Oprah Winfrey was in Edmonton tonight for the first of three Canadian stops on a mini speaking tour that will also take her to Calgary and Vancouver later this week. She has been the talk of the town lately, with thousands of Edmontonians looking forward to hearing from the TV icon herself (and spending a lot of money to do so). I was fortunate enough to attend with Sharon courtesy of EEDC, one of the event’s sponsors. While I didn’t exactly grow up watching Oprah, many people around me regularly watched her show, such as my Mom and Grandma. I think most of the people in attendance tonight (primarily women, it’s true) are fans of Oprah because of the good she does in the world, because of what she does for other people, but for me the appeal has always been her larger-than-life personality. I wasn’t hoping for a life-changing moment tonight. Instead, I was hoping to gain a better understanding of what makes Oprah the woman she is.
Tonight’s event was hosted by Global Edmonton’s Carole Anne Devaney. She admitted to being extremely nervous, and shared with us some of her own memories of Oprah’s show. She then got the crowd fired up by sharing a few “favorite things” from Edmonton that Oprah will be going home with. She chose sausage, a photo/painting of the river valley, a basket of goodies from Duchess Bake Shop, and an Edmonton Oilers jersey with #1 and Winfrey emblazoned on the back. Oh and a purse shaped like truck nuts. “Ok maybe that’s not one of Edmonton’s favorite things,” she joked.
I thought Carole Anne did a great job, and she looked absolutely smashing. “We’re all going to leave a little bit more inspired, a little bit more motivated, and a little bit more enlightened,” she said before she left the stage.
After an official introduction from CIBC’s Gary Mayzes, it was finally time for Oprah to come out on stage. Here’s a look at what it was like:
It was pretty incredible! As you can see, she decided to humor us and Carole Anne with the truck nut purse.
Despite all the chatter about Oprah coming to town, and despite the show being sold out, no one really knew what to expect. Oprah herself addressed this when she got on stage. The program explained that the event would provide “an intimate personal profile of someone who has touched people across the globe for more than a quarter century as one of the most powerful voices in media, resonating with and bringing hope to people of all walks of life.” Oprah set the record straight. “I am here because I have a glorious life; and I want that for you.”
The next couple of hours seemed to go by pretty quickly. Using clips from her show, photos from her childhood, but mostly just stories, Oprah shared with us how she got from Kosciusko, Mississippi to Edmonton. I felt at times as if I were in a church sermon, especially with the various Oprahisms she shared. Here’s a taste:
- “I come from the power, I have access to the power, but I am not the power.”
- Purpose is Spirit seeking expression.
- “Figure out what your defining thread is, and then share it in service to others.”
- “The defining question, the thing everybody wants to know is, ‘do I matter?’”
- “Life isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you.”
- “Failure at its most poignant is simply a push in a new direction.”
It’s kind of hard to read those statements out-of-context, I realize. Integrated with stories from her life and things she has learned from other people, they make a lot more sense. Based on the reaction from some folks on Twitter, you could look at Oprah’s remarks as simply popular psychology, but in the room, listening to her speak, they were something more. I think many people did in fact walk away feeling inspired. She’s a powerful storyteller, if nothing else.
She didn’t talk too much about the media part of her career, but there were a few tidbits I picked up. She talked about the recent interview with Lance Armstrong of course, and said that it wasn’t about making him say something a certain way, but rather it was offering him the space to share the truth. She talked about the countless hours of research and preparation that went into that interview, and told us that she had 112 questions prepared.
Oprah also talked about the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). She said that 2012 was a terrible year, that she got slaughtered in the press for the network’s struggles. Reflecting on the last few years, she said a change happened when she began to look at herself rather than those around her for answers. “I had gotten comfortable with being successful,” she admitted. That realization led to what she described as a paradigm shift – a shift back toward the founding philosophy of, “how can the network be of service?” And she made a bold declaration: “In three years, the network will be a force for positivity.” She sounded positively energized by the challenge.
After her remarks, George Stroumboulopoulos joined Oprah on stage for a brief sit-down interview. I don’t think the interview was long enough for George to get into a rhythm, and given that Oprah likes to talk she dominated the time. Still, in the short amount of time he had, George managed to impress Oprah. After she described a recent experience with children, he asked, “What did you learn about yourself through that experience?” To which Oprah responded, “Ooh, that’s the kind of question I would ask!”
Given that Oprah was such a major supporter of Barack Obama’s in 2008, many wondered why she was in Canada today instead of back in the US for his second inauguration. It turns out, a simple mix-up is to blame. She thought the inauguration was yesterday (which technically it was), though she quickly added: “because I’m here in Edmonton with you!”
The interview ended rather abruptly, but Oprah didn’t skip a beat, standing to offer some final words. She described her prayer for everyone in attendance, and said she hoped the kindness shown to her tonight is returned a thousand-fold to everyone. “What you have to offer is needed,” she declared.
I really enjoyed the event tonight, probably more than I expected to. Yes at times Oprah was a little too new-age-preachy for me, but it’s clear that what she says comes from an honest and heartfelt place. I enjoyed hearing her talk about her struggles and her successes. I admire her ability to learn from experiences and her devotion to becoming a better human being. And I’m glad I got to see even just a little bit of the real Oprah – from the recognition that she has an ego, to her funny voices as she told us stories. It was a great night!
You can see more photos here.