Friday, January 12, 2018

Famous Speech Friday: Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes

Oprah Winfrey--talk show host, skilled interviewer, actress, producer, director, publisher and cultural phenomenon--accepted the Cecile B. DeMille award this week at the Golden Globes award ceremony. And, in a not unexpected move, she stole the show.

The speech was part lesson, part clarion call, and wholly a song--lyrical, gripping, something the crowd could join in on. I'd say kudos to the speechwriter, but suspect it was Winfrey herself, so naturally it flowed.

She started and ended the speech with little girls and the influence that can be had upon them:
In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother's house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: "The winner is Sidney Poitier." Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people's houses....In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.
Don't get the wrong idea: Oprah spent the fewest words in this speech about herself. She talked instead about women's stories:
And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.
But it's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They're the women whose names we'll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they're in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They're part of the world of tech and politics and business. They're our athletes in the Olympics and they're our soldiers in the military.
Even public speaking got its due: "Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared speak their truth to the power of those men...but their time is up."

The speech was followed by a flood of tweets calling on Oprah to run for president. Of course, we need more than one great speech to choose a president, in my view, but it says a lot about the leadership the audience heard and felt in this speech. And, as this piece points out, she wrote the speech to be about the unseen people, not about her supposed candidacy. Part celebratory romp, part history lesson, she drew all the threads of the evening's protests about sexual harassment together and made them poetic. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  •  Be ready for your big moment. Do I have to say this? I do. Many the honoree approaches the mic unprepared, which disrespects the award and the audience. Instead, you can do as Oprah did, and use the platform to further a cause and inspire those you hope to enlist in it.
  • Use symmetry: Oprah began with the image of herself as a little girl, watching the ceremony, and ended with a call to action for "all the girls watching here and now." Aside from the satisfaction of hearing a speech come full circle, the tactic drew Oprah closer to her audiences--the one in the room and the one watching at home. It's something at which she is a master.
  • Use slogans deftly and without sounding trite: "Me Too" and "Time's Up" were the slogans of the night, and they are scattered sparely in her speech in ways that make it seem as if they belong right there. The impact was greater as a result.
You can read the speech here and watch it here or below:

(Photo: Hollywood Foreign Press)

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