How to make an awards season speech

Public-speaking coach Hilary Lyons on how to deliver a knockout Oscars speech (because, well, you never know)

Words by Lucy Pavia

Remember, it’s not about you
‘An acceptance speech is the winner’s moment to thank all the people who have put them there. While it’s good to show emotion, breaking down completely is a little self-indulgent – focus instead on the people you’re meant to be thanking.’

Hook them with a great opener
‘One of the reasons I loved Robin Williams’s Oscars acceptance speech in 1998 for Good Will Hunting was the opener. “This might be the one time I’m speechless,” he joked, which worked well for him because he was normally so outgoing.’

Use the power of three
‘Matthew McConaughey opened his 2014 Best Actor speech with “thank you, thank you, thank you” and ended it with “all right, all right, all right.” It’s a powerful technique that helps your message sink in with the audience.’

Avoid ‘paper’ thank yous
‘I’ve watched Oscar speeches where the winner has pulled out a piece of paper at the point where they want to make a long list of thank yous. It’s a bit of a downer for the people being thanked as it implies the winner doesn’t remember who they are! If you must use notes, use them all the way through or not at all.’

Make it personal
‘It’s always good to add something thoughtful into each thank you, 
as Meryl Streep did in 2012 when she thanked J. Roy Helland, the hairstylist and make-up artist who had worked with her on every one of her movies since Sophie’s Choice.

Finish on a high
‘Sandra Bullock’s 2010 Best Actress speech was a great one as she talked about trailblazers at the beginning and then brought the message home that women and mothers everywhere are trailblazers. It showed that even in a minute-long speech you can still have a really powerful ending.’

If the music starts…
‘It’s best to say “that’s my cue!” and get off stage. The funny exception is Julia Roberts, with her line to the orchestra conductor when she won Best Actress for Erin Brockovich 
in 2001: “Sir, you’re doing a great job but you’re so quick with that stick. So why don’t you sit cos I may never be here again!”’

Hilary Lyons is a coach at the Speakers Trust, speakerstrust.org

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