Here's how to make the perfect acceptance speech

Tears, tantrums and beautiful gowns - it must be Oscars season. If the discerning thesp wants to get their speech note perfect, we suggest they read Robin Kermode's guide....

by Robin Kermode
Last Updated: 05 Feb 2015

We love the Oscars: the big bang, the big buck, the ultimate showbiz excess of it all. It’s slightly ludicrous but great fun and it’s endlessly fascinating watching professional performers struggling to deliver an acceptance speech that’s slick, engaging and most importantly, memorable. It’s not easy, of course, and when we see it done well, we can all learn a thing or two about holding an audience.

Don’t:

1. …think words of wisdom will just appear - they probably won’t. Learn from those stars who waffle on and on: 'Wow! Oh My God! I never expected this! Really! Seriously! Never in a million years! Geez! Phew! This is so awesome!' It’s not awesome – it just shows no preparation. Plan what you’re going to say, say it and get off stage.

2.  …become too formal – in either your voice or the choice of words you use. Often stars can appear slightly pompous – speaking in their ‘poshest’, and overly reverential voice - but the key in any public speaking, of course, is to use your own voice. None of us can possibly come across as believable, likeable or entertaining if we are too formal. An audience wants to feel as if the speaker is sitting opposite them at a dinner table or in the pub; speaking just to them.

3. …thank everyone by name. You’re bound to forget someone important and upset them if you start to widen your net of thanks. Thank no more than three people. Better still, try picking out one unusual person like 'Dave the third Assistant Director who ran out to get my favourite extra hot de-caff low fat soya mocca frapaccino with extra chocolate – twice a day'. Unusual or funny anecdotes make a speech so much more engaging and memorable.

4. …fall apart. One of the golden rules of acting is that if you want your audience to cry – you don’t. Audiences cry at a character being brave, not one falling apart. Emotion is great but, come on, we’re professional adults here. Plan properly beforehand so you don’t fall apart or forget your words.

5. …take yourself too seriously. Yes, you’ve won an Oscar but you are not Gandhi, Mandela or Mother Teresa. A little humility goes a long way. For the Oscars, it’s hard to beat a simple, genuine, heartfelt ‘thank you’ and in business its important to present yourself as an equal too. Appearing too pompous or arrogant will do nothing more than disengage your audience. 

Do:

1. ….keep it simple. Stick to one message, one thought or one story. Speeches that are simple and succinct tend to be far more memorable – tempting though it is to think that length is better than brevity. As Stephen Fry said to the winners at the start of this year’s BATFA Awards, ‘The briefer you are, the more we will caress and revere you’.

2. …tell a story. This shows originality and grabs our attention right away. A great example was Colin Firth (A Single Man) who said, 'I was about to send an email to Tom Ford saying I couldn’t possibly play this part when a man came to mend my fridge. If he hadn’t come, I’d have sent that email and I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. So this is for the man who came to mend my fridge.' Genius.

3. …use an unexpected turn of phrase. Adrian Brody (The Pianist) said, 'There comes a time in life when everything seems to make sense … but this is not one of those times'. Or when Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) said, with a poker face, 'This is the highlight of my day'.

4. …respond to the live situation. Daniel Day Lewis did this in two of his Oscar acceptance speeches. Before being presented with the Oscar (There Will be Blood) by Helen Mirren (The Queen), he knelt down in front of her and said 'This is the nearest I’ll ever get to a knighthood'. And again when he was presented with the Oscar (Lincoln) by Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), he said 'It’s very strange – three years ago Meryl was Stephen Spielberg’s first choice for Lincoln and I had agreed to play Margaret Thatcher. But luckily we agreed to swap.' Being spontaneous takes some nerve but the rewards are truly great if you can pull it off.

5. … be dramatic. If you want to make a point. For example, bring on a tiny dictionary and look up a very long word. Or do as Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine) did when he asked all the other documentary nominees to come up on stage with him to show solidarity for the genre against what he saw as a ludicrous government. Be dramatic. Have a prop. Do something visual. After all, there’s always an opportunity to add a little bit of ‘show’ in ‘business’.

- Robin Karmode is a communication coach and the founder of Zone2, a professional training and coaching consultancy. His new book SPEAK (so your audience will listen) - a practical guide for anyone looking to improve the way they connect with their audience – is available now from Amazon.co.uk.

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