Posts tagged speech structure
Craft a Speech That Brings Down the House With Oprah Winfrey!
Oprah Winfrey receiving the Cecil B. deMille award

Oprah Winfrey receiving the Cecil B. deMille award

This is the speech that Oprah Winfrey delivered at the 2018 Golden Globes, and it brought down the house.  There’s a lot to be learned here, and in this post I reveal the key strategies and techniques Oprah used that add up to nine minutes of presentation genius.  And, I keep it simple, so you’ll understand how you can incorporate these 5 keys into your own speeches. (I’ve noted them in upper case throughout.)

Oprah opens with a STORY.  (Of course she does, lol. It’s one of the most powerful tools you’ve got, as I explain here and here.)  But listen to it carefully.  She doesn't just run through a series of events; instead, she uses precise, descriptive language to paint a picture.  She’s not just watching t.v. - It’s 1964, and she’s a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor watching Sidney Poitier rise to receive his Academy Award.  Portier isn’t just dressed up - he’s “elegant”, and he’s wearing a white tie. Then her mother arrives, “bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses.” With all of these vivid details, we understand on a deeper level what it meant to her to see Poitier become the first black man to win an Academy for best actor.

Then she uses a “CIRCLING BACK” technique, in which she notes how, on this particular night, little girls are watching again, but now these girls are watching Oprah herself be the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. deMille award.  Circling back is often used in conclusions, when the speaker brings us back to something that was said at the beginning. It’s a great way to tie everything together and finish it off with flair. I found it intriguing that Oprah uses this technique early on.   In any case, the juxtaposition of these two”firsts” is powerful. Oprah gets a little emotional, and the audience gets a little excited.  Audience 1

Next, she moves to EXPRESSING GRATITUDE to those who supported her.  She keeps the list short and moves through it quickly, which saves us from becoming bored, and then transitions ever so smoothly to not just thanking the press, but thanking them for their efforts during these “complicated times.” Onto this backdrop she underscores her main point, that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”

Before I go on, I want to point out a few things.  First, gratitude is a theme to which Oprah returns again and again.  The end result is that her AUDIENCE FEELS ACKNOWLEDGED AND VALUED, and she has subtly made them, and not herself, the star of the hour.  Making your audience the star is a basic principle of public speaking that I mention in this blog post.  

Second, her TRANSITIONS are worth a second look.  She picks up a thread from what she was talking about and ties it seamlessly to a thread from what she is going to talk about next.  In the instance above, she moves from all the other thank-yous to thanking the press, which she then links to our current political climate.  Oprah audience 2

Orpah expresses GRATITUDE for all the women “who have endured” a long list of injustices, and TRANSITIONS (once again, seamlessly) into the STORY of Recy Taylor.  I point out the transition again because seamless transitions like these are what help your audience follow along without having to think twice about what you said.

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She uses the STORY of Recy Taylor to create an emotional foundation upon which expresses the dismal status quo, in which “women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men.”  She then describes the better future, in which she emphasizes, “their time is up.” This short rallying cry brings the audience to their feet, cheering.

Orpah returns to the past and its dismal status quo, referencing Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks once again.  Then she swings back to the better future which the #MeToo movement promises, and discusses how those who overcome are those who maintain hope.  This moving back and forth between the old way and the new way is a specific SPEECH STRUCTURE revealed by Nancy Duarte and which you can read more about here.  

In her closing, she CIRCLES BACK to the little girls who are watching, and offers them the hope of a better future, continuing with the SPEECH STRUCTURE I mentioned above.  Once again, Oprah ACKNOWLEDGES those in the audience, men and women alike, who have fought and continue to fight to bring this new day into reality. At this point people are practically dancing in the aisles.  I love seeing smiles on their faces as they realize how brilliantly she has nailed it. Audience 3

The 5 takeaways for YOU are pretty straightforward.

1.  Start with a vivid story, and throw in additional mini-stories to create more impact and help your audience remember your message.

2.  Circle back at some point to something you said at the beginning.  This creates the satisfying sensation that all of the pieces of your speech not only have value, but belong together.  If you can circle back at the end, all the better.

3.  Make your audience, or at least others (and not yourself) the star of the show by expressing gratitude and acknowledging their accomplishments.

4.  Use well-constructed transitions to connect your points, finding a common idea that you can use as a link from what you were talking about to what you’re going to discuss next.

5.  Consider using Nancy Duarte’s speech structure if what you want is a truly inspirational speech.

If you found this post inspiring, hit one of the buttons below so that your friends can be inspired, too!

