What Not to Do: Public Speaking Lessons We Learnt From Bad Oscar Speeches

Even the Hollywood greats miss the mark

71th Annual Academy Awards - Pressroom


The most exciting part of the Oscars is undoubtedly the acceptance speeches. Composed, professional actors often crumble into real, human-feeling people and we love seeing their emotional highs.

For the many inspiring moments that have taken place on stage, there are plenty of disaster speeches too: here are the 5 mistakes Hollywood’s heavyhitters make when taking centre stage.


‘Data dumping’.

A major shift in Oscars acceptance protocol is this year’s introduction of a rolling, ‘thank you’ strap that will appear across the bottom of the screen while the winner is speaking. The change means that instead of rattling off a million, unknown and inconsequential (to viewers at home, of course) names of background movers, shakers and movie-star makers, the names of those people Oscar winners race through while the orchestra signals the end won’t need to exist, saving room for those classic, tear-tinged Sally Field moments.

There’s a valuable lesson in this switch: people care very little about numbers, details and pieces of your presentation that don’t mean anything in the moment. Sure, it’s good to back up your point of view with research and data but just don’t over do it – you can still get your message across effectively by touching on, not delving into, the nitty gritty of your subject.


Going on. And on, and on.

Further to that point, does anyone enjoy an Oscar speech that just seems to ignore the insistent orchestra or the polite extra that escorts winners off when they’re rambling beyond their allotted 45 seconds?

You can make your point more powerful if you’re succinct, crystal clear and focus on injecting personality into your speech, rather than every informational nugget you have. Try to imagine what you would like to hear in twenty minutes – is it the repetition of a core concept that has something to do with arbitrary numbers or the excited, inspiring words of someone who really cares about their subject? There’s a reason we use the phrase “short and sweet” often and the best application of it is in the instance of public speaking.


Speaking too fast.

This is a classic public speaking error and is understandably hard to avoid. The golden rule is always slow down – you’ll always naturally speak faster when you’re nervous. You won’t notice, but your listeners definitely will so try to take longer pauses where you’d naturally take them and don’t forget to breathe – this will help slow your speech down.


Being too vulnerable.

We love winners that seem genuinely and endearingly overcome by the achievement of winning an Oscar (Eddie Redmayne springs to mind) and rarely enjoy those that seem a little too overcome (ahem, Gwyneth Paltrow).

Weaving relatable and unexpected details about your life through your presentation, even if it’s a single mention – is a way to build instant rapport with your listeners. You’ll seem less wooden, more human and will set you apart from other speakers.

But remember, there is such a thing as over-sharing: try and find the balance between an ice-breaking, throwaway comment and a ten-minute digression that ends in an embarrassing flood of tears.


Reading from their notes.

You can almost hear a collective, global groan when a winner feigns surprise at winning… then pulls a thank you list from their pocket.

In this case, it’s because their sincerity is undermined. In the real world, reading from your notes is equally as off-putting but for a completely different reason.

Eye contact with your audience makes for an engaged, interesting speaker – someone who’s ready to interact with their audience and take in visual feedback. Reading from your notes puts you in a bubble: it doesn’t allow you to relax, it doesn’t allow your listeners to relate to you and removes your ability to display any semblance of confidence. Look out amongst your audience – their faces will spur you on to make your speech interesting and keep them engaged. Don’t underestimate how much these visual cues will help buoy your performance.

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