The envelope opens. A name is read out. Silence turns into raucous applause. You’ve done it. You’ve won. You can pat yourself on the back and crack open that champagne.
Except, ah, hang on a minute. There’s just one final task in hand – and only you can pull it off. That’s right. Your acceptance speech.
With awards season underway, podiums across the globe are buckling under the weight of worthy winners. And it’s not just the entertainment industry. The Oscars and Baftas might dominate with their red-carpet events but it seems that every other organisation is getting in on the act. Universities and charities, sporting bodies and magazines – they’re all busy hosting their own version of the Academy Awards. And while the size of the venue – and the crowd – might vary, each event always has one thing in common: a tongue-tied winner.
So how do you avoid looking lost in your moment of glory? Here’s our award ceremony guide for last-minute winners.
The grand plan
Stick to the essentials, and you’ll soon be soaking up the back slaps at the after party.
1. Make a list of people you think you might need to thank. Then go through it and whittle it down to a few key names. There’s nothing worse than an over-gracious speech, reeling off a long list of thank-yous, but it’s insufferable to listen to a winner who forgets to credit anybody else. It’s not that hard to get right: deep down you know who really deserves a mention.
2. Don’t be daunted by the 45-second rule. Ceremony organisers will try to hurry you along, playing music to get them off the stage. Ignore them. This is your moment and you’re in charge. However, you don’t want to make the rest of the audience late for the party, so aim to speak for no more than a couple of minutes – and leave them wanting more.
3. Tailor your speech to the audience. The key to a great speech is to know who you want to target – and pitch it right at them.
4. Don’t drag politics into it. This is not the time to antagonise your bosses. If you feel strongly about something, save it for later – when you can use the clout of your new ‘winner’ status to orchestrate change.
5. Keep gushing in check. It’s fine to get a bit carried away – you’re excited and overwhelmed after all. But if you’re going to gush, keep it light, brief and relevant.
The best – and most memorable – acceptance speeches contain a healthy dollop of wit. It lightens the mood – and shows that you’re human. Here’s how to get them laughing in the aisles.
1. Less is more. Humour is most effective when it’s used sparingly. Litter your speech with jokes and they’ll have no impact. Instead, focus on one or two funny lines – and spread them out among the thanks.
2. Start with a laugh. Beginning with a funny gag can be a great way to break the ice – for you and your audience. Jim Broadbent got a huge laugh at the Oscars when he padded softly to the stage, paused and said just three words: “Stone the crows”. A master class in the ‘less is more’ approach.
3. Laugh at yourself. You’ve just won an award, you can afford to be gracious in defeat. It’s also brilliant way to win over the audience. Plus, we Brits are masters at it.
4. Rein in the insults. Unless you’re a stand-up comic, you’ll just sound unpleasant. This is not the time to offend your friends and colleagues – especially as you’ve just pipped them to the post.
5. Smile. It will make everything you say sound lighter, breezier and more amusing. Try it.
How to ooze confidence
Now that you’re a winner, you need to sound like one. Here’s how to talk the talk:
1. Slow down. A gabbled speech is not only impossible to follow, it gives the impression that you’re terrified. Speak more slowly than feels natural, pause between sentences and give the audience time to clap. This is your moment of glory. Don’t fast forward your own applause.
2. Have a plan. Writing something in advance is not going to jinx your chance of winning. It will simply allow you to enjoy your five-minutes in the spotlight and present a speech you won’t regret.
3. Keep things brief. Avoid long paragraphs in favour of short, punchy sentences. They’re easier to deliver and have much more impact. They’re also far more memorable.
4. Make them laugh. Throwing in just one witty line can create an impression of cool, breezy confidence. And hearing that laugh will put you instantly at ease.
5. Wear comfortable clothes. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many people are put off by their own attire. If you’re not used to wearing a tight bow tie or a pair of towering heels, you’ll be conscious of them throughout your speech.