Friday, January 20, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Jane Fonda's TEDxWomen talk on "Life's Third Act"

"We're living, on average today, 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did. Think about that," Fonda told the TEDxWomen event in 2011. "That's an entire second adult lifetime that's been added to our lifespan." She uses her talk to discuss her current passion: How we use that "third act," the last three decades of your life, not only to improve your life, but to create a cultural shift.

The talk is based on a theme carried through in her book, Prime Time: Love, health, sex, fitness, friendship, spirit--making the most of all of your life. Fonda--now 74 herself--emphasizes in this talk that  some studies suggest that people in their third acts are even happier than they were at other stages of life. "As I was approaching my late 40s, I would wake up in the morning and my first six thoughts would all be negative," Fonda said, noting that she comes "from a long line of depressives." She added that "now that I am smack-dab in the middle of my own third act, I realize: I have never been happier." Here's what you can learn from this famous speech:
  • Empathy plus data: Telling stories on herself without self-congratulation or self-deprecation, Fonda manages to weave her own experience into the speech without making it all about her. She balances personal anecdotes with an empathetic approach, speaking about issues that she herself faced, but without mentioning herself. Instead, she couches them as issues anyone might face. Finally, Fonda's done her research, finding data points to reinforce her stories and the empathy. The combination sings.
  • Using notes without reading: Many actors use notes for public speaking and abhor the extemporaneous--they're used to lines they learn in advance in their work. I don't know Fonda's preference, but here, she uses a written text, yet you don't see the top of her head much during this talk--because she refers to her text, but doesn't read it straight through. As a result, she's better able to connect with her audience. Notice, too, that while she stays at the lectern, she looks all around the audience: down in front, up in back, and to either side, another must if you are going to remain stationary on the stage. (By the way, it doesn't hurt that Fonda's already written a book on the same lines as this talk. She knows the messages she wants to convey, and that helps her avoid reading.)
  • Quiet delivery with great vocal variety: "It helps us become what we might have been" she says, with a suggestive, knowing, sidelong look at the audience. Fonda doesn't speak above a normal volume level, but uses outstanding variety in her inflections, tone and emphasis throughout this talk, hitting a wide range of low, middle and high notes, pausing and pacing, and making her voice an essential tool. 
Here's a video of Fonda's TEDxWomen talk. What do you think of this famous speech?


Looking for famous speeches by women? Check out The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Women's Speeches, with a wide variety of women speakers, types of speeches and topics to inspire your next speech. Each one comes with lessons for speakers, plus video or audio and a transcript, where available.