What Every Presenter Can Learn From Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes Speech

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75At this year’s Golden Globe Awards event, which was held on January 7, 2018, Oprah Winfrey delivered the speech of a lifetime, as the recipient of the Cecile B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement for her accomplished career in television and movies.

This was no ordinary acceptance speech. Her presentation – both in content and delivery – is one that will endure over time as one of the most powerful of its kind, as you can see on video or listen to on Spotify. It was an opportunity for Oprah to use her dedicated time on the platform to share an important message: “Time’s Up,” a movement begun by women in the entertainment industry to draw attention to and give voice to the pervasive societal issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Women attending the Golden Globes event chose to wear black as a visual symbol of their unity and support of Time’s Up. Refreshingly, red carpet interviews with celebrities focused on the Times Up message rather than couture dresses. Time better spent.

Here’s what made Oprah’s speech so successful and why college professors and speech coaches will be referencing it for years to come:

Attention getting. Oprah opened with an anecdote from her childhood. She remembered at that young age watching television, as an Oscar award for best actor was presented to Sidney Poitier, a black man who served as a positive role model for her. Her story tapped into the emotion of the audience.

Clarity of message. In my presentation skills programs, I remind participants to make their message meaningful and memorable through clarity. Oprah’s message did just that. She communicated her intent clearly and concisely.

Relevance. A message must be relevant to the needs of the audience. In this case, an audience of millions, from ordinary everyday people to celebrities. Her powerful message resonated with people across cultures and socio-economic classes because the time had come to speak openly about an otherwise hushed subject.

Intentional intonation. A good orator uses the voice as an instrument and masters vocal variety. Oprah’s words, so eloquently prepared and delivered, were shared with perfect emphasis and volume.

Use of stories. Stories create an emotional connection with the audience. Oprah shared several stories and personal anecdotes, about her childhood, her hard-working mother, and stories of inspirational female luminaries like Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks.

Selfless content. Oprah’s speech wasn’t about her; it was about a critical societal issue far greater. Audiences often complain about self-centered presenters, saying “All he did was talk about himself. Blah, blah, blah.” Oprah gave voice to a persistent problem in our society, and elevated her message to rise above the ordinary.

Inspiration. Her powerful words provided inspiration to millions of women and girls to speak openly and truthfully about sexually harassment and sexual assault. Those words provided inspiration to all who listened, including men who play an important part in making voices heard. To any disenfranchised people whose voices have gone unheard or who have ever been violated, undervalued or under appreciated in any way there was a recognition that their voices too were being heard.

Power-packed ending. The energy in the room exploded when Oprah emphatically began building her closing remarks with the statement, “A new day is on the horizon…”

So many people were openly inspired and motivated that Oprah’s acceptance speech immediately started a speculative buzz about whether she would consider running for President in 2020. To borrow one of Oprah’s signature phrases, “This I know for sure”…Words really do have power, tremendous power. Words can spark curiosity, command attention, and motivate others to take action. Words can take you to places where you never before imagined or dreamed.


In what way can you incorporate more power into your presentations?

How can you better motivate and inspire others to take action?

Photo credit: Paul Drinkwater, NBC News

Master the Executive Summary

executive-summaryIf you want to gain the respect of upper management, communicate with them the way they expect. Deliver information to the C-suite in a format they are accustomed to: The Executive Summary. Make it a point to get to the point quickly and deliver information in a clear, concise way.

Traditionally, an Executive Summary accompanies a larger written document. It provides, at a quick glance, the essence of the core message. It can be as small as a few paragraphs or as expansive as a page or two.

Treat every executive communication, whether verbal or written, as an Executive Summary. When you deliver information in an Executive Summary format, you will get to the point more quickly, your message will be clearer, and you will get invited back to future meetings because senior management will appreciate your brevity.

An executive wants to know three things when you meet:

1. Why are you here? (What’s the purpose of our meeting?)
2. What information do you have to share? and
3. What specifically do you need from me?

It’s that simple. Cater to the way the C-suite thinks.

Use this outline as a template:

Identify why you are there. What is happening? Provide an appropriate set-up. Are you there to:

  • Share results of an important study?
  • Take a project in a different direction?
  • Request more resources?
  • Share a brilliant idea that will save the company money?
  • Provide a project update?

State your case and share supportive information. Do not…I repeat…do not do a data dump. In the most direct, concise manner, tell the executive what you would like to do. What information are you sharing and why? How does it back up the case you have just presented?

Mention specifically what you need. Do you need:

Additional staff?
An endorsement?
A consideration?

Here’s a brief example. The Vice President of Human Resources is meeting with the CEO:

Why you’re there: Changes in the federal healthcare laws require greater compliance from our company. This is a top priority for all of us. Our current HR staff is not equipped to fully monitor these requirements while juggling their current job responsibilities.

State your case: I am recommending the addition of one full-time employee to the HR department to focus on the new federal compliance laws. That would mean an additional $95,000 in the department budget to cover salary and benefits for this new position.

