Friday, December 7, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Sally Field at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign dinner

Actress Sally Field set off sparks in public-speaking circles when she spoke this fall at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner--for dropping an f-bomb in her speech about her son's coming out as a gay man. Those who focused on the single use of a profanity, however, missed the real impact of this speech and its humorous and emotional messages.

Field, who was accepting HRC's Ally for Equality award, was introduced by the subject of her speech, her youngest son, Sam Greisman. She had not publicly discussed his sexuality before this speech, saying in her remarks, "It's Sam's business and not mine." But in accepting an award as a visible and supportive parent of a young gay man, Field used the occasion to underscore the reason for the award: The lack of support in many families for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children:
There are so many children who struggle to understand and embrace their sexuality in families who do not welcome them, with parents that somehow find it acceptable to shut them out their hearts and their homes, and that I find unacceptable.
Here's what you can learn from this famous speech and its lone profanity:
  • Get comfortable: Many speakers would not be comfortable enough to let the audience know they were uncomfortable, but Field begins her speech with several relaxed delays, as she decides the stage managers have over-compensated for her short height and put her too far above the microphone. So she removes her shoes, while narrating this for the audience--which eats it up, just as an audience of fans would do when getting to see a star act like a human being. She solved two problems at once, ensuring she'd be comfortable enough to speak while making sure the audience wasn't put off by the delay. But there's a real-life lesson here for organizers: Don't over-elevate the short speaker unless you know she's comfortable that way. For one thing, many speakers may have trouble reading a text if you put it too far away. Microphones can adjust, too, you know.
  • Know your role: Field's getting the award, first and foremost, as a mother, and she plays that role to the hilt with many asides and jokes aimed at her son, who winces accordingly and with good nature. But she also understands her role as a voice for the cause here, and fulfills it, simply and directly and in her own words. Many are the award recipients who ignore the reason they're given an award and use it as a platform for all the world's issues. Here, Field stuck to her assignment and the audience was rewarded.
  • If you're going to drop a profanity, know your audience and make it purposeful: "You've changed and are changing the lives of little boys and girls who realize somewhere along the way they're just different from their other brothers and sisters...and so the f**k what?" said Field, using the f-word to underscore that being gay should be no big deal. At a private, non-broadcast evening affair with an adult audience likely to appreciate the emphatic use of that word, this was a safe bet for the speaker. If you're going to do this, make sure, as Field did, that it's a judgment call, not a slip-up.
I haven't found a full text for this speech, but you can enjoy the video below. What do you think of this famous speech?