Posts tagged story
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!

Engage Your Audience with Mini-Stories
Storytelling is the new “black” of marketing, the buzzword on every advertiser’s lips. And for good reason – who doesn’t like a story? In this post I want to show you the easiest way to incorporate a story into your next presentation. #speech #publicspeaking #presentation #speechcoach #powerpoint #keynote #conference motivation #inspiration #slidedeck

Storytelling is the new “black” of marketing, the buzzword on every advertiser’s lips.  And for good reason - who doesn’t like a story?  In this post I want to show you the easiest way to incorporate a story into your next presentation.   You'll be amazed at how well it works.

I know that it’s tempting to start out with your name, your position in your company, a dictionary definition of a key word, maybe a quote or "interesting" question (good luck with that, lol).  This kind of introduction feels familiar and safe.  Don’t succumb to this temptation...I beg you.  If it’s valuable information, like an impressive statistic or little known fact that illustrates your point, it for later, after you've hooked and impressed your audience, and start with a story instead.  

Me during a fun story I told at our first Open Mic.

Me during a fun story I told at our first Open Mic.

Here’s why.  Even if the audience is already interested in your topic, they want to know that yours is going to be a great talk - that you are not only going to provide valuable information, but that you are going to do it in a way that is interesting and even entertaining.  Open with the phrase “I’d like to begin today by telling you a little story”  and the effect will be nearly palpable.  Your audience will settle into their chairs, tension draining from their face.  They will be all ears. That is a magical moment that won’t last forever.  Think of it as your first impression.  The better your start, the more your audience is willing to stay tuned for the rest of the ride.  Start poorly and you will be hard pressed to gain their full attention later in the talk.  So, seize that magical moment with both hands and run as far as you can with it.  

My audience during that same story.

My audience during that same story.

Let me illustrate.  I once had a student giving a speech about how to cope with stress.  He was having trouble coming up with a relevant story for his introduction, so I asked him to tell me about a time that he got really stressed out.   He told me a story about how he was once on an elevator and it got stuck and stopped.  Everyone in the elevator started talking at once, and he couldn’t take it.  His anxiety got the better of him and he shouted “BE QUIET!”  

“Really?”  I asked.  “You shouted?”

“Yes!” he said.

I persuaded him to use that story as his introduction.  I coached him on how to clearly explain the setting and how to describe the details of how he’d felt when the elevator got stuck, his panic rising by the second.  I even convinced him to actually shout when he came to that part of the story.  The students listened attentively, and they all nearly jumped out of their chairs when he shouted.  Needless to say, it was a wonderful introduction, and they were hooked.  

So how do you know what story to use?  If you can say yes to the following 3 questions, you likely have a good story for your introduction.

1.  Is this actually a story?


An actual story has a beginning, middle and end.  The beginning describes the setting and the problem you (or someone else) faced.  The middle describes your attempt(s) to resolve this problem.  The end tells us how the problem was finally dealt with.  All of this might seem obvious, but it’s easy to confuse a situation with a story.  For example:

“One night, I got really lucky.  It was poring outside, but I had to go to a dinner for my friend.  So I put on my rain boots and a slicker and took my extra large umbrella, and when I got to the party, only my hands were wet!”

This is a situation and not a story because there is no real problem.  This person had all of the equipment to deal with the rain, and did so without incident.  In contrast:

“I'll never forget this one night.... It was raining really hard, but I had to go to an awards dinner for my best friend.  So I put on every piece of rain gear you can think of.  But when I stopped at the curb to grab a taxi, a big van came skidding around the corner.  It was just like in a movie - I couldn't believe it. I jumped out of the way,  dropped my umbrella and water from the van spalshed all over me.  I was soaking wet.  Well... all except my hair.  At least my hood worked.  I imagined myself sitting around a fancy dinner table, a little puddle under my chair.  Then I imagined how Shantal would feel if I wasn't there.  I didn't know what to do.

So now we have a real problem.  And curiousity.  What is this person going to do?  Will she try to go anyway?  Will she go back to her house, change, and then arrive late?  Will that be horrible?  If you tell us what she did to finally make it to the event successfully (or even, not so successfully), you’ve got a story.

2.  Can I clearly connect my story to my topic?  


Let’s say your presentation is about teaching financial literacy to young adults.  You could tell a story about a time when you or someone you know: was trying to save money, lost money, was trying to figure out how to earn money, made a bad decision because of money problems, was in a huge financial bind, etc.  

These are the obvious stories.  But there are also the non-obvious ones in which what happened in the story serves as a metaphor for your topic.  For example, you could tell this story (which I have greatly abbreviated):

The summer that I turned eight years old, I spent all my time collecting beach glass.  Then one day I took my whole collection to show my friend Trinity, and I accidentally left it on the bus on the way home.  I did everything I could think of to find my bag of beach glass, but I never saw it again.  

You could then compare that sense of dread you felt when you realized you’d lost something important (a feeling we can all relate to) to how it feels when you’ve lost money, or even when you realize you don’t have enough for something that you really need.  You can then go on to explain that financial literacy is a way of avoiding that situation.

Either kind of story will work as long as at the end of the story, you make the connection between what happened in the story and your specific topic.

3.  Is my story interesting?


That is, is it interesting to anyone besides me, lol?    Does it have any unexpected twists?  Does it have humor?  Can lots of different types of people identify with it?  Crafting interesting stories is a whole art form, but there are a few elements you can include which will increase your chances of your story being a good one.  See my blog post here for help in this regard.

Bonus Question - Is my story real?

It's not mandatory, but I strongly suggest telling a story about something that really happened to you.   Not only do real stories tend to be more interesting - I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase life is stranger than fiction - but they are easier to create, and easier to tell, because you already know what happened.  Also, everyone likes to hear juicy details told by the person that lived them.

Once you’ve chosen your story, you’ll want to work out what details and parts to include based on the amount of time you have, and then practice delivering it until it feels comfortable.  Remember, beginnings are especially important because they are your first impression, so give yourself time to get it right.  Hook your audience, and they will thank you for it.  

If you’d like some help working on a story of your own, go here to schedule a session with me, and we’ll get right to work!