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!

Three Reasons Doug Jones’s Acceptance Speech Was Amazing

It was an electric moment for Alabama last night, and for the country.  Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in an election for a seat in the U.S. Senate, an election that had broad implications for the state of Alabama and for the country at large.

I’d like to focus on his victory speech.  It would have been easy for Senator Jones to surf the adrenaline of the moment, and disregard good public speaking technique, but he didn’t do that.  He spoke with intention, structure, and purpose.  Here are three things that rock about this speech:

  1. It’s selfless – unlike Donald Trump, Doug Jones wasn’t quick to take credit for his victory. He rightly laid the victory at the feet of the people of Alabama.  Nothing unifies an audience more than selflessness.
  2. It uses southern myth brilliantly –  After giving the victory over to the people of Alabama, Jones credits them for taking the right road at “the crossroads”.  “The Crossroads” is a common motif in the music of the deep south, evoking memories of a hodgepodge of southern people and events: Robert Johnson, the Civil Rights Movement, the Alabama Bus Boycott, Segregation, etc, etc.  But it’s bluesman Robert Johnson who owns the most common iteration of this myth; the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in order to play the guitar.  Every man, woman and child from Alabama, and many people from other parts of the country will immediately understand the allusion, and likely feel thrilled to be walking in Johnson’s footsteps.
  3. It uses southern myth brilliantly part two – I don’t think you can be a Democrat giving a major political speech in Alabama without quoting Martin Luther King Jr, but the question is, which quote?  I’ll admit when Doug Jones trotted out the “the moral arc of the universe” quote from King’s 1964 speech at Wesleyan University, I was a little weary.  It is a quote that is often overused.  But it really is the best quote for this moment.  This race had everything to do with morality and doing what is right.  The Doug Jones moment, for so many reasons, is personified by Martin Luther King Jr, a man who fought against the establishment in the name of dignity, grace and human rights.

Again, it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment during these big emotional speeches and lose track of what you are saying, It’s very important to remember the importance of structure, allegory, and symbolism when you speak.  I hope Doug Jones will remember this when he runs for president in 2020.

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.