Share information: Companies like ours are pursuing additional staff support. This salary is comparable to what other companies our size are doing. This separate document outlines everything for you (capture details in a leave behind printed document).

What you specifically need from the executive: I would appreciate your consideration and immediate approval to create this new position so I can begin interviewing, and hiring, a new staff person by June 1.

Of course, you will be prepared for the executive to ask questions as you present information. Whether they tell you or show you nonverbally, there is one thing on the minds of executives: “Get to the point.”

When you assume a higher level of leadership with greater responsibilities, you must elevate your presentation style and communication skills when working with the C-suite. Learn to think like executives and communicate in a format they are already accustomed to: The Executive Summary.

Oscar’s Eloquence

oscarsThe presentation style of this year’s top Academy Award recipients for acting can be summed up in one word: eloquence. There were no awkward moments, no lengthy or boring remarks that were read from notes, no fillers (“Oh my God”…”I don’t know what to say”…”I know there’s someone I’m forgetting”…”They’re telling me to wrap it up”), and thankfully no F bombs. This year’s acceptance speeches were refreshingly meaningful and heartfelt. Here are the high points and their lessons:

Jared Leto (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The first top winner of the evening, Leto’s eloquent remarks set the tone for the evening and also raised the bar for other recipients to follow. He shared an intimate story about a teenage woman (who he later revealed as his mother) struggling to rear two small children on her own in the early 1970s. Her determination served as a positive role model for him. He used the platform to acknowledge the 36 million victims who have been lost to AIDS (the focal point of the movie). His unselfish closing remark contained a powerful WOW factor: “To those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” The presentation lesson: Have a killer closing.

Lupita Nyong’o (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 12 Years a Slave): With graceful radiance, this first-time nominee’s remarks complemented her elegant stature. She spoke of how her character, Patsy, a slave, guided her in this powerful role, and that she offered her Oscar to the spirit of Patsy. She also reminded children all over the world that “your dreams are valid.” The presentation lesson: Speak from the heart.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Blue Jasmine): Ever-gracious, ever-gorgeous in her style, Blanchett began her remarks with humor by telling the audience to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand.” Throughout her remarks, she thanked everyone in a light, humorous style. She used the platform to remind the audience that female-centric movies are more than a niche market; that they are profitable and audiences support them. The presentation lesson: Use humor tastefully; present messages that reflect who you are.

Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The framing of his remarks, with three short yet powerful messages, each with a personal story, made McConaughey’s comments real and memorable. Those three are: Someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase. He ended his remarks with his signature saying, “Alright, alright, alright!” The presentation lesson: Add the power and punch of personal stories to core messages.

Each of these talented actors spoke from a heartfelt emotional place. Rather than using impersonal scripted notes, they chose to be fully present in the moment and speak with sincere gratitude and purpose. In your next presentation, speak from a place of eloquence and authenticity. Your audience will feel more connected to you and your message.

P.S. – If you want to understand how to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, watch the video of Bono’s performance. You could hear a pin drop when Bono and U2 performed an acoustic, stripped down version of Ordinary Love, nominated for Best Original Song from the movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. As Bono moved closer to the audience, kneeling before them, inviting them in, and hitting those high notes, it was…sheer perfection.

Have a Conversation With Your Audience

GasStationYou are about to deliver that big presentation: A sales pitch to a client, a status meeting with the board of directors or a keynote speech at an industry conference. You think it’s a good idea to write a script and memorize it. Not so fast! Let’s think this through. When you find yourself in that position of creating and delivering an important presentation, remember one thing: Have a conversation with your audience.

One-on-one or small group conversations are never rehearsed; rather, they are delivered impromptu, without any preparation. You give some thought to what you are about to say, and then you speak. The opposite of impromptu is a scripted, rehearsed presentation. If you practice your presentation dozens of times, inserting the same gestures and facial expressions on cue, you could be perceived as too mechanical or disingenuous. Instead, rehearse your presentation enough times so that you remember the key points and any supportive stories, examples or anecdotes. Every time you speak it, the words will slightly change because you are remembering the framework, not a script. You will have a conversation with your audience rather than memorize your script word for word.

Having a conversation with your audience creates greater attention and intimacy. If you were sitting in the audience, would you prefer the speaker talk to you or converse with you? Conversing with your audience brings your material to life and results in more powerful messages and more memorable presentations.

For instance, I could say: While on vacation with my parents in Dubuque at  the age of five, I was accidentally left behind at a gas station. My mother used the excuse that she was preoccupied with a candy bar, yet, my opinion differs vastly. (A tad bit wordy and sounds too scripted)

Same Information…More Conversational: When I was five, my parents accidentally left me at a gas station in Dubuque. We were on vacation. My mom claims she was preoccupied with a candy bar. I beg to differ. (Shorter sound bytes; easy to grasp)

Listen to the language you use when delivering a presentation. Do you sound like you are reading to the audience or engaged in a conversation? How conversational are you? What can you do to become more conversational?