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Crafting the Perfect Acceptance Speech

The Academy Awards are a good reminder to keep your thank-you speeches heartfelt, poignant, and--most of all--short. Or...cue the music!
Winner for Actor in a Leading Role Jeff Bridges gives his acceptance speech at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 07, 2010.
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The 84th Academy Awards will air this Sunday to much fanfare. There will be the red carpets, the extravagant dresses, and, as you might expect, the rambling speeches that will send the evening late into the night.

The speeches have gone on so long, in fact, that the Guiness Book of World Records has recorded the longest Oscar speech ever given. That award goes to Greer Garson, who delivered a 5:30-long speech in 1942. "I'm practically unprepared," Garson began her speech. (The very next year, the Academy instituted a time limit.)

Susan Dugdale, a speechwriter and speaking consultant, says there are three questions to ask yourself before giving an accpectance speech of any kind. First, who are you thanking? Then, what are you thanking them for? And finally, what did their gift of time or expertise mean to you?

"Be specific rather than general," she writes. "Naming what you are grateful for gives your thanks more meaning." For a speech, especially a short speech, every word matters. Here's a few tips from the experts on crafting your next Oscar-like speech.

1. Write as if you are conversing with one person.

"How many times have you felt the speaker was talking directly only to you?" writes Bill Cole, a speaking coach. "This phenomenon is in part an acting and speaking technique, but it also stems from how the speech is written. As you write, picture one person and what you want to say to them. Then write the speech."

2. Practice is good. But actually speaking is better. 

"Practice a lot, but speaking a lot is a form of practice," says Guy Kawasaki, the founder of Alltop.com who is a motivational speaker. "I speak 75 times a year, and theoretically every one makes me better. But you have to pay your dues."

3. Have something significant to say.

Kawasaki also says that you should only accept an invitiation to speak if you really have something to say. "If you don't, don't accept," he says. "Right now, the world might not know that you have nothing to say, but if you accept and have nothing to say, they'll know. Preserve the ignorance."

4. Don't be too verbose.

"Keep your sentences short and sweet," writes David Meadvin, president of Inkwell Strategies, a professional speech writing and strategic communications firm located in Washington, D.C. "Compound phrases with multiple clauses may look great on paper, but are likely to confuse your audience and decrease the effectiveness of your speech. Limit yourself to one or two ideas per sentence, and express them as clearly and powerfully as possible."

5. Skip the intro and abandon formalities. 

Some believe Abraham Lincoln was the ultimate speaker. "The president usually starts his State of the Union Address by acknowledging all the dignitaries, and thanking a million people," writes Leo Babauta on Lifehack. "Many other speakers make this same mistake, and ruin their speeches. By the time you're done acknowledging and thanking everyone, you've lost your audience. Go right into the meat of the issue, and your audience will pay attention. Lincoln skipped any kind of intro and began with the key to his speech."

Last updated: Feb 24, 2012




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