Public speeches can be pretty challenging tasks since the speakers should attract attention and convey the message understandably. They need to understand the audience, determine the theme for the address, choose the appropriate style, and make other preparatory efforts. This paper examines the features of Oprah Winfrey’s speech during Harvard Commencement in 2013. Although it is a severe challenge to interest such a sophisticated audience, the speaker was able to attract the listeners’ attention and transmit her message.
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The speaker of the studied speech is the famous TV personality, Oprah Winfrey. Best known as the hostess of her show, she significantly used her popularity and influence to implement various goals. In particular, she became the first black woman billionaire, built many schools, founded a television network, became a philanthropist, and had many other achievements (Biography.com Editors, 2021). Thus, as the speaker, Oprah Winfrey can present the audience with an authoritative opinion and view based on rich experience, making the speech valuable for studying.
The speech raises many questions – from overcoming personal failures to changing the lives of people around. However, all topics are intertwined and combined into a single message to the audience. Winfrey congratulates graduates, expresses faith in their abilities, and encourages them to be themselves. The speaker claims that only by being themselves can people find their path and goals, which will motivate them to overcome failures and make the world better (Harvard University, 2013). She also convinces the audience that people, their joint efforts, and mutual understanding can make significant changes – in charity, politics, and any desired direction.
The choice of speech style depends on the circumstances of its presentation and determines the degree of influence on the audience. In the studied case, Winfrey’s speech corresponds to the extemporaneous style. This method is characterized by preliminary preparation, flexibility, and the use of notes, but with significant support of eye contact with the audience (“Principles,” n.d.). This style is the most effective and recommended in the majority of cases. The speaker uses notes in which she sometimes looks but tries most of the time to address the listeners.
Winfrey gives a speech during the Harvard Commencement in the late spring of 2013. Her address takes place outdoors and in front of a large audience, which can be a challenging setting. However, nothing interrupts speech, and high-quality sound recording on video does not include additional noise – only the speaker’s voice and the audience’s reactions. This setting positively affects speech and its impact, allowing listeners not to be distracted and focus on the message.
The audience also significantly influenced the ability to present the speech clearly. As already noted, Winfrey in the video has many listeners. Given that this event is Harvard Commencement, they should be alumni, their families and friends, faculty and university staff, and other guests. The audience is respectful of the speaker – listens carefully, and gives feedback when necessary. For example, listeners react to jokes with laughter, often applaud in support of a particular opinion, and some individuals nod, agreeing. Applause is often heard, and the camera conveys interest in the faces, which suggests that the audience is fascinated by the speech.
Thus, the studied Oprah Winfrey’s speech is an example of a successful appeal to an audience. The TV host has considerable experience and background, and her opinion is influential. She urges Harvard graduates to be themselves, find their goals, and change the world in the speech. To be effective, the speaker chose the extemporaneous style, characterized by careful preparation and flexibility. Although the address took place outdoors and in front of a large audience, the setting did not interfere with the speech quality. At the same time, the audience was attentive and respectful of the speaker.
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Biography.com Editors. (2021). Oprah Winfrey biography. The Biography.com website. Web.
Harvard University. (2013). Oprah Winfrey Harvard commencement speech | Harvard commencement 2013 [Video]. YouTube.
Principles of public speaking: Methods of delivery. (n.d.). Lumen Learning. Web.