I was ready: I had my frozen yogurt and my fleece blanket and my children had been banned from speaking to me unless there was blood. It was the Golden Globe Awards, one of my favorite nights of the year. I couldn't wait to see the fashion do's and don'ts, the winners, and the losers, as the results are usually viewed as a major predictor to the upcoming Oscar Awards.
What I couldn't have predicted was how dreadful the acceptance speeches were. Positively and consistently awful. Winner after winner demonstrated that, despite award-winning presence on screen, off-screen they were scattered, inarticulate and unprepared. I wasn't alone in this observation. A friend of mine (who knows that I am a presentation skills instructor) tagged me in a Facebook post that said, "Here's a job opening for you: speech coach for the awards season!" (Note: I am available). And while I realize that movie and television stars are people who get nervous speaking in public just like many of us, they had weeks between the nominations and the awards to get their presentations together.
So what can regular people just like us learn from this night of a thousand terrible acceptance speeches? Here are three tips:
1) Prepare something -- anything! I understand that Jacqueline Bisset never expected to win the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a TV show. I get that. But even if she never expected it, she had to know that there was still, statistically speaking, a chance she could win. When she got up on stage, she stood silently for what seemed like an eternity, trying to gather herself and think about what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and it took not one, but several tries for her to speak fluently. If there's any chance whatsoever that you're going to need to get up in front of a crowd, have an opening line planned, three bullets, and a closing line. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that. But it shouldn't be less than that, either.
2) If you're surprised, don't apologize. Ms. Bisset wasn't the only one guilty of being under-prepared. Andy Samberg admitted that he hadn't prepared anything (the odds hadn't been ever in his favor, either), as did several other winners. And there's nothing wrong with being surprised as a speaker, but when you apologize to the audience for it, you undermine your credibility for everything that comes after the "I'm sorry". Rather than apologize, welcome the surprise warmly and happily (well played, Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Pohler and Matthew McConaughey) and then move on to the heart of the matter.
3) Manage your timing. By the time that winner Cate Blanchett asked the audience whether the people at home could hear the music that was signaling the speakers to "wrap it up", almost every previous winner had failed to manage their time. They had started slowly and then devolved into auctioneer mode, quickly spewing their thanks before they got the hook. Part of preparing as a speaker is managing both content and timing. Know how much time you'll have, and prepare your remarks to fit that time. Ideally, you'll prepare your presentation to go shorter rather than to the finish line exactly, so that you can manage unplanned interruptions (questions, A/V glitches, etc.) without worrying about running out of time. The law of recency says that people remember most what they heard last. Do you want your audience to remember most you scrambling to finish before you are pulled from the platform? Or do you want them to remember your important points, delivered with as much poise, passion and professionalism as possible?
On March 2, I will be under my blanket, with my frozen yogurt, with my children once again banished from the room. I will be excited to see who wins and who loses, of course, but I will be listening closely to the quality of the acceptance speeches. And if Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep or Robert Redford want some help preparing -- just in case they win -- I will find a time in my schedule to meet with them. (Call me!)