Speech of the Month, March 1985 - Sally Field

If you've never identified a common fear to connect with an audience, then maybe you should. See how Sally Field used the technique in her classic Oscar acceptance speech...

Speech of the Month, March 1985 - Sally Field

Usually March affords me the opportunity to talk about the positive anatomy of an Oscar acceptance speech. But the ceremony isn't happening till next month this year and when it does, the stars will be accepting the little statues from the comfort of their own sofas, which I'm sure won't spark the emotive rhetorical flourishes we’ve come to expect. So, for the first time ever, I’m winding back the 'Speech of the Month' clock to March 1985. 

During that ceremony, the cute and fabulous Sally Field made her classic ‘You like me!’ speech. If you don’t know it, check it out now. 

At the time it was mocked in the tabloids who sniffed and squirmed at the high emotion and unashamed neediness that our American cousin admitted to. But Field’s speech made a mark, and here’s why it did…

It showed vulnerability

While some might be appalled that someone would wear their heart on their sleeve so nakedly, others applaud the person who’ll allow herself to be so open and unguarded. It’s often said that only the truly powerful show vulnerability. I’m not sure about this. Many people who show vulnerability simply don't have much power in life and are genuinely vulnerable. But I do believe that only the powerful who also feel secure show vulnerability. 

Would Hitler have ever cracked a joke at his own expense? Would Stalin have ever admitted that he panics when he has to parallel park into a tight slot? Of course not. But then dictators are never secure. He who lives by the sword… So if you are perceived as powerful then showing vulnerability in a speech will only heighten your sense of security and make you appear all the more powerful. 

Tap into a common fear

Field’s vulnerable admission works well, especially within the Dolby Theatre, because it taps into a common (and until then unsaid) fear. All people in showbiz care desperately about being liked. Whether you’re a producer, an actor, a set designer, in Hollywood you’re only as good as your last movie, and if that was a turkey, then no-one’s going to want to touch you. So losing favour and not being liked is something that everyone in the room can relate to. That’s why they all laugh, knowingly.  

Do consider what your audience’s common fear is and if you should tap into it. David Cameron did this to brilliant effect (it won him the Tory leadership) when he addressed the Conservative conference in 2005. Basically, he addressed the elephant in the room. He told the party faithful that unless big change happened, then that thing they fear the most – the party not being elected for at least another decade – will happen. 

How do I know if the fear is common?

The only way you can know for sure is by running it by a few will-be audience members. When you do though, don’t tell them you’re intending to weave this idea into a speech. You don’t want the cat getting out of the bag. If you can’t run it by will-be audience members, then run it by other people who are similar to the audience you’ll have.

But usually, you just know. For instance, last week I received a newsletter and in it the writer was encouraging readers to ask clients for testimonials more regularly. She set out a couple of reasons why people often don’t; you’re too busy and don’t get round to it, you know your client is busy and feel bad putting more on them. But I was thinking, ‘That’s not why we don’t ask. We don’t ask because deep down there’s a niggling fear that the client might turn round and say, “I’m not giving you a testimonial; you’re rubbish!”’

And that’s a common fear that I’d feel very confident weaving into a speech if I was speaking to a room of fellow consultants. They’d be so shocked by my honesty, that it would get an immediately knowing laugh. Even from the ones whose stock in trade is confidence-building.  

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