iOS app Android app More

Ariston Anderson

Ariston Anderson

Posted: June 9, 2009 06:45 PM

The Webby Award Speech: the original Twitter


Last night Seth Myers hosted the 13th Annual Webby Awards at the Wall Street Cipriani, a location that symbolized one more example of how new media is replacing the bankers as the industry du jour. "If you love the Oscars, but wish there were fewer celebrities and more awards," then this is the ceremony for you. What had historically been an event that takes all night, this year's ceremony was edited down to People's Voice Top 10, Famous Selections, Randomizer choices, and achievement awards. And when it came to celebs, the room was not too shabby: Jimmy Fallon, Cameron Diaz, Lake Bell, Lisa Kudrow, Martha Stewart, Trent Reznor, Molly Sims, Alessandra Ambrosio, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Silverman, Charlie Rose, and all the way from the Muppets, Beaker.

The point of the Webbys is not a traditional award ceremony, as the winners are announced online weeks in advance. The real competition of the night lies in who has the best speech. Some might call the Webby Awards the original Twitter. The best of the Web is delivered in a concise, informative manner, giving us a lot of information in few words. But where Twitter allows for 140 characters, the Webby Awards allows for a mere five words, putting the pressure on award winners to deliver something funny, smart, and memorable.

The concept of the five-word speech was a reaction to years of listening to ten minute boring acceptance speeches of companies talking about people no one knew about. The best speeches over time have included Al Gore ("Please don't recount this vote"), Stephen Colbert ("Me. Me. Me. Me. Me."), and the Beastie Boys ("Can anyone fix my computer?"). It's a tough, slightly drunk, crowd that won't be afraid to heckle or denounce any speech. And this year, the pressure was on even higher to give a speech worthy of a retweet.

One person who wasn't limited to the five word speeches was host Seth Myers. "I'm taking advantage of the fact that tonight I can say like a million words, and everyone else is super limited," he told us before the show. "The power is palpable."

Myers, who had also hosted last year knew the pressure of making a good speech: "I feel like you could probably remember about three of them, so you want to be one of the three people that you remember when you leave. I've seen some good ones last year, so there's a lot to look forward to, but mostly I'm looking forward to my million words."

We spoke with Webby Executive Director David-Michel Davies, who has seen years of hits and misses to find out what makes a great speech. "Speeches should have a lot to do with who you are and where you're from." Several sites nailed it year, including 1000 Awesome Things: "Short acceptance speeches, awesome," as well as Yahoo for Flickr, as the winner raised his camera to photograph the Cipriani audience and said: "Can everyone get closer together?" And YouTube Live hit it on the mark with "Hallelujah for short attention spans." "Also, don't say 'I would like to thank,'" Davies advised. "We've seen that one before." Unfortunately, we also saw it as the first speech of the night, from Great Works.

Davies also saw the Twitter connection, and told Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, who was accepting the award for Webby Breakout of the Year, that the pressure was on him. "He's like a master of the short. We've got the five-word speech. If anybody out there is supposed to deliver, I think it's him, so we'll see." Stone did deliver, announcing "Creativity is a renewable resource," to much applause.

Certainly Twitter was the ongoing joke of the evening as Myers continually referred to the site, saying this is the year we've spent explaining twitter to our parents. Myers loved how Time Magazine recently applauded Twitter. "I love when old media praises new media," he said. "That's like an old man praising the tennis pro his wife is f----ing." And finally, "Ashton Kutcher is not here. I just wish there was a way to know what he is doing."

One person who has clearly cracked the Twitter mystery is NYTimes.com writer David Pogue. "I was sort of a skeptic and cynic at the beginning. But I saw how people were using it, how people could get instant answers to any questions. I'm kind of manipulating it for my own reporting needs," he admitted to us. And because of Twitter, he won a lucrative book deal. His followers answer a question he poses every night, and the best answers are published.

The pressure from master Twitterer to master speech giver was on Pogue. "I read some of the ones from last year and personally what bothers me are the ones that no one would get but like three people, this really insidery thing. So, I'm trying to go for something that everyone will get." Pogue had about a dozen speeches prepared, and didn't choose until the final moment. The Twitter/Webby connection was one candidate of his: "Speeches would work well on twitter," but he ended up pushing in the Slinky-like trophy on stage: "A Bedspring? Tough economic times."

Many of the celebs we spoke to on the red carpet admitted they hadn't quite decided on their speeches yet. Sarah Silverman, told us on the red carpet, "I still have to come up with it." What she came up with: "Holocaust, did it happen? Yes."

When asked what makes the perfect Webby Speech, Lisa Kudrow responded in three words: "I. Don't. Know." She was equally baffled on stage, counting the words on her hands: "Well, thank you. Oh God...." Trent Reznor told us, "You're talking to the wrong guy. You should ask Al Gore that one." The Nine Inch Nails frontman commented on the album Slip which debuted for free on his website in 2008: "Wait, we didn't charge anything?"

Humor reigned in the speeches. The Onion took to the stage with: "Free all attractive political prisoners." It got a few chuckles, but most of the audience was expecting more from the Webby Humor award winner. The prize for most memorable goes to an Animoto executive, who in the spirit of Soy Bomb took to the stage, stripped off his suit, revealing zebra leggings, a metal hair wig, and a hot pink headband: "Ahhhh...thank you New York!"

The exec from Discovery communications looked at his watch around 8:30 PM and said, "When do we get dinner?", a sentiment shared with many in the room. A man in a suave white suit from the Economist shouted "Read a f---ing newspaper!" And Arianna Huffington, who had solicited the community for a good speech responded, "I didn't kill newspapers, ok?"

A woman from Huge was heckled and booed after going over the allotted five words with "All of our best times are ahead." But the greatest heckles were reserved for someone from the Internet famous group, Bill O'Reilly's producer of the unseen footage, who announced: "Film and television, blow me." Ever quick on his feet, Myers responded, "The randomizer group was way more polite. Even Internet famous makes you a little dicky."

Molly Sims, who accepted for Funny or Die's "Proposition 8, the musical" strutted to the stage with a group of computer geeks and announced into the mike: "I'm not with these guys." And the most endearing speech came from a gentleman from the Netherlands, who used his five words to propose to his girlfriend.

Beaker, who was awarded for his online rendition of "Ode to Joy" tried to deliver his five meeps into a microphone from the balcony, but ended up being electrocuted by the poor sound system. Seth MacFarlane accepted via video conferencing: "What is this for again?" And after Cameron Diaz presented to Jimmy Fallon, his response was "Thank God Conan got promoted."

The privilege of the last word was awarded to Webby Lifetime Achievement winner and inventor of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who perfectly summed up the sentiment of the evening: "Free. Open. Keep one Web."

Follow Ariston Anderson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AristonAnderson