Friday, February 3, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Viola Davis's Golden Globes Meryl Streep intro

Meryl Streep's acceptance speech for the Golden Globes lifetime achievement award a couple of weeks ago made a major splash (you can read its Famous Speech Friday entry here). So you can be forgiven for forgetting, for a moment, the introduction Streep received from fellow actor Viola Davis. Even though Davis went on to receive her own award and give her own speech that same evening, it was her introduction of Streep that got the most coverage and attention--so much so, it was reproduced the next day by the New York Times alongside Streep's remarks.

That's a lot of attention for an introduction, a common and commonly ignored form of public speaking. Davis, however, created an introduction that was anything but easy to ignore. And that's a daunting task in introducing Streep, who is known on the awards acceptance stage as a deft and thoughtful introducer who takes particular care with her words and delivery on someone else's behalf. You'll find a great example of this in Streep's introduction of actor Emma Thompson.

At the core of this short speech, after describing what it's like to have Streep stare at you and ask you a lot of questions, Davis shares her insight about the star actor:
And as she continues to stare you realize that she sees you. And like a high-powered scanning machine she’s recording you. She is an observer and a thief. She waits to share what she has stolen on that sacred place, which is the screen. She makes the most heroic characters vulnerable, the most known familiar, the most despised relatable. Dame Streep. Her artistry reminds us of the impact of what it means to be an artist, which is to make us feel less alone. I can only imagine where you go, Meryl, when you disappear into a character. I imagine that you’re in them, patiently waiting, using yourself as a conduit, encouraging them, coaxing them to release all their mess, expose, to live. You are a muse. Your impact encouraged me to stay in the line.
Davis's conclusion hit with a similar impact. She related how her husband kept urging her to tell Streep what she meant to her, during the time they worked together on a movie. Davis held back. And then, in this speech:
I haven’t said anything. But I’m gonna say it now. You make me proud to be an artist. You make me feel that what I have in me, my body, my face, my age, is enough. You encapsulate that great Émile Zola quote that if you ask me as an artist what I came into this world to do, I, an artist, would say, I came to live out loud.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Lavish care upon your introductions: Every introduction is a small speech, one that translates the person being introduced to the audience. A good introduction sets that relationship up with a unique perspective, insight, or little-known experience--and relates the introducee to the occasion, be it an awards ceremony or a panel discussion. 
  • Make it personal: If you are just reading a prepared bio, you're doing it wrong. You may not know the honoree or speaker well, but you can use those moments before you go on stage to figure out something that allows you to make your introduction personal. If you know well the person you're introducing, don't hesitate to put yourself and your perspective into it.
  • Treat it like a little TED talk: Davis's intro does just that, jumping right in with "She stares. That's the first thing you notice about her," instead of a lot of throat-clearing. This introduction is just under five minutes, not one minute of which is wasted, and it aims to connect the audience--full of people who think they know Streep, as well as fans watching at home--even more deeply with the actor. The delivery is as fine as you might expect from a great actor. Davis takes her time with it, so that every word is clear and can be heard and savored. Go and do likewise the next time you introduce someone.
Watch the video here or below. Watch it more than once. This speech is Davis's fifth entry in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women, making her one of our most-featured speakers. She's a great model for your speaking.
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