What Can Oprah Teach Us About Communication
April 23rd, 2018
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After Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, people called upon her to run for President of the United States in 2020. You may or may not support that idea, but you cannot oppose one thing – Oprah is an expert when it comes to communication. She made an indisputable impact on society and has transformed the age of communication, which made her a true leader in journalism and media. So, what’s her success story and what can we learn from her about communication?
Oprah Winfrey’s success story begins in 1986 when she became the host of her own talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. She used the show as the opportunity to discuss social issues in the American society, and her topics ranged from the AIDS crisis to building healthy relationships. To increase the relevancy of her show, she interviewed various people, from actors and singers to the middle class and commoners. As her popularity grew, she sought the opportunity to become the chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Studios (currently known as Harpo Productions).
Harpo Studios produced many popular shows, including Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Rosie Show. Oprah continued to dominate media and communication when she gained interest in cable networks and print media. In the summer of 2000, she developed a new magazine publication, O, The Oprah Magazine, for which she got a subscription base of 2.5 million readers. Most recently, she became CEO and chairwomen of another company, Oprah Winfrey Network, that took over Discovery Health Channel in 2011. The question arises – how did Oprah gain success and popularity from only a self-named talk show to such an extensive background in media, journalism, and communications?
Oprah opened her famous Golden Globes speech with a line:
“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscars for the best actor at the 36th Academy Awards.“
And then she told us a touching story about her mother:
“Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road.“
To capture the attention of your audience, you should stimulate their imagination. Storytelling creates an emotional bond and your audience can feel what you’re feeling. Relevant and powerful stories can add great depth to what your audience is perceiving, and they can understand your message better than if you are talking about abstract concepts.
The fact that Oprah went from rags to riches illustrates the American dream – and she used her heartbreaking story many years ago to connect with people all over the country. In many occasions, she discussed her childhood which consisted of poverty, neglect, and sexual abuse. That allowed her fans to get to know her on a more deep and personal level. Oprah’s ability to speak honestly and directly is what attracts the audience to her personality.
This generates what is known in communication as a personal attraction. The audience can relate to her because of her sincerity and genuine personality.
Oprah opening to her audience allowed them to look at her as their friend or neighbor, which encouraged women across the United States to watch her daily. She was not afraid to show emotions to occurrences or situations. During interviews, she showed nonverbal communication with the audience, as well as with her guests.
These forms of nonverbal communication included crying, laughing, gasps, and body language. Until Oprah, a talk show host showing emotional regard to a guest was unheard of.
Back to Oprah’s Golden Globes speech – when she talked about abuse, she didn’t make it exclusive to the entertainment industry. She referred to:
“They are the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they are in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They are part of the world of tech and politics and business. They are our athletes in the Olympics and they are our soldiers in the military.“
When connecting with your audience, keep things real and honest.
If you want to inspire your audience, craft some simple and memorable phrases that you are going to repeat. In Oprah’s case, she wanted to ensure that nobody ever has to say me too again. She closed her remarkable speech by making her message very clear:
“So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.“
The opening and the first impression are important, but sending a clear message throughout your presentation is vital, too. Presenting ideas is not just about showing people how much you know and how creative you are. It’s about making a difference, and the best way to achieve that is by inspiring people that listen to you.
Oprah is a one of a kind in the industry of communications, mass media, and journalism. She is an entrepreneur, actress, educator, producer, philanthropist, talk show host. She is also a friend, a neighbor, and a person everyone can relate to. And that’s all thanks to her incredible communication skills!
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