The Academy Awards often feels like bad movie.

A good movie throws you right into the action, and then, eventually, rolls the credits. But with the Awards, there’s hardly any action, it’s all credits.

The speeches can be painful. Does anything work here? Yes, three things. Try them the next time you speak. You may not win any awards—but you’ll win everyone’s attention.

1) Short beats long: “Thank you,” said Alfred Hitchcock. Then he paused. “Very much indeed.” Six seconds total.

Hitchcock believed “the length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”

But that night at the Awards, unless you were over-hydrated, gulping down buckets of water, like a horse, you probably wished Hitchcock had elaborated.

Audiences seldom feel that way. 

Tip #1: Ruthlessly edit your presentation. To get heard more, say less.

2) Unexpected beats predictable: Saying “thanks,” the most frequent word at the Awards, is gracious. But it doesn’t have to be predictable.

Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”): Instead of thanking individuals, he thanked “anyone who spends part of their day creating . . . this world would be unlivable without art.” 

Shirley MacLaine (“Terms of Endearment”): “I’m not going to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life . . . and in the other life I might have had.”

(I had a third example here, but it was too much. I’d like to thank my wife for editing.)

Tip #2: Open your presentation with something different, e.g. an intriguing question, a surprising fact. Your first words matter.

3) Passion beats “cool”: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.  

Cuban Gooding, Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”) broke the two rules above: he wasn’t concise—he barreled past his allotted time, even after the orchestra tried to cut him off—and he thanked everyone in sight. 

But he did it with such exuberance, you couldn’t help cheering.

Tip #3: Monitor your energy. Your audience will never be more enthusiastic than you are.

P.S. The next time you’re in the audience, whether for the Oscars or anything else, pay attention to what makes you pay attention—and what doesn’t.

Then, use that.   


1. DYNAMIC SPEAKING Workshop/BostonLimited to 7 people. March 26 & 27, 2019

2. YOU’VE GOT 8 SECONDS: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print, kindle, audio.

3. Are you an executive, a technical expert . . . a movie star? We offer coaching.

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© Copyright 2019 Paul Hellman.  All rights reserved.