful theme – And she states it clearly at around the 4 minute mark.   “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have”.  It’s important to believe in your theme deeply, and to know your audience well enough, and the occasion well enough, to have confidence that your theme will resonate with them.  
  3. Most of the speech is made of stories that dovetail with her theme – Her story about how Recy Taylor endured a horrible sexual assault, and how it is time for such behavior to end, dovetails beautifully with her theme.
  4. She finishes her speech with a powerful call to action – With a minute remaining in this relatively short speech, Oprah assures all the little girls watching her that a new day is arriving, returning thematically to the beginning of the speech, the image of her watching Sidney Poitier on tv as a little girl.  The conclusion mirrors the introduction; we have come full circle.
  5. She uses language powerfully – Notice the way that Oprah engages language.  She hits her verbs, uses her full vocal range, and projects her voice.

Don’t waste speaking opportunities, folks.  Each one, even the most mundane, can encourage change in people and organizations around you.  Oprah’s speech is just one example of the power of the spoken word.  Speak your truth!

Two Major Mistakes to Avoid While Planning to Moderate a Panel

As a speech coach in New York City, I am frequently called to help people who are preparing to moderate a panel. I often see the same two mistakes made as clients prepare; the first is making the panel discussion too long, and the second is making it too complex. Here is what you can do to avoid these critical errors.

First, make sure that you’re panel discussion is ONE HOUR, and ONE HOUR ONLY. Even the most lively panel discussion will begin to drag after an hour. Science has shown that our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish, so be sure to keep things moving!

Second, don’t muddy the water by having presentations woven into the event.  If you find dynamic enough panelists, and you are careful to be sure they represent opposing viewpoints (conflict and controversy are good!), your panel should be interesting enough.

If you want to moderate a successful panel discussion, keep it simple; dynamic panelists with opposing views, great curated stories (you do the curating), and a single, simple powerpoint slide to display your event information.

 

How to Organize Your Stories in Your Speech

Every once in a blue moon, a speaker does everything right. Such is the case with Rita Pierson’s gem of a speech on the need for school reform.  She has a powerful, expressive voice and an actress’ touch with language.  She utilizes gesture effectively, effortlessly timing her movements with her content.  But what works best in this speech are the stories.  Well told stories are the lifeblood of any good speech.

I’d like to call attention to the way she builds her stories.  Her initial stories are about her students, and the way she interacts with them, but the most powerful story, the story of her mother’s impact on the lives of her students, comes at the end of her speech, just before her call to action.  With each story, she takes us deeper into both her thesis, and her own emotional life.  The speech builds both intellectually and emotionally.  Just beautiful.

 

 

Three Core Sounds Every ESL Executive Should Master

There are 44 different sounds in American English.  All are important, but some sounds are more important than others.  Which sounds should you tackle first?

Vowel sounds play a very important part in language.  We lengthen and intone vowel sounds when we emphasize certain words in a sentence.  We also lengthen vowel sounds to indicate syllable stress.  Vowel sounds play an important part in making words, and sentences, knowable.

Practice these sounds:

1.) The “Cat” Vowel Sound – This is a very common vowel sound.  To make this sound, bring your lips into a smile.  Keep the tongue flat. The sound is short.

2) The “Fun” Vowel Sound – This sound often gets mispronounced.  Many executives, especially Russian speakers of English, make it more complicated than it is.  This sound is made by keeping the jaw and tongue very relaxed.   The sound is short. It sounds like a small grunt.

3) The “High” Vowel Sound – This sound is long and your lips, tongue and lower jaw move while you make it.  To start, round your lips as if you are holding a small ball in your mouth.  As you make the sound, move your lips into a slight smile, and arch the middle of the tongue high toward the hard palette.  Count to two as you make the sound.

Four Mistakes to Avoid When Presenting at TED

Richard St John has an amicable presence while presenting in the above TED talk, and a sharp delivery.  He also has a way with one-liners, evident by the great joke he makes about motherhood halfway through the speech.  However, there are some mistakes he makes while presenting that we can learn from:

  1. He is rushing.  This is made clear by the speed at which he clicks his powerpoint button.  It feels as if he is trying to get to the end of the presentation rather than focusing on the audience moment by moment.  Don’t rush!
  2. He doesn’t have a PowerPoint remote.  This may seem like a small issue, but it isn’t.  He has to constantly look away from the audience to push his space bar on his Mac to forward his slides and this disrupts his connection to the audience.  Keep eye contact with the audience, especially at the beginning of the speech.
  3. No data – A good TED talk generally is backed up with interesting data.  There are no hard facts here to prove his point.
  4. No dynamic central idea – TED talks benefit from a dynamic central idea.  One of the best TED talks I ever saw was about the need for independent, unsupervised play among young children.  That is a radical idea to this helicopter parent!  It’s a good idea to sit for a while with your central idea and try to come up with something very creative.  I’ve seen a lot of speeches about what makes someone a success.  I would have preferred to see a different spin on this oft-repeated theme.