THAT is how excited I am for today’s keynote! Oprah is an institution. As a child of the 80s, her 4pm show was a mainstay in nearly every household I spent time in. Growing up, I spent a lot of time being babysat by my two homemaker aunts and my grandmother. As with their beloved soap operas, The Oprah Winfrey Show was something they did. not. miss. And I know this experience was shared with millions of others worldwide.
Oprah’s annual gift guide was something I looked forward to every year, and I’ll admit I was a little sad to look under my seat today and realize that I was not leaving DC with a new car…shucks! As an adult, one of my favourite podcasts was Totally Laime, hosted by a husband and wife team, and usually interviewing a comedian or actor…Elizabeth and Andy had me hooked on “The Oprah Game” in the early episodes of their show….RUN ONNNNN!
Being able to see her keynote one of my favourite Learning and Development conferences is a true honour, and I am grateful to ATD for allowing us this opportunity…thank you, ATD!
Oprah comes on stage and immediately begins discussing Aha Moments. She discusses her ritual of pulling up the automatic blinds….she compares this ritual to resetting your life each day. A new day is dawning. Everyday is an Aha Moment. She discusses how great it is to be able to wake up as a human, in her right mind, and say ‘thank you’.
She discusses why the Oprah Winfrey Show was such as resonating success: Because every human being on the planet Earth is looking for the same thing…”to live out the truest expression of yourself as a human being” (Oprah, 2019). People saw some representation of Oprah, watching her show, that was a representation of what they wanted in themselves. The Oprah Winfrey Show became a platform for her to allow other individuals to tell their stories and be validated by them.
She explains that there is no immediate gratification, like many millennials want to feel, you need to work hard so that you have the ability to find your purpose.
“Your purpose is to do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.” – Oprah, 2019
Oprah ended up in Chicago because of her gut, a natural instinct that she uses to its fullest capacity. This gut instinct will tell you this way or that way. If you’re in a position where you have to say “what do you think?”, it means that you aren’t clear on the answer yourself.
“If you don’t know what to do, do nothing.” – Oprah, 2019
She discusses the ‘browse phase’, in the context of shopping. Go home until you get clear. In the early days of The Oprah Winfrey Show, during interviews, she would sit in on interviews to get a ‘gut check’. When she didn’t listen to her gut, it was bad news. She explained to Nelson Mandela that she wanted to build a school, and he immediately called the minister of education…and she was like “buuuuut, not today!”. She asked herself ‘how to I use what I have in service to other people?’ What she realized during this process was that giving people money, does not change things. You must change the way a person thinks, the way they see themselves and the way they are willing to move themselves forward in life. Otherwise, they’re just receiving a cheque.
The mistake she made in building the school, was focusing on the girls who would benefit the most, but not on the leadership. She thought ‘we’ll just find the teachers, put together the administration…we’ll figure that out.’, and not long after the school was established, she was informed that some of the girls were reporting they had been sexually assaulted. She thought she had done everything she could to protect the girls from men, but the individual who had been accused, was a female dorm mother. Getting people to understand, in South Africa, how this was possible (a female assaulting other females), was a process in and of itself. She got through the crisis by remaining fully present in the moment.
“What is the next right decision?” – Oprah, 2019
The reason why this mistake happened was that she didn’t trust her gut and ended up with an enormous problem. She felt the same way when she was presented with the concept of creating a network. Both situations were similar because leadership is everything, she didn’t have a good gut instinct, and she let her ego get in the way. In 1989 she was doing a bunch of shows that didn’t align with her beliefs. The intention you have is going to determine the outcome. She asked herself ‘would I do this if my name were not on it?’ When she recognized that the network decision was made because of ego, every problem that followed was because she didn’t trust her gut.
Oprah began to use principled intention on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but having the team identify the intention behind their idea, and she would see if she could find her truth in that. They went from a show that was just a show to one that was a force for good in the world, and the changing factor was principled intention. Using the power of intention changed the way she does everything, by allowing her to consider how she can take her ego out of it?
The other thing she learned that was life changing, she began seeing a thread that connected each interviewee. People who are seeking validation. “Did I matter? Did you hear me? Did what I say mean anything to yourself? This is what we do as Learning and Development folk! We want to make sure our audiences are seeing us and hearing us. Giving your full presence, is the greatest gift you can give someone.
Oprah goes overtime; the teleprompter beeps at her, so she finishes her keynote sitting in Tony’s seat and calling him out to join her – in. her. element! Queeeeen! She talks about the time she cooked a goose for Stedman. He was so late coming home. After 40 minutes she stopped caring about the damn goose. He gets home, knows he’s wrong…he came home with a bag of tomatoes, and she said to him “this is why I’m really upset. I’m upset because I did this and it was active love for me to do it.” (Oprah, 2019). When she was done explaining herself, Stedman said “I hear you, and it will never happen again”, and it hasn’t.
Now it’s Tony’s turn. He discusses how Oprah went to Baltimore to be an anchor, but it was perhaps considered a setback. At different stages of your life, you’re presented with opportunities, and in these opportunities you can look to find the truest version of yourself. Anchoring was too emotional for her; she was told she would not longer be doing the evening news, and they demoted her to doing a talk show. That demotion lead to her finding her purpose. Her first day on the talkshow is when she realized what she was supposed to be doing.
This feeling happened to Oprah again recently, when she joined the team at 60 Minutes. She asked herself why she was doing this. She thought it would be an opportunity to have conversations and bring the community together. Each time she would do the voice overs for the stories, she was told she was too emotional, and she thought ‘hadn’t heard that in awhile…’
As talent developers, anytime we are trying to put someone into a position that doesn’t work, we need to change it. It’s not going to work out otherwise. It’s our job to help them see. What does Oprah look for when she’s looking for a good leader? Someone who gets your vision and knows how to execute the vision. You have demonstrated yourself.
YOU HEAR THAT FOLKS?! BUILD. YOUR. PORTFOLIO! OPRAH (BASICALLY) SAID SO!
She also explains that she’s looking for people who can take care of themselves. If they’re not doing something to take care of themselves, they will be better leaders. In your own life, what makes you the best at your job is when you’re the most whole…when you are balanced. When you’re able to execute the best, it’s when you can bring yourself as a whole and not as a fragmented self.
Oprah is optimistic about human potential..”that human beings have a desire for what is good, what is whole, what transcends darkness. Human beings have a yearning to reach for the light, so she is optimistic that human beings can be shown the light.” She sees today as a critical moment where things could go either way if we don’t awaken ourselves to this moment and speak up to what we see and know is wrong. It’s the apathy that allows less-optimistic things to happen.
“Every moment where you see injustice, you need to speak up.” – Oprah, 2019
Oprah recommends that we start where we are. How can you be of service? How can we change the paradigm of our lives to ensure we’re being of service to our audience? How can you use your offering in service to others? In work, in relationships, everywhere.