What do Oprah Winfrey, Sterling K. Brown, and Lena Waithe have in common? (Besides being talented, accomplished, and world-renowned artists of course).
They all know how to speak with style and substance—and 2017 made sure they were able to do just that.
There is no time limit to a great speech. You can embue humour, wisdom, authenticity, and command a stage in just a few minutes the same way you can in half an hour.
To illustrate this we wanted to highlight a commencement speech and two acceptance speeches. All three exceptional examples of good speech delivery that show you how to become a better speaker.
Read on to see how these three were able to charm their specific audiences, whether they were presenting to professors or producers.
How Do I Write an Award-Winning Speech?
Watch your favorite speeches to see what makes them so compelling. Then:
- Research your audience
- Define your big idea
- Include emotional stories
- Write a messy first draft
- Refine it
- Refine it again
- Read it to others
- If they have an intense and positive emotional reaction then consider it a success!
Speeches are a powerful way to lock in your legacy as the three examples below will show.
Oprah Winfrey’s Commencement Speech
Commencement speeches provide a platform for the successful and learned to share their wisdom with new graduates.
In her commencement speech, actress, entrepreneur, and all-around powerhouse Oprah Winfrey brought her warmth and personality to the all-too-often “stuffy” world of academia.
Oprah Winfrey gave the 2017 commencement speech for Agnes Scott College, a private liberal arts college for women. Her speech perfectly illustrated how a polished anecdote can reach scores of people.
Oprah chose to share the personal story of one of her “daughter-girls” from her program to educate young African women. In South Africa, this girl was only known by the name “Pretty,” and when she moved to the States, she told others to call her that too.
However, when Oprah made a stop at Agnes Scott to speak with the school’s president, she was caught off-guard when she began telling her about Sotoca—”Pretty”’s actual name.
After a few months on campus, Sotoca asked other to call her by her real name after re-evaluating what her true values were.
“That’s what happens when you come to Agnes Scott,” Oprah begins. “A girl who was just happy to be called ‘Pretty’–she gets educated here and thinks more deeply about what matters to herself… She wants to own herself in the fullness of her name.”
By choosing to share a personal and relatable story, Oprah was able to connect to this graduating class on a foundational level. Not to mention the gripping message she imparted about owning ourselves and our beliefs.
Aside from great one-liners and a spirited tale, the highlight of this award-winning speech was how much Oprah was simply being herself.
As she says later on, “You’re nothing if you’re not the truth.”
She’s right! Her genuineness and lack of a mask make her all the more appealing.
By laughing with her audience, telling stories rooted in her commitment to service, and simply being herself, Oprah kept everyone engaged without a single yawn.
Her skills as a storyteller are undisputed, but her use of humor and body language is equally commendable. Oprah balances stories that pull at her audience’s heartstrings with authentic comments that produce deep, belly laughter. (That section about being loaded and loving shoes? Hilarious!)
That contrast is part of what makes her speech delivery so good.
Plus, by staying physically open, she is able to draw the audience in even further. She regularly gestures and over-enunciates, making her message more clear as well as adding visual interest.
Finally, the structure of her commencement speech is a wonderful plot of callbacks and repetition. Each new lesson she imparts includes connections to her past statements.
She weaves these lessons together to create a tapestry that tells a whole story and cohesive message.
Her speech further established her as a leader as well as a powerful orator.
Sterling K. Brown’s Emmy Speech
You may know Sterling K. Brown from his role in the award-winning show, This Is Us. His work on the screen paid off–he was honored with an Emmy for playing Randall Pearson in 2017.
His second Emmy win and accompanying acceptance speech can teach us a few things when it comes to good speech delivery.
Right off the bat, Brown acknowledged past winners of the “Lead Actor in a Drama” category, situating himself in a long lineage of outstanding actors.
Providing context is key.
Make sure your message is positioned in the larger conversation surrounding it so your audience knows you’ve done your homework.
On top of providing context, Brown’s acknowledgment of his successors also spoke of his humility and sincere gratitude for this award. His earnest gratitude made for a more believable and compelling speech.
Besides, his rattling-off characters and names like that elicited quite a few laughs from the audience. He successfully avoided boring lists like a pro.
Second, Brown was genuine. He was fully engaged and present the entire speech.
He spoke sincerely about his love for his fellow cast members, writers, and audience. His excitement was palpable. Just like Oprah, his genuineness makes him more appealing to his audience.
Finally, the top tip from Brown’s award-winning speech is to never be afraid of finishing what you have to say.
When the Emmy producers played music loudly over him, attempting to cut his speech short, Brown carried on thanking the writers and others. Paying attention to your time constraints is important, but saying everything you have to say is an absolute must.
In continuing on despite the music, Brown also showed his power and confidence. He knows what he has to say matters, so he doesn’t allow them to cut him off, at least not entirely.
Lena Waithe’s Emmy Speech
In 2017, Lena Waithe made history as she became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for writing in a comedy series.
This colossal achievement came as a result of her episode “Thanksgiving” on Master of None, the Aziz Ansari-created comedy show.
But besides making history, Waithe also delivered an award-winning speech that embraced diversity and established her as a queer leader for all women.
Waithe takes the stage in a flurry of motion and pats on the back, but before beginning to speak, she does something very special.
She takes a breath.
Yes, by taking a big, deep breath, Waithe grounded and prepared herself for this fast-paced and moving speech.
Speaking of fast-paced, Waithe miraculously managed to make it through her whole speech in under two minutes.
Her timing and rhythm go to show how important practice is for presenting and public speaking.
Just like Oprah and Brown, Waithe’s authenticity and sincerity are what make it impossible to look away from her. Her genuine appreciation for her award and the opportunity to celebrate our differences were evident in her words.
Believing in your message is, above all, the best thing any speaker can do.
In the end, she thanks her girlfriend and Netflix for providing a space to tell queer stories.
“The things that make us different,” Waithe says, “those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape, and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if weren’t in it.”
With this final statement, Waithe succinctly sums up why representation is so important and how crucial it is to embrace our truth.
And, judging by the beaming and teary-eyed faces in the audience, Waithe’s words hit home. Talk about good speech delivery.
Final Tips For Good Speech Delivery
Try to remember this the next time you’re watching an award show: every speaker is an educator.
Let their acceptance speeches show you what works–or what doesn’t–and learn from them! The award and graduation seasons can help you prepare for your next speech, no matter what stage you’ll be speaking from.
What makes these speeches, these moments in time, so impactful and compelling is the conviction behind every word. It’s clear that Oprah, Brown, and Waithe alike believe in their individual messages wholeheartedly.
If you pack some belief into that punch, others will believe you too.
So, go out there and practice your speech, believe in your message, and learn from your failures.
As Oprah wisely said, “Let failure be your friend.”
TAKE THE FIRST STEP TO MASTER POWERFUL NEW SKILLS
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