Friday, October 21, 2016

Famous Speech Friday: Arianna Huffington's "Thrive" speech

Arianna Huffington just stepped down as the head of Huffington Post, to focus on a new venture of hers called Thrive. While it was new to many, Huffington actually sowed the seed of her latest venture in 2013, when she addressed the Smith College commencement and first shared this story about herself. After urging the graduates to "sleep your way to the top," she explained:
But no, I’m talking about sleep in the literal sense. Because right now, the workplace is absolutely fueled by sleep deprivation and burnout. I know of what I speak: In 2007, sleep deprived and exhausted, I fainted, hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone and got four stitches on my right eye. And that was the beginning of my reacquainting myself with sleep, and with the need to redefine success to include our own well-being. Even if sleep deprivation is not affecting your health, it’s affecting your creativity, your productivity, and your decision-making. The Exxon Valdez wreck, the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, and the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island — all were at least partially the result of decisions made on too little sleep.
Huffington goes on to share her ideas about what she calls "the third metric" of success, adding well-being to the more traditional markers of money and power. It's what today forms the basis of her new company, so this commencement address can be considered a bit of a field test.

In this speech, Huffington also builds toward her thesis in ways that complement and pave the way for her central idea. She begins by sharing mentions about the activities, memories, and accomplishments of Smith graduates, which she gleaned by looking at their Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook feeds. She shares stories about her mother's wisdom on living a life rather than working yourself to death. And she gave them glimpses into the corporate world of Huffington Post, to share examples of how her ideas play out in the form of nap rooms and an app they call GPS for the Soul.

The theme--an urging not to forget the self and well-being in your quest for success--is a popular one in commencement speeches. But this graduating class also could say it was in on the ground floor of a new company, even if they didn't realize it at the time. What can you learn from this famous speech?

  • Take the time to research and reflect your audience: Huffington could have done her research and then made sweeping statements about the aspirations and accomplishments of her listeners, as many commencement speakers do. But by sprinkling into her speech some specifics about the students, naming them and exactly what they did, she guaranteed closer attention, pride, and surprise among her listeners. And isn't that what a speaker wants?
  • Share some new thoughts and expertise with us: Huffington was a recognizable marquee-name speaker, but here, her "expertise" lies in having an accident at her desk that set her off on a new perspective and focus. What's refreshing about her "third metric" thinking is that it's new, framed in her own experience, and thought through in terms of how it's reflected in current research and trends. So many commencement speakers reach for the trite, tried, and true, instead of sharing real insight. This is a refreshing change of pace.
  • Weave personal touches throughout: Echoing her theme of the importance of life as well as work, Huffington's speech weaves personal touches all the way through, whether she is sharing stories about individual graduates or herself and her work colleagues. While she does tell personal stories, these smaller personal touches offer you a good example of how to make your remarks more connective and personal without having to share a story outright.

You can find the full text here, and watch the video here or below. But be sure to get some sleep, first.


(Smith College photo)