Learning from Academy Award Speeches

Not many public speeches are remembered. Politicians rarely are remembered for a speech because they give the same one over and over and, not wanting to alienate a constituency, develop general enough points that they offend as few as possible. Business presentations are often limited to a specific audience and usually include a lot of data, which are not particularly stimulating.

That is not the case with Academy Award acceptance speeches. They are short. They are usually a “once in a life time” opportunity for such a speech and often have memorable lines.

As business people who are sometimes nominated for some honor, we can be reminded of important traits of speaking by looking at this very special kind of speech.

You are reminded to be prepared. You certainly know that being nominated does not mean you will win. But you might. Please have a speech prepared. Some acceptance speeches remind us vividly the importance of preparation, especially those that ramble on and on.

Anna Pacquin, best supporting actress in “The Piano,” did not say a word. She walked up to the podium and stood there staring out at the all-star audience with tears streaming down her face and then walked off the stage. Whether she was so overcome that she could not speak, or had not prepared a specific response, we are reminded that we should always have something prepared if we have any idea that we will be called upon to say a few words.

Some great lines have come out the Academy Award acceptance speeches. One of my favorites was from the winner of the best actor award for “The King’s Speech.” When Colin Firth stood to deliver his speech, he began with, “I think I’ve just reached the peak of my career.”  This was a great way to acknowledge his award in a gracious and professional manner.

You are reminded to be organized. Organization can be a problem for some who thank everyone even remotely connected with their receiving the award. In fact, 1998 Best Supporting Actress winner, Kim Basinger, said, “I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Then there are long pauses and filler words followed by random statements that sometimes relate to their receiving the award and sometimes do not.

This year Matthew McConaughey had a well-organized speech with very few extraneous words or verbalized pauses. After a few thank yous, he said, “There are three things I need each day. Something to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase.” He proceeded to tell what each is in his life.

Matthew McConaughey accepting the Academy Award for Best Actor in "Dallas Buyers Club."

Matthew McConaughey accepting the Academy Award for Best Actor in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

You are reminded to be brief. A few have a good grasp of how to say a lot in a short period of time. Perhaps the two best words to make up an acceptance speech and remind us of the value of brevity were words spoken by William Holden in 1954 and Alfred Hitchcock in 1967. When accepting their statues at the Academy Awards, both simply said “Thank you” and walked off.

So if you are ever even nominated for an award, remember: be prepared, be organized, and, above all, be brief.

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Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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