How to Rock an Acceptance Speech


Every time you speak, you create an experience for your listeners – whether they are your colleagues, kids, PTA or soccer team. In the case of Oscar acceptance speeches, it is no different. What is said and how it’s said combine to create either a this-is-a-great-time-for-a-bathroom-break or a riveting, tear-jerking, gut-busting, inspiring moment.

Matthew McConaughey wisely did the latter. It wasn’t just closing the speech with the very line that he made famous “All right, all right, all right…” – which I hugely appreciated as Dazed and Confused is a favorite in my house. McConaughey gave probably the best all-around Oscar speech I’ve ever seen, and therefore worthy of three lessons of which we all need reminding:

1. Show it!

We want to see real, raw emotion…especially from actors. From McConaughey’s zillion-watt smile that lit up the room to him mimicking his father dancing in heaven – we saw it.

Your colleagues want to see the same thing. Don’t just show polish. Show passion. You’ll connect with them and create rapport, rather than allow them to tune out.

2. Structure

Whether it’s a three-act play or a campaign slogan, the Rule of Three is an excellent and effective tool in getting your audience to remember and respond. We’re wired for it – humans have been doing it for centuries…the Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” means everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.

McConaughey cited three things he needs in life:

1.     Someone to look up to

2.     Someone to look forward to

3.     Someone to chase

He created a moment where we waited with anticipation for him to address each of those things. Your audience also latches on to structure. They want to know where you are going to take them. Set up your points and knock them down. They’ll stay with you and be engaged, even motivated to take action. Are you structuring your messages in a way that people can remember and respond?

Here’s a great corporate Rule of Three for your next meeting: Situation, Complication, Resolution – think of it as a narrative to the initiative, product or idea you are proposing.

3. Story

Stories have details. Really good, juicy, concrete details. That’s why they give Oscars to cinematographers, sound editors, and costume and set designers – because details matter. McConaughey added story to each of his three main points. And he did it so well that the vision of McConaughey Senior eating gumbo and a lemon meringue pie while dancing with a cold Miller Lite will become forever seared in the audience’s mind.

Chances are your last Quarterly Business Review was not seared in your boss’ mind – add some concrete details to your story and see what happens!

Bonus! (Ok, there are really four lessons, but I tried to follow the Rule of Three):

4. Purpose

In the Hollywood world of “me,” all of the watch-worthy speeches made their wins about more. They created a message beyond appreciation for the Academy, their agent, immediate family and colleagues (a missed opportunity by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez for their acceptance speech for Best Original Song – which was a cute couple’s speech and plug for their next gig, and totally forgettable).

In addition to McConaughey, his co-star Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o touched individual hearts by tapping in to our shared humanity – around the circumstances in which we were raised, where we are from, what we dream, and who we love. They did it in an authentic and connecting way to attract the listeners, rather than repel them as Michael Moore did in 2003.

We recently coached a couple of executives who accepted awards on behalf of their companies for contributions to a non-profit organization. The main shift in their messages came when they moved away from “me” and on to “them.” They took the opportunity to call the audience to be involved and act. That minor change completely shifts the experience and creates the opportunity for influence.

Every time you communicate, whether for the Oscars or the boardroom, create an experience.

You might just end up a winner.