Friday, February 24, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Jennifer Granholm's 2005 tribute to Rosa Parks

We've said it before: Jennifer Granholm is a rock star of public speaking. And she's had plenty of practice, in her work as state attorney general and two-term governor of Michigan, and her new job as a cable TV host. She was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at the University of California, Berkeley before heading to Harvard Law School, but we bet she was mesmerizing even at one of her earliest jobs, as a tour guide at Universal Studios.

With a resume like this, it's safe to assume that she's given lots of different speeches in front of different audiences. (Check out her YouTube channel to see the full range of her talks.) Her excellent use of gestures and pacing, along with her genuine enthusiasm for her topics, bring life to the sort of nuts-and-bolts speeches that she gave routinely as governor. But she is also more than equal to the challenge of delivering a dramatic, deeply-felt speech, as she did at the 2005 funeral service for civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

It's a short eulogy, but she brought down the house at the Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit, and the speech went viral shortly after the event. Parks was lauded throughout the 7-hour service by a host of dignitaries, but it was Granholm's inspirational and emotionally charged tribute that rose above the rest. What can you learn from her success?


  • Get a smart start. Sometimes you need to acknowledge other speakers or thank the audience when you begin speaking, even though that may rob you of the chance to give an attention-grabbing start to your talk. Granholm deals with this in a deft twist: She recognizes the "really titled, honored guests" sharing the stage with her, but then says this speech is really for "everyone out there who doesn't have a title." It's surprising, engaging and lets her move swiftly into talking about Parks herself. She gets attention--and applause--for including those who stood in line for hours to get into the celebration, and those still waiting outside the standing-room hall. Playing to the balcony (and the line outside) works.
  • Sometimes you have to sing. Listen to how this speech sounds--without hearing any of the meaning, if you can. You'll hear Granholm drawing out words, making deliberate pauses, letting her breath come through the microphone, making consonants like "p" and "t" pop with precision, and controlling the rise and fall of her voice. She leads the audience in this way, building emotion and highlighting her key points.
  • Pick a theme that pays off. More than once, Granholm calls Parks a "warrior," and talks about fighting battles, wearing armor and winning the war. It's one idea, carried throughout a speech. And it comes with a tremendous, resounding payoff at the end when Granholm stands for a sharp military salute to "report for duty" to the civil rights struggle.


There's much more to live in this speech, from Granholm's shout-out to local neighborhoods to the infectious alliterations like "shopkeepers and streetsweepers." Take a look at the video, read the transcript, and let us know what you liked.




(Editor's note: Becky Ham wrote this post for The Eloquent Woman, and boy are we glad she found this speech for us.)


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.