The Heart of the Matter

Kevin O’Connell accepted his Oscar with: “39 years ago, my mother, Skippy O’Connell, got me a job in sound. ‘How can I every thank you?’ I asked her. ‘You can go out and work really hard and one day get yourself an Oscar and then thank me in front of the whole world.’ Kevin concluded that he was sure his mother was watching the ceremony from above and that this award was dedicated to her.

If you were watching the Academy Awards, you would have seen how this delightful mini-story tugged at the heart-strings and connected with anyone who has ever tried to please a parent, or any parent proud of their child’s achievements! It was SO much more meaningful than “I’d like to thank ….”, followed by an exhaustive (and exhausting) list of names, which has become the default acceptance speech. In two lines of dialogue he made his mother a real person with a dream for him, not a name on a thank you list.

Using a story, or even just a cameo moment, has powerful connection with the audience. Which is why Farhadi’s absence had so much impact. His decision to be absent “out of respect for the people of my country” used the awards event itself to tell a story about the impact of Trump’s policies. As with any good storyteller, even within the confines of a very short acceptance speech, Farhadi’s conclusion sent a powerful message “Filmmakers …. Create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal didn’t shy away from ugly realities either, commenting that “As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that separates us.” Short and oh so powerful.

And being hailed as the best speaker was Viola Davis proclaiming the film industry as the only profession that “celebrates what it means to have a life” – a statement some other professions might take to task, but a rousing speech nonetheless.

What all these speeches had in common was that they cut to what the speaker perceived to be the heart of the matter. Making political statements or being inspired by a parent – all of these speakers spoke from the heart and made it meaningful. Speaking to people’s hearts means you have to be willing to share what’s in yours. And if you want to inspire the people around you, you need to be speaking to their hearts, not just their minds.

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