When you receive an award, some thoughtful comments are appropriate. The significance of the award, the nature and formality of the occasion, will determine the content of your remarks and how long you will speak. Here are some things to consider when making an acceptance speech:
1. Be brief. If you are honored with a significant award, you’re probably speaking at the end of a long program. Being brief is often appreciated. Although the general rule is Less-Is-More, there is such a thing as being too brief. The audience wants to hear from you. Meaningful, well-thought-out remarks are in order. Avoid rambling. Be focused and be aware of the other points listed in this article. A well-planned acceptance speech will make you look like the winner that you are.
2. Be humble. If the award is competitive, remember the disappointment of those who didn’t win. A large part of the selection process is often subjective. You are fortunate to win. People like a good loser. Even more, they love a gracious winner.
It’s unlikely that you’re a self-made success. Thinking that you are self-made is not the humble path to making an acceptance speech. Recognize the help you received along the way. The trick is to acknowledge those who deserve it, without making it a tedious, lengthy list. After presenting a short list, you could say, “There are so many of you to thank, I look forward to personally connecting with you during the next week to express my appreciation.” And then remember to do it. A meaningful, personal thank-you phone call or visit is often more appreciated than simply having your name tacked on a list delivered in a short acceptance speech.
Gentle self deprecation can sometimes be appropriate, being careful not to deny your qualifications for the award. Poke fun at yourself, but don’t make light of the significance of the award. Daniel Day-Lewis, receiving his Best Actor Oscar (2013) took the humble approach when he said: “I really don’t know how any of this happened. I do know that I have received so much more than my fair share of good fortune in my life. I’m so grateful to the Academy for this beautiful honor.” Humility is a class act.
In an attempt to be humble, avoid the “My, oh, my. I can’t believe you picked little-old-me to be the winner” attitude. Vince Lombardi’s advice was: When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before. It’s possible to do that and still be humble. It honors the significance of the award.
3. The competition. Recognizing your fellow competitors is appropriate. They were probably hoping to win as much as you were. Remember how you felt when you were on the losing end of a selection process. Best Actor Winner, Daniel Day-Lewis eloquently said, “My fellow nominees, my equals, my betters, I’m so proud to have been included as one amongst you.”
4. Be grateful. Accept the award graciously. Expressing your positive feelings helps the audience to enjoy the moment with you. And gratitude sets things in proper perspective for both you and the audience.
5. Be genuine. Speak in a connected, conversational tone. You want to be likable. By being real, you reinforce the thought that the right person was selected for the award.
6. Be relaxed. Don’t be nervous. Easier said than done. Some degree of preparation will help. You may not want to script your comments, but giving thought to the possibility of winning is a good idea. Being speechless is not eloquent. And brilliant, in-the-moment, spontaneous presentations are often the result of preparation.
7. Honor the judges. Be gracious in accepting. Don’t second-guess your selection as the winner, because you will be questioning the choice of the judges. If you imply that you are not worthy of the award, you’ll sabotage the positive intentions of the presentation.
8. Be funny. If you’re known to be witty, including humor is almost a necessity. If you’re not a funny speaker, one lightly-humorous line is usually in good style. Spontaneous humor works great, if you have the skill to do that. Self-aggrandizement (the opposite of self-deprecation) can work well if you have a known, tongue-in-cheek style. Opening with “I deserve this,” is a simple line which can work well in the right circumstances. You then follow the line with appropriate remarks which indicate that you were just being light-hearted and are honored to be recognized.
During the 2013 Oscars, Jennifer Lawrence tripped on the stairs as she approached the lectern. “Thank you. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell and that’s really embarrassing but thank you.”
Later in the program, Best Actor Winner Daniel Day-Lewis, having been introduced by Meryl Streep, included in his acceptance speech, “I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher…Meryl was Steven’s [Spielberg] first choice for Lincoln. I’d like to see that version.” The well-chosen humor was probably planned. It received big laughs.
As the first-place winner in an awards ceremony after a Humorous Speech contest where I had drawn the position of last speaker, I’ve used a simple piece of humor: “I’d like to thank the other speakers for warming up the audience.”
So there you have eight things to consider the next time you make remarks after an awards presentation. Be humble, gracious, genuine, and funny. It’s the mark of a professional.