How to Give an Acceptance Speech: Seven Presentation Secrets Learned from the Academy Awards

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Presentation Skills Article
How to Give an Acceptance Speech: Seven Presentation Secrets Learned from the Academy Awards
By Ed Sykes

Academy Awards come and go, but one thing is a constant: bad acceptance speeches. You may never win an Academy Award, but you may be asked to give an acceptance speech for an accomplishment in your business, your career, your community, or your organization. Sometimes your acceptance speech will be for what you accomplished, or for what your team has accomplished.

Will you be ready when it is your time to give an acceptance speech?

The following are seven presentation secrets on how to give an outstanding acceptance speech in any situation:

  1. Prepare For the Moment – You may have heard the Oscar winners say, “I really didn’t think I would win,” or “I really didn’t think I would be standing here tonight,” and then give an acceptance speech like they didn’t think they would win. Well, my question is, “Why did you think you were invited to this gala event?”

    Most likely, you will know ahead of time that you will be possibly winning an award, so take the time to prepare your presentation. Practice your speech using a tape recorder or, better yet, a video camcorder. Also, if you can, give a dress rehearsal of your speech in front of friends, family, or colleagues.

  1. Agree Who Will Give the Acceptance Speech - Time and time during the Academy Awards Ceremony, the first person to the microphone will speak for the full thirty second time limit and not allow the other winners in the group (many seen clutching their own acceptance speech notes) the opportunity to give their acceptance speeches. Where this moment should be one of the happiest moments in their lives, you can see the disappointment on the faces of the winners who didn’t have the opportunity to speak.

    When you are working as a team on a project and are receiving an award, agree in advance who the acceptance speaker will be. This might be the team leader, the manager, vice president, etc., but work this out before giving the speech.

    If you decide on one person to give the speech, then you need to decide on who will be recognized during the time this person gives the presentation. Also, when speaking for the group, make sure the “I’s” are changed to “We’s.” For example, when speaking for the group say, “We would like to acknowledge the following people…” instead of saying, “I would like to acknowledge the following people…” Remember, the designated speaker is representing the group.

    If decision is to have several team members speak, achieve consensus on how much time each person will have to speak so that each person has an equal opportunity to express appreciation.

  1. Use Notes to Enhance Your Acceptance Speech – At the Academy Awards Ceremony, one person read his entire speech from his notes, not once looking at the audience. What he had to say was very heartfelt and sincere; however, his sincerity didn’t translate to the audience because his notes were in the way.

    When giving an acceptance speech, use notes as a tool to enhance your presentation and not as a crutch. Only use notes for remembering the opening sentence, important names to thanks, or whatever facts you need to mention. Don’t have the entire speech on notes.

    The following are some quick tips for working with notes:

    • Practice with your notes so that your speech is natural.
    • Type your notes. In the heat of the moment and sometimes bad lighting, our eyesight can become a little challenged. Type your notes in 16-18 point fonts.
    • Double space your sentences so that you can easily read your notes.
    • Type only on the top half of a full page so that you are less likely to lose your place after looking up at the audience.
    • Look up at the audience after every two or three sentences to maintain rapport with the audience.
    • Number your notes in case they fall and become scrambled so that you can quickly recover.
    • Practice a smooth transition for pulling your notes out of your pocket or portfolio.
    • Don’t flip your notes because the flipping noise will cause a distraction for your audience. Practice sliding your notes.

  1. Share the Wealth – How many times have we seen at the Academy Awards ceremony where some persons went on about how they personally achieved the reward or, worst yet, forgot to acknowledge the most important person for whom they would not have achieved the award (Remember Hillary Swank not remembering to thank her husband?).

    Take the time to give appreciation to the organization giving you the award and to those who helped you achieve the award. No person is an island. You achieved the goal through the help of someone(s), so acknowledge and appreciate them. To save time, if it is a few people, acknowledge them by name. If it is a large group of people, department, or organization, mention the group by name. For example, you might say, “I would like to acknowledge the people in marketing for their hard work on the Peterson project for making this moment happen. If it were not for their time and effort, we would not have won the XYZ account. Thank you.”

    Also, only thank the necessary people during your acceptance speech. Don’t thank Guttenberg for inviting the printing press if he has nothing to do with why you accomplished your achievement. Stay focused on only those people who had a direct effect on your achievement.

  1. Let Sincerity Flow Through Your Acceptance Speech – Let your appreciations come from the heart. Briefly convey your own feelings regarding your appreciation of the award and all that it represents. Be honest and don’t over exaggerate your feelings while accepting the award.

    Be clear and concise in your showing of appreciation because you will most likely be under time constraints.

  1. Value the Award – Many times during the Academy Awards Ceremony, you will hear the winner of an award say, “I really don’t deserve this award,” or “I really shouldn’t be standing here.” When you make statements like that, you devalue the award and recognition given to you. Also you question the judgment of the people who chose you to accept the award. Simply acknowledge their judgment and recognition and continue your speech.

  1. Stay Within the Time – At the Academy Awards, the Oscar winners have thirty seconds before the band starts playing the “wrap it up” music. In many cases, the winner attempts to speak over the music. Between the band and the Oscar recipient, who do you think wins? Of course, it is the band. As soon as the band starts playing the music, the audience stops listening to the recipient.

    Many times when you are given an award during a meeting, conference, etc., you are also under time restrictions. In most cases, you will have longer than thirty seconds. Take the time to ask the person in charge of the meeting how much time you have for your speech. Also, make it a habit to look at the agenda ahead of time to see how much time you have been allotted. It may be only three minutes, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes, but find out ahead of time. By finding out ahead of time and staying within the time given to you, you show respect to your audience, the people in charge of the meeting, and most of all yourself. Once you go over the time allotted, you can see the audience members start looking at their watches and stop listening to your important speech.

    Note: If you can’t find out ahead of time how much time you have to make your speech, assume you have very limited time and keep you comments brief.

Take the time to apply these seven acceptance speech secrets and you will give an outstanding acceptance speech or presentation each and every time you receive an award.

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