Oprah’s Speech: A Great Opening Story

Everyone’s talking about the amazing speech that Oprah Winfrey delivered at the Golden Globe Awards. But what made it great? Let’s start with her opening story!

It seems like everyone’s talking about the amazing speech that Oprah delivered at the Golden Globe Awards as she received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement this past Sunday night. Many are calling it the highlight of the event, while others are predicting that this may be the moment that propels Oprah Winfrey to run for president of the United States in 2020.

We agree that she delivered a great speech in which she brought her audience to its feet multiple times. But what made it great?

There were many things that Oprah did well during her nine minutes in front of the room. But her OPENING, her decision to begin by telling a story about when she was a little girl watching the Academy Awards, was brilliant. By telling her personal story, filled with the right balance of detail and emotion, she took her audience from where they sat—at a glitzy Hollywood mega-event—to where she wanted to lead them, giving them a glimpse into her bigger message.

In our seminars, we often lead in-depth discussions about how to begin a presentation. We help our clients come up with POW! Statements: relevant data, surprising statistics, analogies or stories that will engage their audiences from the moment they step to the front of the room. Jokes work for some people as well, but only when they fit the personality and the message of the speaker.

Read or watch how Oprah engaged us from the first words that came from her mouth. Here’s how she started:

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. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”: “Amen, amen, amen, amen.”

Oprah’s story revealed much about her life, much about the industry she was addressing, and much about the impact that her audience can have on the society around them. Those in the room were clearly paying attention!

We encourage you to watch the entire speech she delivered. When you know that you’ll be giving a speech, you can prepare in advance, and choose your words carefully, as Oprah did. She varied her tone, she sped up and slowed down, she made her voice loud and soft, and she let the audience know when she was getting to the climax of her message.

But if you ever want to see a great example of how to open an important presentation, take our advice: Do it like Oprah did.

Read the entire transcript by clicking here.

Watch the speech by clicking here.

Read a piece about the impact her speech had on her audience by clicking here.

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