Oprah @ Golden Globes - Great Speech Anatomy
Let me tell you a story,
The number one question we get from our customers is, “How do I tell a great story?” The first two questions we ask to find the answer is about the audience. The two questions are: how do you want them to feel and what do you want them to say when your speech is over? After all, it is the audience that grades your speech as great. Once we know what the goals are for the audience we start with understanding six-story components and we mold from there.
This week, to help illustrate how those six-story components come together we decided to break down a recent speech that achieved story-speech stardom. The speech was given by Oprah Winfrey when she accepted the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in January of 2018.
Ah! Thank you. Thank you all. O.K., O.K. Thank you, Reese. 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’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. And I’ve tried many, 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’s in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”: “Amen, amen. Amen, amen.” In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille Award right here at the Golden Globes, and it is not lost on me that at this moment there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.
It is an honor, and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them, and also with the incredible men and women who’ve inspired me, who’ve challenged me, who’ve sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson, who took a chance on me for “A.M. Chicago”; Quincy Jones, who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, “Yes, she is Sophia in ‘The Color Purple’”; Gayle, who’s been the definition of what a friend is; and Stedman, who’s been my rock — just a few to name. I’d like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know that the press is under siege these days.
→ The above paragraphs is what we call the “Story of Me.” It is an engaging story that tells the audience what they need to know about you to believe whatever it is you are about to say. Remember, before your audience will trust what you say, they have to trust you! What is interesting about this is that Oprah is pretty well known to all of us, but she took the time to teach us something we didn’t know about her that was very relevant to this speech.
But we also know that it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To tyrants and victims and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before, as we try to navigate these complicated times.
→ This excerpt is called the “Story of Them.” This is where you tell the audience why they should care about you, and you do this by telling them their story. In this excerpt, Oprah talks about understanding the dedication to uncovering their truths. By telling them their story, she has engaged them. It makes the audience say, “hey, Oprah is talking about me” and that creates a connection.
Which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell. And this year we became the story. 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 farmworkers; they are working in factories and they work in restaurants, and they’re in academia and engineering and 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.
→ These paragraphs are called the “Story of Us.” Oprah takes the audience’s story (story of them), combines it with her story (story of me) and then talks about how she sees tomorrow, “...speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Note that she addresses the audience in the room (“...celebrated by the stories they tell”) and the TV (“...whose names we’ll never know”). Too often we tell people how we see tomorrow, but they don’t care because our vision of tomorrow isn’t resonating with them. What your audience cares about is how you can make tomorrow better for them. In these paragraphs, Oprah is creating a tribe around searching for and telling the truth.
And they’re someone else: Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and a mother. She was just walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Ala., when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road, coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the N.A.A.C.P., where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case and together they sought justice. But justice wasn’t an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.
And I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth — like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented — goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’s heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery. And it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too.” And every man — every man — who chooses to listen.
→ These two paragraphs are the “Proof Story.” The proof story is where you prove to your audience that you are right. Here, Oprah uses Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks as proof that sharing your truth - even when there are many reasons not to - can change the world. It is clever that she uses a new story (the story of Recy Taylor) and a familiar story (the story of Rosa Parks) to prove her point. By doing this she is educating us with knowledge deeper than we were already empowered by.
In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. And I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning — even during our darkest nights.
→ This paragraph is the “Teaching Story.” Not only does Oprah teach us about Recy Taylor, but she teaches us how, throughout her career, she has searched for the truth even when it is “...some of the ugliest things like can throw at you.” She teaches us that the quality in all of these people who share their truth is hope. Oprah teaches us to be willing to share our truth and to have hope that by sharing that truth, there will be a “brighter morning.”
So I want all the girls watching here and 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. Thank you.”
→ This ending is the second “Story of Us.” It is brilliantly placed at the end of the speech where Oprah issues a call to action for the tribe she has created in the audience to take the hope to the generations of tomorrow. Just like Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks did.
Here is to great stories,
Acceptance Speech Video: https://youtu.be/fN5HV79_8B8
Acceptance Speech Text: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/movies/oprah-winfrey-golden-globes-speech-transcript.html