What Speakers Can Learn from Oprah's Golden Globe Speech


There's a lot of talk about Oprah's Golden Globe speech. And well there should be! Sunday night I actually sat down to watch the Golden Globes. Truth be told, I haven't been into award shows lately, probably because I haven't been into movies lately (see also: I have three kids and no time).

But, there was something that drew me in Sunday night.  And that something was Oprah Winfrey.

Me and Oprah have a history. (Not a real history, mind you - but a history nonetheless.)

She and I both were in high school speech. She and I both had some significant success on the national stage in said high school speech. She had a talk show. A woman named Sally also had a talk show... (Ok, that last one doesn't count.)

But I've basically always wanted to be Oprah. I mean - who wouldn't?!

I even had a dream one night - a few weeks before I graduated from college as a theater and English double-major with dreams of doing something 'stagey' with my life - that I was auditioning for Oprah singing John Denver's Country Road.  (I know, there's a lot to analyze with that one.)

I don't have to sell you on the power of Oprah. She has earned it - with her decades of service to the human condition - and her poignant and powerful moments on the screen - and how, as Reese Witherspoon said in her introduction the other night, her name is Noun, Adjective and Verb.


So, even before Sunday night, I was a fan.

And then I got to hear her speak. I mean - really SPEAK. Like, take this little white girl from the suburbs of Minnesota and now I suddenly understand the concept of CHURCH, kind of speak.

I watched as people in that room were compelled to their feet, applauding. And I did the same at home. It was a moment.

(Am I gushing? I GUSH. I gush for Oprah.)

But the gushing is deserved because it wasn't just your run-of-the-mill memorable awards speech; it was ORATORY, in the best sense of the word.

As a presentation coach and speaker, sometimes it's hard to describe what works and what doesn't because what works and what doesn't doesn't always work (and not work), depending on the person. It's a personal and intuitive art form. Which makes it both a wonderful challenge - and a somewhat intimidating endeavor - for speaker and coach alike.

I want more of us to be like Oprah.

I mean - we can't all be *like* Oprah. But we can, as we have for decades, learn from her. 

Here are three foundational ideas that we can ALL learn from Oprah's Golden Globe speech to help us move our audience more. To compel them to their feet. To create a moment of catharsis that is both of the present moment, and beyond it.


Three Lessons from Oprah on Moving Our Audience

#1: CONDUCT the moment.

One of the most obvious takeaways from Oprah's Golden Globe 10-minute speech (in a normally rushed award show) is how NOT rushed she was.

She was completely in control of that moment.

She walked slowly up on stage. She soaked in the applause. She waited. She was in no rush, and no one wanted to rush her. And then she dove into a well-crafted, well-planned speech that hit on all the levels.

Like a brilliant conductor, she knew exactly when to push - when to pull - when to move quickly, and when to soak in. When to raise her voice and when to quiet it. It was masterful.

This kind of mastery only comes from experience and self-trust. She has layers of skilled craft and learning on the stage, in front of the lights and cameras, improvised and scripted, as host, facilitator, interviewer, speaker...

She trusts herself on stage, and owns that space so confidently. Like all conductors must do.

Like a conductor who raises her wand while the audience quiets and the musicians prepare before directing an experience for the audience to join them on - Oprah stood up there and said - I am the conductor of this moment.

When Oprah raises her voice, we follow her.

When she quiets down, we are drawn in.

She goes up; we go up. She goes down, we go down.

And that's what I want us as speakers to do more: to conduct the moment - from walking on stage to walking off stage and everything in between. I don't mean that we need to choreograph every moment (only trained actors or highly experienced performers should attempt that), cause most of us can't pull that off successfully without it feeling canned and artificial.

But we need to intentionally create the moment. Oprah knew what she was doing at every moment in that speech. Us mere mortals can learn from her to bring that same intentionality to our speeches.

#2: Tell the story of ME, US and NOW

A few years ago I interviewed John Capecci for my show, This Moved Me. He is a brilliant presentation coach that works with advocates to help them tell their stories better. And he introduced me to the concept of Marshall Ganz's work about Public Narratives. 


It boils down to:

The story of ME

The story of US

The story of NOW.


This is the framework for how to take your personal story and connect it with a universal 'other' - the community, the world, and the needs of those people.

And as I sat listening (or stood, applauding) during Oprah's Golden Globe speech - I realized this is EXACTLY what she did. [You can read her transcript here.]

She shared a Story of Herself...

"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 ever remembered. His tie was white, his skin was black—and he was being celebrated. I'd 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."..."

To the Story of US, taking her story and shifting to the story of all of us:

"But it's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all 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 and they work in restaurants and 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 they're our soldiers in the military..."

To the Story of NOW -

"So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."..." 


This kind of framework builds momentum.

The Story of ME pulls us in. I can't debate your story, or deny it. It just is. (Our stories are such powerful tools in this time of division!)

And the Story of US reminds us that there IS an us. We are not alone. Your experience and mine have this in common.

And the Story of NOW - this is the advocacy part. The CHURCH part. The now is the time to DO something part. The part that has everyone talking about Oprah 2020.

We as speakers - we can use this format more. Because whether you're leading an internal meeting or you're standing on the TED stage...

we are all advocating something.


Story of ME

Story of US

Story of NOW

#3: Fill the room.

Oprah knows how to use her voice, and she fills the room with it!

I often tell my speakers to speak to the back of the room and to take up more space. I'm trying to give them a sense of how to stay grounded in their own authentic voice but to also meet the needs of this larger moment - something that's two notches more than "regular old you."

When you find yourself up in front of a large room, it asks you to become as large as it is. Metaphorically and otherwise.

Oprah was as big as that room with her voice. "...a NEW DAY is on the horizon!"... - The moment that got people on their feet.  It takes courage to bravely 'go big' like that, hoping that people will follow you. But because of the confident way in which she did it, you are simply swept along with her.

And she was as big as the room with her presence. She was captivating - and yet hardly moved. It was this sense of - dare I say it? - royal presence that draws you in.

But it was more than just her skill and experience as a public speaker.

This speech could have been a reflective and gracious Thank You. That's what most people do  - and that's lovely and well and good. But not Oprah.

Oprah sensed that the moment called for something more.

Maybe she WAS kicking off her Presidential campaign. (I'd entertain that!) Maybe she recognized the disturbing void we feel, as we look to our leaders for inspiration and vision and strength and see the opposite, knowing it would strike a powerful chord. Maybe she recognized that this year especially - as a black woman at this time in our history - she couldn't responsibly NOT say anything and hold her place as a leader in this world.

Or maybe she simply recognized that she has earned this moment, and she wasn't going to waste it.

I don't really care what was motivating her; it was a beautiful speech that called me - and millions of others - back to the very best in us. That's what a speech can do. And - like we have for years - we can learn from Oprah:

Conduct the speech.

Tell the story of ME, the story of US, and the story of NOW.

Fill the room.




Do you know the 7 Speaking Truths that every speaker must know if they want to have an impact? Find out here!