Oprah accepts Lifetime Achievement Award

This is a video from 1998 of Oprah accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys. We haven’t really touched on acceptance speeches much, but I think they are an important form of public address because they are a way to acknowledge all those who helped you along the way, and to discuss what it means to you to receive an award — all in a few minutes. A lifetime achievement award speech is a little different than the typical Emmys/Oscars/Tonys/Grammys speech, as the person knows they are getting it, and thus has time to prepare, and will get more than a minute to give there speech so it can be more than just a list of names. It still is an extremely short time to speak, though, so it is interesting to see how Oprah uses the limited time she is given.

Ethos is established before she gets up there, by a video people were shown and by Barbara Walters’ introduction. Oprah establishes ethos through her composure and well thought out speech — it shows the audience that she deserves to be up there, and that she is credible and has character. Pathos is seen throughout the speech — there are many people crying in the audience, and it is clear that Oprah touched them. She talks about her past and how she ended up in TV, and that brings out the emotion in people, so she clearly was able to connect with them. Finally, she uses logos — logos in explaining, in a way, why she should receive the award (which was also probably done in the video beforehand). What she says all makes sense within an acceptance speech, it flows well, and it demonstrates why she should be accepting the award, and thus she establishes logos. This all contributes to the effectiveness of her speech.

One of the things that struck me in the speech was how well spoken and composed she was. Often times during acceptance speeches people get so emotional that you cannot pay attention to anything but how excited they are, and you tend to miss what they said. Oprah was clearly excited and honored to receive the award, but she still had a well planned out, well executed speech, and I think it is a great example of how to stir up emotion without taking it too far. She starts out talking about a beacon of light, which I think is great visual imagery and an excellent way to thank those who were a beacon of light to her. She then thanks the people closest to her — this is expected in an acceptance speech, and I think she very eloquently talked about what they meant to her life (particularly Stedman).

She then moved into a story about praying “God use me” throughout her difficult childhood. I think this is the most effective part of her speech, as she has beautiful language usage. She keeps repeating “use me, use me,” and she also talks about how she tries to use TV for helping people be the best they can be — showing why she should receive the award. The story carries the audience through, and just paints a great picture, and helps her connect with everyone she is speaking to, thus, I believe it is the core of the speech. At the end she shows more excitement than she did throughout, as she says that the award “encourages me to run along and see what the end will be.” I think it is great that she acknowledges exactly what the award means to her and to her future. By all the cheering you can hear that she really connected with the audience, and it was a truly effective acceptance speech.

What do you all think about this speech/acceptance speeches in general?

-Amanda Daniels

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3 comments so far

  1. Molly Coyne on

    Amanda,
    This is a really cool speech! I like that you brought up the fact that acceptance speeches are an important kind of communication to study. Acceptance speeches typically drone on for a couple of minutes; tear-filled “Thank you”s and “Wow I didn’t expect this or else I might have written something down” fill their short air-time. I think it is awesome how Oprah used this opportunity to not only graciously accept this lifetime achievement award, but to call her audience to action.
    You pointed out her “use me, God, use me” line. I think that this is the main thesis and focal point in her speech. She calls us, the watchers at home, to action by saying that we can allow God to use us in many ways in order to help others. She inspires us to be open to the people around us and to accept a challenge. She inspires us to be leaders, helpers, teachers, and mentors.
    Instead of thanking people for recognizing what she has done for the world, she thanks us for giving her the opportunity to be a leader, helper, teacher, and mentor.

    • Molly Coyne on

      Sorry, I forgot to sign my name on the above comment!
      ~Molly Coyne

  2. dupublicaddress on

    My comment on this post isn’t showing up, so I will post it again. Sorry if this is redundant!

    Anyways, what I said was that I think it is really cool that you brought this to our attention! Acceptance speeches are really unique because they combine improvisation with an emotional overload. Between the countless “thank you thank you”s and the “wow I wasn’t expecting this or else I would have written something down”, we are often disenchanted by their minute and a half long speeches. I think it is awesome that Oprah used this opportunity to gracefully and graciously accept this award as well as call her audience to action by telling them to be “used” by God.

    You pointed out the “use me, use me God” section of the speech. I think that this is her core argument. She takes this opportunity to thank everyone for recognizing all of the things that she has done, but she TELLS US HOW she was able to do it and encourages us to do the same. She says that she wanted to use her past experiences to help others in the future. While encouraging us to become teachers, mentors, leaders, and helpers, she thanks us for recognizing her efforts to change the world.

    Also, I agree that she remains completely composed (I know, I know, she knew she was getting the award but still, she did a great job and even fought off tears). Oprah’s acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement award is a great example of everything that a “thank you” speech should be. She is gracious, graceful, and inspiring.

    ~Molly Coyne


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