Oprah Winfrey

Wisdom for Speakers to Jumpstart Your New Year

“Improve my presentation skills” is a common New Year’s resolution. Finding the perfect example to follow on how to do that is a bit rare … that is, until you meet Jack Kornfield.

Jack Kornfield is one of the leading Buddhist teachers in America. I saw him speak a few days ago during the Monday Night Class at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Wood Acre, California, just a short drive from where I live.

The Monday Night Class, now in its 27th year, serves as an introduction to Spirit Rock and the Buddhist practices of awareness and compassion, which are the heart of the Spirit Rock community. This weekly gathering also offers support and ongoing teachings to committed students many who have studied at the Center since its founding.

The room was packed Monday night with hundreds in the audience. When Jack asked how many first-timers were in the crowd, dozens of hands went up. Then someone called out, “Thanks, Oprah!” I learned that Oprah had interviewed Jack last fall and the interview aired December 15. The interview brought out people who had never been to Spirit Rock and were curious about Buddhist teachings. 

The Monday Night Class attracts serious students of Buddhism and appreciative newcomers alike and they have never have trouble filling the room. But if you want to exceed capacity with a standing room only crowd, you just need a little fairy dust from Oprah. It was a spirited group.

For Jack Kornfield, it didn’t matter if he was speaking to 2 or 200. He was his usual entertaining and enlightening self, delivering his teachings with Buddhist-style charisma and practicing what he preaches by sharing his stories with patience, compassion and kindness. He is a good speaker, a gifted storyteller and a teacher who knows how to stand on the shoulders of the giants before him, reading their poetry and quoting their wisdom. Watching him, you get the feeling that he takes it all very seriously yet has an infinite capacity for lightheartedness. That combination is his greatest appeal.

And that’s the lesson I want to pass on this New Year as you make your resolutions about public speaking. If you are going to speak with greater poise, power and passion, do so with intense seriousness and commitment, but remember to keep a light heart. Happy 2014!

Oprah’s Farewell: The Final Ovation for One of the World’s Most Influential Public Speakers

Wednesday for Women Celebrates Oprah! Oprah’s legend is…well…legendary. For 25 years, she has been the foundation of daytime TV for millions of people all over the world. And throughout it all, her presence and messages have been uplifting, inspiring and revitalizing.

I recently heard the story of a woman who purchased a pair of Oprah’s shoes at an auction. She said that whenever she feels sad or overwhelmed, she goes to her closet and steps into Oprah’s shoes. Talk about having a powerful influence on people! We all want a piece of those people who we believe have something we don’t possess—greater strength, clearer vision, goodness, talent, confidence. We seek out those people who can fill in our gaps, and for the last quarter century, Oprah has been that person for millions of people.

I have not been able to watch Oprah on a regular basis, but when I have caught her show, I am just as enthralled as everyone else. She has a natural way of communicating that draws us in. Her warm, deep voice, her broad inviting smile, and her easy tone and cadence are engaging. She is the consummate “connector.”

So when you’re looking for a communications role model, look no further than Oprah. Here is my tribute to this great woman and what she means to the world of public speaking:

O – Optimistic. Even when Oprah was covering a negative topic (failed relationships, child abuse story, unusual homicide case, etc.), she always looked for the good that could come in the future. That’s something we should all strive to do every day. So the next time you need to communicate bad news, state it, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, keep your focus on the good that will eventually come from the situation.

P – Prepared. I’ve heard that Oprah is a stickler for details and doesn’t like to be surprised. She and her producers are prepared for everything and anything that can happen during a show. Not only does she have a Plan B, but she also has a Plan C, D, E, and F. Oprah exemplifies that preparedness equals success.

R – Relevant. Oprah knows her main audience and makes every episode relevant to them. Being on her show could make anyone famous (and it has), but her guest list never strayed from the types of people and stories her viewers wanted to see. By making the information presented relevant, she earned millions of eager viewers every day.

