“Acceptance speeches didn’t used to be at all autobiographical,” says former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet.
“Roosevelt didn’t talk about recovering from polio. John F. Kennedy didn’t talk about PT-109 or being Catholic or being the grandson of Irish immigrants. Eisenhower didn’t talk about WWII. The first candidate to be autobiographical in a convention speech was Richard Nixon. And after Nixon, every candidate from an unprivileged background talked about how he came up from poverty, and every candidate from a privileged background went searching for something in his background that would humanize him.”
This quote from a story called Speech Therapy from The New York Metro Magazine highlights the challenges facing the rich and powerful, everyone from movie stars to Presidents, in giving an acceptance speech.
The quote Kusnet was referring to was the one Richard Nixon gave at the 1968 Republican convention.
“I see another child tonight. He hears the train go by at night and he dreams of faraway places where he’d like to go. It seems like an impossible dream. But he is helped on his journey through life and tonight he stands before you – nominated for president of the United States of America,” Nixon said.
Halle Berry’s emotional acceptance speech at the 2002 Oscars was one of the most memorable in the history of the Academy Awards.
She didn’t leave many dry eyes in the house with her tearful acceptance speech for 2001’s movie Monster’s Ball.
“This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll,” she said. “It’s for the women that stand beside me — Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett — and it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
The joy of accepting an award can often be accompanied by the fear of speaking in public.
Whether you’re up for an Oscar, accepting a sporting award or a community accolade, these tips will help you with your acceptance speech.
1. Keep It Short.
There is nothing worse than someone who goes on and on. Not only does this turn the audience off but it diminishes the impact of the award. If you have been notified beforehand, always ask how long you have and then keep to that time. If the award is a complete surprise it is best to keep it shorter than go longer.
2. Don’t Get Political
Avoid grandstanding or using the opportunity to score points or put across your own personal agenda. Make the content of your speech relevant to the audience and occasion.
3. Make it Memorable.
You want to make an impression and being clever helps – especially with memorable one liners.”I’ve loved being hated by you,” is an absolute classic by Louise Fletcher when accepting her Oscar for playing the evil nurse in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”This is not the end, just the beginning,” by West Coast Eagles captain Ben Cousins on losing the 2005 AFL Grand Final to the Sydney Swans was another classic.
4. Touch People’s Emotion
Show emotion and you will connect with people at a deeper emotional level.Michael Malone did this brilliantly at the 40 Under 40 Awards as he spoke from the heart about the milestones his autistic son had achieved.”We now treasure those moments. Why is it that we don’t recognise those things in all our children? We only value those things when they are taken away,” he told almost 900 guests when accepting the 1st Amongst Equals Award.
5. Thank You
Nothing is more powerful than thanking others who have helped you reach your goals. Mentors, coaches, supporters, friends, and partners are appropriate people to thank. Don’t go on too much.Malone went public on his son’s autism and thanked his wife, Beata for raising his children while he built a multi-million dollar business.
6. Avoid Notes.
If you know you are going to get an award always prepare beforehand. Don’t read from notes – use keywords as memory triggers. There is always something lacking when an award recipient pulls out a white sheet of paper and reads from their notes. The audience are let down and it minimises the impact.
7. Avoid Negative or Apologetic Statements.
Awards are about celebrating success and achievement. Your comments should reflect this. Be upbeat not downbeat.
8. Avoid Jokes.
Leave this to the professional comedians and stand up comics. The risks of backfiring far outweigh the upside.
9. Keep Still.
Don’t move around too much. It will distract from your message and credibility.
10. End With a Call To Action.
What is it that you want the audience to do? You are the role model – inspire them to greater heights!