How often can you say that you were moved to tears of joy watching an acceptance speech? That’s what I felt when I saw my good friend, Judy Rosenthal, give her acceptance speech at last week’s NCCJ Annual Human Relations Award Banquet in Hartford, Connecticut.
Judy was one of four honorees being recognized for their volunteer leadership for community and justice. The other winners were Michael Casparino, President of Northern Connecticut’s People’s United Bank, Jerry W. Long, founder and chief executive officer of PCC Technology Group, LLC, and Donald Allan, Jr., Senior Vice President and CFO of Stanley Black and Decker, Inc.
Judy was the third speaker in the evening and she blew everyone away with her moving speech. Rather than taking the traditional route of thanking everyone involved,and giving us a fly-over of her volunteer resume, she wow’ed us with personal stories, compelling messages, and a presentation delivery right from the heart! She exceeded her time limit, but no one wanted her to stop. Her acceptance speech was the exact opposite of boring. It was captivating, and activating! She was the talk of the evening….at least at my table!
Ten Pointers to help you with your future acceptance speech
Upon reflection of last week’s event, and after conferring with Judy this morning, I’d like to share ten tips to help you or others in your network to deliver a successful acceptance speech.
“Please do not feel any pressure or the need to present. Simply embody your Persona; allow everything to emerge to the best of your ability in Conscious Awareness.”
–Arthur Samuel Joseph, M.A., Founder of Vocal Awareness™ and President, Vocal Awareness Institute, Inc.
- Tell personal stories. People love stories. Period. It’s how they learn more about you. It’s draws them closer to you. Be ready to share one or two real life examples from your own experience. Be sure to shape your stories to make your point. And remember, that your story should never go on and on and on and on….
- Tie in the mission. Research and really understand the mission of the organization that is giving you the award. Find ways to authentically tie their mission into your acceptance speech. Make the connection. They will love you for that.
- Leave a lasting, positive message. When you are at the platform, you have a unique opportunity to influence attitudes and actions. Keep your comments positive and avoid political grandstanding or commentary that will divide the audience or tarnish your moment of glory. There are other times to give your Op Ed.
- Practice your speech. Never wing it. Practice in front of a mock audience. Practice standing up (not sitting down). Practice out loud (not in your head.) Audio record it and listen back. In Judy’s case, she practiced her speech in front of her husband, David, and her two dogs. She told me that the dogs fell asleep. Better the dogs than her audience!
- Be ready to rewrite. (and rewrite and rewrite). Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare your acceptance speech, perhaps multiple times. It rarely comes out perfect the first time. Current events may influence your final speech. Allow yourself to sleep on it, dream on it, and daydream on it for many days.
- Allow for spontaneity. Don’t be a slave to the script. If appropriate, add some comments that tie in to other messages or events that happen during the event. You’ll have more fun with it, and so will your audience. If you do decide to go”off script,” you don’t have to tell the audience of that decision, e.g., “I’m going off script now.” Just do it. An actor would never do that. Why should you? Just stay in the moment…
- Keep it brief. Do your very best to honor the time limits that the organizers give you. No one likes a long-winded honoree. Time your practice sessions and be ready to cut copy to shorten your talk time. Focus on your core message. Delete the fluff and expected comments of civility and other boring stuff like that.
- Add levity and humor. Smile, laugh, and enjoy the moment. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This will allow your audience to experience the positive emotions and celebration. You should have fun…and so should your audience.
- Make your voice visual. Use descriptive, visual language when you speak so that people can “see” your message as well as hear it. When practicing, annotate your script, noting points of emphasis, where to pause, and places to take a full breath or a catch breath. No slides. Just you at the podium. Your voice, your heart, and your commanding presence.
- Speak from the heart. I saw Judy about thirty minutes before the formal speeches began. I gave her a hug and offered perhaps the most important presentation coaching advice that I could offer, “Just speak from your heart.” That’s easy to say and hard to do, especially when there are 500+ people staring at you from the banquet floor. And while you may have practiced, written, rewritten, scripted, critiqued and otherwise prepared yourself for this moment, now is the time to let go and just be yourself.