How to deliver a speech like Oprah

Aside from the fact that it’s Oprah and her name & person have become synonyms for greatness, when talking about giving a public speech that can bring the house down, we can all learn from the best, right? I have prepared some pointers on how to deliver a speech like Oprah, based on her awesome Golden Globes performance that got us all talking. 

Taking the mic is never easy, even when the stage is your classroom, the audience is your board of directors or even your teammates. If you were terrified of every company presentation, every project description, every speech you have ever delivered, you have to relax, you are not alone in this. Fear of public speaking is one of the most common anxieties humans share, it does not discriminate. I bet even famous people have it, you know, the kind that attend and receive a Golden Globe.

No matter how big is the speech you are preparing for, we can all take some lessons from the one Oprah gave when accepting the Cecil B. Demille Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Golden Globes.

Speak from the heart and not from notes

This is not an easy one, but it makes all the difference.

It means that you have to prepare it thoroughly, rehearse it out loud and even in front of a mirror if that works. Know it by heart, try hand gestures, make it a part of who you are and it will come out naturally.

It’s not a poem, it’s not all about saying the words right, it’s about the flow of the speech, the moments you connect with your audience, the “rehearsed spontaneity” that will make you stand out. Rehearse even your side jokes, have everything prepared so when the moment comes, you can focus on the greatness of your message, and not on remembering what comes next.

Make it personal

This is exactly how Oprah started: “In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house…”. She naturally put herself in the middle of the subject, giving us perception and introducing everyone to the story. We were there with her, on that linoleum floor and so were thousands of young girls.

Whenever you give a speech, try to induce that same feeling, make everybody a part of your story, share something personal, make them relieve it with you or make it a common experience. While describing your project proposal, make sure the details are indulging all senses, use precise specifications to take them where you want – not any floor, a linoleum one!

Serve a higher purpose

Oprah did not give an acceptance speech, thanking everyone and waving to the cameras. She knew that her words will stand out and she made sure every single one of them made a difference.

Make it personal, but not make it about you! Everybody could relate to Oprah speech: ”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, in restaurants. 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 our soldiers in the military.”

This can be applied everywhere, from a high school graduation speech to any company pitch that you want to win. If you can convince your audience that your product, your generation, your company is here to make a difference in how people will think, live, buy things from now on, you have made it. If you can deliver hope for the better, everyone will be on board.

Connect the dots

Make detailed parallels between current events and past situations, put things into a larger perspective. That Recy Taylor example was not mentioned by chance, it was part of a shocking truth meant to stir up the crowds, pull a tear out of your eye and consolidate the higher belief that it’s time to stand up.

You can easily do this in every speech if you pick something that is of great meaning for your audience. For example, if you want to convince the upper management that it’s time for a change in your marketing approach, remind them of all the times they took a chance and it worked great, how people relate to the fact that the brand is a risk taker.

It always helps to have a famous quote or a little-known fact related to a world-renowned figure that can make people see things in a different way.

Structure

Always start with something good, build your arguments up and then, finish with a blast. Attention grabbers first, engage your audiences with specific details along the way, make them part of the story and keep the best for last.

Let’s say you have a pitch coming up and you have 3 creative suggestions to propose. How to arrange them in order to stand out? Start with a great one, with a shocker, with elements you know they are waiting to see, but with a twist if possible. Then present the second one, that is still on track, very adaptable and nice, and end with your best idea, the one your entire team is excited about, that perfectly ties up the concept.

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