Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can You Speak Like Oprah?

25 years of the Oprah Winfrey Show ends today. Most of us have heard her rags to riches story many times - I won't repeat it here - suffice to say she's proven her skills, her versatility, and her worth over the years in countless ways. What matters to us as speakers is how she did the one thing that mattered more in her career than anything else along the way - how she connected with her audience:

Questions - At a very basic level, Oprah is an investigative reporter. Over the years, she learned to ask better and better questions, to more and more interesting people in tremendously diverse situations. Unlike a Barbara Walters or a Morley Safer, Oprah's questions were most often aimed at emotional truth. As a speaker, are you getting in touch with your audiences emotional truth?

Share Your Struggle - Over the years, one of the biggest storylines of Oprah's life on camera has been her weight. We've watched her shrink and inflate numerous times, and after the first few years of hiding it, she began sharing her triumphs and struggles. She made it all OK for her viewers, and they loved her all the more when they realized that even with all the resources at her fingertips, she, too, struggled with everyday issues like weight. Do you share the struggle, and just tout the result?

Give 'Em What They Want - Many of Oprah's shows featured high-powered guest stars, entertainers, and even the occasional 'freak show' - bringing the most extreme possible situations out into the light. While Oprah is often considered the most legitimate of talk show hosts, and the least prone to sensationalism (other than when she gives her audiences cars or flies them all to Australia), she still knows she has to give the audience what they want. If Oprah doesn't do that, if we don't do that on stage, we won't be able to effectively take the next step.

Give 'em What They Need - This is the next step. Oprah routinely tackled tough issues with transparency and honesty. Addictions, abuses, and apologies became real, accessible, and believable on Oprah's show. Whether talking about health, sexuality, religion, literacy, responsibility, or a multitude of other important areas of life, Oprah wasn't afraid to put our vices, shortcomings, and mistakes out for all to see. She even made me want to read Steinbeck.

Be Self-Assured - Oprah seems to have an unwavering belief in herself - and she keeps that image up around the clock. She knows there are millions more that either hold her in contempt or despise her than love and respect her and her work. She knows her every move is being watched and judged. Even under the harshest of lights, she has held up, and put the naysayers, and even those that would betray her, behind her. Speakers often talk of the importance of believing in their message. Belief in yourself ranks even higher in importance.

Be Accessible - Oprah continually added ways for us to get to know her and her life, whether by expanding her subject matter, going behind the scenes, adding guests (Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and so many others) to provide new perspectives, or creating new ways to communicate with her audience with a magazine, a strong web presence, a book club, and now, a network! How many ways can people access your information and your attitude? You may not have a daily show, but you can blog a few times a week. What are YOUR 25 favorite things? Who do YOU hang around with?

Be Positive - Oprah's smile and laugh are infectious. Nearly every show ends on a positive note - whether its and attitude switch or an action step for the viewers. She doesn't leave us in a state of depression, no matter how depressing the topic. When your audience leaves with hope and direction, they'll come back again - in Oprah's case, day after day for 25 years.

It's true, you probably won't become the next Oprah. But she's a prime example of someone who Speaks & Delivers. She's changed the world's expectations when it comes to communication and inspiration. Whether you loved her or hated her - learn from her success!


  1. You are an EXCEPTIONAL writer, Rich! I mean that's it - that's all I have to say. Thank you for sharing your blog on twitter. I'm looking forward to more.

  2. Your blog is a master in the key system. Thank you.



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