Public Speaking Skills: The Art of the Acceptance Speech

Public Speaking Skills, Laura Carroll

Every year I try to catch the Academy Awards, of course with interest in the nominees, but also how the Oscar winners give their award acceptance speeches. You’d think that actors would be decent public speakers – and many are – but not so much in one particular public speaking skill area – acceptance speeches!

What makes a great acceptance speech?

Preparation

It sounds obvious, but have you ever listened to an acceptance speech that did not sound well prepared? It’s all too common. It is important to know things like who will be introducing you, what s/he will likely say and the maximum time length there will be for you to speak. Prepare your speech so it has these three key elements:

Gratitude

Begin with a gracious thank you to the persons and/or organization honoring you. Even if you have a good amount of time allotted, rather than list all of the many people’s names, find ways to summarize them, such as into groups –e.g., my project team, all of the generous funders, my family, etc. Listing too many names and the time it takes loses your audience. And if you do not have a lot of time allotted, the last thing you want to do is take up most of your time listing out all the parties. When you do, you assuredly lose the next element:

Audience ConnectionPublic Speaking Skills, Laura Carroll

Like other types of public speaking communication, an acceptance speech needs to speak to the audience in attendance. Who will be at the event — e.g., your professional peers? People from your company, or community organization? A mix of attendees? Find at least one way to not only acknowledge but connect with them. For example, plan remarks that get at the answers to questions like: What does this honor mean to you in relation to them? In what ways do you value the members of the audience? How do they inspire you?

The Grander Picture

The best acceptance speeches speak to the larger meaning, challenge or issue related to the award being given. Jared Leto’s Academy Award acceptance speech includes a great example. Go to the last seven seconds or so and listen to how he speaks to how this award is for all of those who have lost the battle to AIDs, and to all of those who have felt injustice because of who they are.

In any of these elements, humor can support your points, but humor needs to be used thoughtfully and carefully. “Too” much mocking, including self-deprecation, can squelch gratitude, audience connection and links to grander messaging. So can stories – ones that are too long, that is. They can support your points, but it’s important to keep them tight and to the point.

Practice, practice and practice to the point that you either have it memorized or can use an index card with key points.

Time it, and time it again, to plan to come in at least 30 seconds shy of the maximum time limit. This will help guarantee you will not go over your time limit.

What else will? Sticking to what you have prepared. When in the moment of actually giving the speech it can feel so tempting to stray from what you have planned to say. Promise yourself you won’t do this! The chances of your speech being a great one truly decrease if in the moment you decide to wing it.

Practice to the point where you know your speech so well that when you give it, your genuine, thankful, humble, yet proud self will shine through!

Whose acceptance speeches have you seen that you loved? Why?

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