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Communicator of the Week: Oprah Winfrey

The United States of America has had an interesting collection of people as president who had an eclectic range of professions prior to making themselves at home in the White House. 

There have been Generals, war heroes and draft dodgers; philosophers and lawyers (a lot); actors and criminals (Richard Nixon actually only broke the law once he had achieved high office that we know of); farmers and spies. The current incumbent is a billionaire reality TV star who could be challenged in two years time by the former queen of daytime TV. 

The US political commentariat is currently hoping/guessing that Oprah Winfrey, the self-made billionaire talk-show host, media proprietor, actress and author will seek the Democratic nomination. This speculation may or may not turn out to be misguided but the attention Winfrey has secured herself is certainly well deserved. 

This week Oprah - she is a big enough star that her first name will suffice - was presented with the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. The awards were the first to be held after the allegations of sexual assault, misconduct and bullying by powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. 

It was a great speech. There were some great lines: 

"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”; 

"What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have”;  

"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”.

But any great speech is more than a collection soundbites and rhetorical devices. A great speech needs to make an argument. Motivate people. Inspire people. Educate people. She did all these in around eight minutes - a lesson here that you don’t need to go long in order to make your argument. 

Oprah also used history brilliantly well - as her anchor as well as the thread running throughout her speech - to make the point that the battle for equality has been a long one:

"In 1964 I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee”; 

"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”; 

"In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and a mother. She was just walking home from a church service when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left by the side of the road”.

If you haven’t watched it yet I recommend you do. All too often speeches made at Hollywood award ceremonies are over-blown and over-hyped like a summer blockbuster. They have a few good stunts or memorable bits but as a whole are a little bit lacking in substance. Oprah’s was different. The timing was right for a speech of this kind. She was the right person to make this argument and she stepped up to the moment brilliantly well. 

The New York Times said that Oprah’s speech began as a personal reflection and ended as a call to arms. They were right and is why Oprah Winfrey is my Communicator of the Week. 

Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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