Oprah Winfrey's Degrees of Communication at Howard

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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, May 13, 2007

What exactly is that thing that happens when Oprah Winfrey gets up and starts talking? How does she do that? The talk-show queen, who gave the commencement address at Howard University yesterday, has an almost preternatural ability to dazzle audiences. The speech was inspirational, of course (be strong, believe in yourself, etc.) but became a "transporting experience" through Oprah's performance and demeanor, according to Karen Bradley, a professor of dance at the University of Maryland and an expert on nonverbal communication.

Okay, but what's the trick? We asked Bradley to demystify it for us:

• Oprah's body movements and voice reinforce her words, a consistency that helps her seem "entirely authentic." (Example: While referring to "blessings," she held up one hand, palm facing the audience, as if to bestow a benediction on the crowd.) Bradley calls her "completely embodied -- what someone is feeling internally is congruent with what they're expressing. That's what we call presence or charisma."

• She's engaged, not sneaking glances at her watch. Oprah sang along to every song and spoke to fellow participants onstage. "This is someone who knows she's always being watched," says Bradley. "She's always absorbing and always expressing something. The impression I get from her is that she's showing us how to be in the world."

• Oprah cried when she received her honorary doctorate, then -- instead of being embarrassed -- turned toward the audience of 30,000. "There was a sense that this was her family, everyone there was family. I was crying, too. . . . She used her emotions to feed her message."

On a scale of 1 to 10, Bradley rates her "a 12" as a communicator. "She's better than Bill Clinton, better than Ronald Reagan, has more range than Martin Luther King." So if Oprah wanted to run for president? "She could win."

Homeland Security Topic 1: The Perfect '10'

How not to break the ice with senior administration officials:

Political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security had a routine briefing last week at the White House from Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. We're told he gave a typically rousing speech about the many important issues the administration hopes to tackle besides Iraq, and all the things President Bush hopes to get done before he leaves office. And then Bolten opened the floor to questions.

The first hand up was from one of the younger appointees in the room.

"Could you tell us what it was like to date Bo Derek?" he asked Bolten.

Awkward silence.

"Well, uh," Bolten began, before explaining that he and the "10" actress didn't actually date-date (his steady of many years is education consultant Dede McClure), though he did escort Derek to an inaugural event where everyone recognized her and no one recognized him -- any other questions? The rest, predictably, were much safer.

Love, Etc.

Sorry, ladies! The world has lost yet another most-eligible bachelor -- perhaps the most eligible bachelor on the planet. We've learned that Sergey Brin, the former Prince Georgian and U-Md. grad who co-founded Google, quietly married his girlfriend, Anne Wojcicki, in the Bahamas last weekend.

Google officials said they cannot comment on their executives' personal lives. But one guest told friends that Brin flew the smallish wedding party down to the islands and that the ceremony itself was held on a sandbar to which guests either had to swim or take a boat.

Brin immigrated from Russia as a young child with his parents, both academics, and founded the Internet search engine with fellow Stanford grad student Larry Page. Now 33 and Google's president of technology, Brin was estimated by Forbes this spring to have a net worth of $16.6 billion, making him the ninth-richest person in the United States and the richest 30-something in the world.

Wojcicki, a biotech analyst who just started her own company, is a graduate of Yale in her early 30s. Her sister Susan was an early Google employee who rented her Menlo Park, Calif., garage to Brin and Page as their first office. Don't know too much else about Anne, except that she sounds kinda fun -- she recently bid $160,000 at a charity fundraiser for a "weightless" jaunt on one of those zero-gravity jets.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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