If you’d like help creating your own inspirational speech, go here. I’d love to help you make a difference!

Change the World with This Special Speech Structure

Today in my “learn from the best” series I’ll be breaking down Nancy Duarte’s well-known talk about the structure behind some of the best known speeches in modern times. Here's a little clue -  it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc.  For best results, watch it here first and then read on to find out just what this structure looks like.  I’ll start by summarizing Duarte’s talk and then highlighting the take aways  you won't want to miss. 

The Summary


Duarte begins by asserting that an idea communicated effectively has the power to change the world, and that the most effective way of communicating this idea is by telling a story.  She notes that a story can actually create a physiological effect in our audience, for example, people might get goosebumps, or move to the edge of their seat. In contrast, a presentation often leaves our audience limp.


Duarte wanted to find out why. So she did a lot of research over several years, from Aristotle to Joseph Campbell to a German dramatist named Gustav Freytag, who created the classic story arc.  She discovered that unlike bad presentations, the best speeches have a particular shape, or structure.  This structure is the basis of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Steve Jobs iphone launch speech in 2007, and the Gettysburg address, as well as many others.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

Above, you can see the structure that Duarte discovered.  At the beginning, the speaker describes the status quo, and then compares it with her idea of “what could be”, emphasizing the difference between the two.  In the middle of the speech, the speaker toggles back and forth between more vivid description of the status quo and more details of what the future looks like with that idea in place.  During this middle section, the speaker makes a point to demonstrate how unappealing the status quo is, especially in comparison to the incredibly bright future ahead. The toggling helps to break down any possible resistance to the idea. At the end of the speech, the speaker gives a call to action, encouraging the audience to adopt her idea, because in doing so, they will help to usher in that great future that she described. 

During the rest of the TED talk, Duarte demonstrates in detail how both Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King used this style, while also including techniques such as modeling what they want their audience to feel and rhetorical devices such as repetition and metaphor.

Duarte begins her closing in a classic way, by circling back to her original point, that ideas which are communicated well can change the world.  And then she surprises us all by getting really personal.  She tells a mini life story that demonstrates how she herself overcame hardship, believing that she was born for something big, for her own world changing moment. (This part makes me cry every time I watch it.)  And she encourages her audience to change their world and create the future they want to see.

The Take Aways

Wow!  What a great talk.  Here’s what you don’t want to miss….

1. Use this structure for a motivational/inspirational talk.

If you want to encourage, inspire or motivate your audience into action, this is the speech structure for you! Here's a little clue - it’s not “3 main points,” nor is it the basic story arc. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs and others successfully used this structure and how you, too, can incorporate it into your presentations. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference #motivation #inspiration

This format works great for encouraging people to take action around one big idea.  Begin by talking about the status quo, focusing on how bad it is, and then describe the future, when your idea has been adopted, focusing on how great that future will be. Toggle between these two ideas in the middle of your speech, and end on a “high” by urging your audience to accept your idea and live that wonderful future for themselves. It’s simple, genius and effective, all at the same time.   Remember, you don't have to give equal time each time you talk about the status quo or the better future. You can reduce the time between each toggle (as Nancy demonstrates in King's speech) to create a heightened level of excitement.

2. Know what your audience cares about and meet them there.

Steve Jobs talked about the difficulties of using old style smart phones, a problem every cell phone owner was acutely aware of.  They wanted an easier to use, more efficient phone, and Jobs delivered. Dr. King used and made reference to songs and Scriptures of resistance, resilience and overcoming that were especially meaningful to his audience.  These familiar, emotionally charged words inspired them to keep fighting for equality, in spite of the difficult path ahead. What does your audience care about? What songs, people, phrases and images will touch them?  Be sure to incorporate those important points of identity into your speech.

3. Don’t be afraid to get personal.


If you’re a nerd like me, it’s easy to get excited about Duarte’s discovery of this speech structure as an awesome presentation device in and of itself.  But stopping there would be missing her point, which is - go out, use this structure to communicate your great ideas, and change the world!  She concedes that being a world changer is not easy, and that we are prone to give up. That’s when she segues into the personal, describing her own life as an example of what it looks like to believe in yourself and overcome hardship.  So Duarte didn’t just share her idea of the speech structure, but by getting personal, and moving to a more emotional level, she inspired me (and probably a lot of others, too) to not give up on my own “big idea.”  

Try this structure during your next inspirational keynote or presentation and let us know how it goes! If you found this post helpful, hit one of the “share” buttons so it can help your friends, too.

And, if you want to use this structure but feel like you need some advice, schedule a session with me here. I’d love to help you make a difference!