Present like Oprah

Oprah Standing Ovation

(If you’re reading this on a smartphone, landscape will work best.)

This article is about using storytelling structure to create truly effective presentations.  To do that, I examine how Oprah’s 2018 Golden Globes speech utilized the Hero’s Journey Story Structure. 

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To set the stage, here’s a short summary of the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell demonstrated that many of the most popular stories, even over thousands of years and across cultures, shared a specific formula. That formula is now commonly referred to as mythic structure, or the hero’s journey. Even if you’ve never heard of it before, you’ve consumed this “monomyth” in works like Star Wars and Harry Potter.

In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell descr­­­ibes 17 stages of the monomyth. Not all monomyths necessarily contain all 17 stages explicitly; some myths may focus on only one of the stages, while others may deal with the stages in a somewhat different order.

An easy summary of these stages is that the Hero leaves his ordinary world (think our work-a-day lives), faces challenges and adventure (think evaluating a purchase, learning a skill etc), returns to his ordinary world with an ‘elixir’ (think solution or great idea) for his family (think so-workers).


The Hero’s Journey has 8 archetypes, or characters.  Here’s a list with Harry Potter characters to give you some context of the roles of the characters. 
















Ron and Hermione












Fred and George




The Dursleys


In this article, we focus on:

The Hero and the Mentor.  In most presentations, those are the characters that are most important; and understanding who is the hero and who is the mentor can be surprisingly tricky.  If you get it wrong, your presentation can take a very wrong turn.

The Ordinary World vs the New World.  Or I like Duarte’s use of the terms What is vs What Could Be

There are some essential presentation skills within the journey that we look at too:

·       The Big Statement or Power Position

·       The Call to Action

·       The use of Storytelling (the stories, in addition to the structure)

We could go into SO much more within this speech; but these elements alone, when translated into our own presentations, can make us consistently impactful and effective.

Below, you’ll see Oprah’s speech divided into her references to the Hero’s Old World or What Is, and the Hero’s New World or What Could Be.  To the right, I’ve included comments on the structure, stories she used, the hero and the mentor.  Have a look!

Old World (What Is)

New World (What Could Be)







In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: “The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in “Lilies of the Field”:
“Amen, amen, amen, amen.”



Oprah tells a touching, compelling story to highlight one of the two elements of her Old World.  This is often referred to as ‘What Was’.


In our presentations, we can and should reference the current world our hero needs a solution for.  But sometimes very little needs to be said.  It’s a balance between not wasting time/being redundant vs setting up the contrast between ‘What is’ and ‘What Could Be’.

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.  It is an honor — it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them


This is the New world, often called ‘What Could Be’ that she wants young girls to see.


and also with the incredible men and women who have inspired me, who challenged me, who sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for “A.M. Chicago.” Quincy Jones who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, “Yes, she is Sophia in ‘The Color Purple.'” Gayle who has been the definition of what a friend is, and Stedman who has been my rock — just a few to name.



The challenges of the Hero’s Journey


And the Mentors she had along the way


In our presentations, it can be effective to recognize challenges that are currently being faced and those that will be faced.  Anticipate objections and worries that might dilute your message.


I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To — to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, 




The New World or ‘What Is’ Part 2

The political climate of the day.


In our presentations, we can adapt the Hero’s Journey, We can have more than one Journey, or Hero or other elements.  But keep it clear, concise and related.






These complicated times:  ‘What Is’

which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.



Big Statement


We need a Big Statement or Power Position, or else, why are we doing a presentation?


Plan this well.  Oprah timed this really well.



But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re 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’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.




Here Oprah expands her definition of the Hero.  The women who have suffered.  When you define the Hero in your Journey, it doesn’t have to be directly identifiable as the person or audience you’re talking to.  It has to be someone they can relate to.  Oprah defines the Hero in two ways.  One is young girls who are watching.  The other is the women who have suffered and will find the path to a better ‘What Could Be’.

And there’s someone else, Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, 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 coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case and together they sought justice. But justice wasn’t an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men.



Oprah tells another story.


This story strongly presents the worst of ‘What Is’.  It’s definitely compelling and she told it well.


It illustrates one of the biggest problems in the Current World – no one listened to women’s voices.


But their time is up. Their time is up.


Rally Cry.  This is a Big Statement, but it’s really big.  So it’s a Rally Cry.


their time is up. And I just hope — I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on.


The Big Statement again.


Say it More than Once.

It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’ heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery,





and it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too.” And every man — every man who chooses to listen.


Oprah is switching back and forth between The Ordinary World and the New World.

n my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you,





but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.




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 


Very definitely ‘What Could Be’ – a New World


who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.



Good presentations, or conversations hoping to make a point, naturally take on elements of the Hero’s Journey.  Moving from where we are now to where we could be is a natural reason for a presentation, certainly a sales presentation.  If we remain aware of the Audience as Hero, ourselves as the Mentor who truly helps the Hero, the fact that the Hero is facing challenges and the importance of focusing on What Could Be with contrast to What Is, we can structure our presentations for impact.

Discussion Questions:

1.       Who is the Hero?

Is it Oprah?

Is it the women who have been harassed and abused?

Is it the young girls?

2.       Who is the mentor?

Is it Oprah?

Is it all the women who say #METOO?

Is it the press?

Is it the supportive men?

3.       Think of one of your presentations.  Maybe your next one.

Who is the Hero?

Who is the Mentor?

What is the Current World?

What is the Desired World?

How can the Mentor help the Audience get from one to the other?

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