A – Authentic. Oprah started her career as a TV news anchor, but she didn’t last long in that role because she had a hard time hiding her true self on camera. Yet, it’s her uninhibited authenticity that made her talk show a success. People tune in to watch her just as much as they tune in to watch the day’s topic. Oprah refuses to hide who she is. She cries on camera with people, shows all her emotions freely, and isn’t afraid to be her authentic self.

H – Humorous. While not a comedian, Oprah makes people laugh in her own way. She doesn’t tell jokes in the traditional manner; rather, she lets her natural humor shine through to diffuse a tense situation, make a point, and put others at ease. She shows that humor doesn’t always have to be about knee-slapping laughter.

Thank you, Oprah, for 25 amazing years…and for so many priceless pieces of presentation skills wisdom.

In my Wednesday for Women blog series, I feature stories, resources and valuable information to help women gain greater influence, power, and confidence in their professional and personal life. Please forward these weekly Wednesday blogs to the powerful women in your life. They’ll thank you for it!

Need a last minute gift for your favorite Public Speaker?

Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte Nancy Duarte gives us a reason to Resonate. Her new book, Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform aAudiences, is part how-to guide and part narrative that gives justification for an approach Duarte calls “story based messaging.” Using techniques from storytelling and the cinema, she explains her methodology, explores case study applications, and guides readers through a unique process for building presentation content.

Duarte bases her premise on a simple phenomenon in physics: If you know an object’s natural rate of vibration, you can make it vibrate without touching it. Resonance occurs when an object’s natural vibration frequency responds to an external stimulus of the same frequency. She then builds the case that this same ide is what moves audiences and that all presenters should strive to create resonance with their listeners.

According to Duarte, resonance in speaking is created when the presenter delivers a memorable story in a powerful way. To help readers accomplish this, Duarte builds a new language for story creation. Her content development process gives readers a model to create presentations, and it advocates using a well-developed, example rich storyline coupled with powerful, visual design. By incorporating Edward Tufte’s sparkline concept, Duarte provides a way for readers to build and analyze presentations visually.

What’s wonderful about this book is that at the same time Duarte is telling us what to do, she is also showing us the steps visually. In this way, she practices what she preaches: the beautifully designed pages come to life and resonate with the reader.

Resonate has many gems, but one that stood out was Duarte’s explanation of the STAR moment. As she explains, STAR is a presentation device that drives home the big idea of a presentation for the audience. STAR stands for Something They’ll Always Remember, which Duarte states “should be so profound or so dramatic that it becomes what the audience chats about at the watercolor or appears as the headline of a news article. Planting a star moment in a presentation keeps the conversation going even after it’s over and helps the message go viral.”

In this book, the visuals are Duarte’s STAR moment. She is a master of visual design. Where at times the text was tedious, the visual images were always exciting and memorable.

Particularly interesting are the case studies ranging from Ronald Reagan’s eulogy after the Challenger disaster to speeches from people like Richard Feynman, Michael Pollen, Pastor John Ortberf, Steve Jobs, Markus Covert, Leonard Bernstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.

While the case studies are powerful examples of her methodology, I was disappointed that there were so female speakers mentioned. With so many women in the arts, science, education, fashion, business, politics, and the law, readers can learn much from great female speakers like Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey,  Gloria Steinem, Wangari Maathai, Isabel Allende, Renee Fleming, Elizabeth Gilbert,  Carol Bartz, and Elana Kagan, just to name a few.

As unique and useful as Resonate is, be forewarned that this book is not for casual readers who are looking for a few tips to help them succeed in front of a group. Rather, it is a complex book that requires concentration and commitment to interpret and adopt the process, models, and graphs. As Dan Post, President of Duarte Design, says in the book’s Foreword, “Resonate is intended for people with ambition, purpose, and an uncommon work ethic.” In other words, this is a book for professionals who want to delve deeply into the study of what makes powerful presentations.

If you take your presentations seriously and want to build “presentation literacy” this book is an important resource and well worth the effort. Duarte’s work is thoughtful and inspiring. By synthesizing disparate points of view and using examples of speakers from many disciplines, she has created something unique in the industry. While it’s hard to improve on the speaking lessons from the ancient Greek Orators, Duarte has done it. Resonate will give you a fresh, new look at an age-old subject.