Speak Like a Star: What Every Presenter Can Learn from Oscars Night

On a night full of Hollywood’s biggest stars, a few shone brighter than others. The reasons for their success can teach us a lot about speaking in front of audiences big and small.

1. Personal is Powerful

People don’t tune in to hear the Oscar winners recite a list of people to thank; they want to see what their favorite stars are really like unscripted and unrehearsed. People identify with Jennifer Lawrence because she’s the girl who falls when she walks on stage. But opening up doesn’t have to be about humor. Last night’s most memorable speech showed that talking about joys and struggles will leave audiences wanting more.

Lupita Nyong’o emerged as the breakout star of this awards season, and we can attribute much of her success to her willingness to put herself into the speeches she delivers. Just a few days prior to the Oscars, she blew audience members away at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon with a powerful personal story. Her acceptance speech at the Oscars reminds us once again that drawing on your own experience will help you connect with your audience. Watch her speech.

2. Plan Ahead

No one likes to look totally scripted on stage, but leaving room for emotion and spontaneity is no excuse for lack of rehearsal. We’ve all seen speeches go awry because the winner can’t remember who to thank. For those who need a cautionary tale, just look to Jacquelyn Bisset’s unscripted win at the Golden Globes. It went so badly that it got mocked on Saturday Night Live the following weekend. A great speaker knows how to balance planned words with in-the-moment emotion. Matthew McConaughey showed us what it looks like when done well. Watch his speech.

He came across humble and genuine while using a structure that ensured that he thanked all the most important people in his life. So, next time you’re facing a big moment in front of a crowd, take a tip from McConaughey and practice, practice, practice!

3. Strike the Right Note

A great speaker adapts their message to the tone and personality of their audience. In a setting like the Oscars, where many of the speakers are celebrating the biggest accomplishments of their professional careers, audiences crave humor and joy out of the winners. No one showcased this better than Best Original Song winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Watch the video here.

Because Lopez and Anderson-Lopez prepared their thank you speech in advance, they were able to deliver it through a combination of rhyming and singing names to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” And they did it all with big smiles on their faces. Their memorable speech shows audiences the downside of tuning out during the middle of the broadcast and reminds speakers that any moment on stage is one you can use to your advantage.

4. Watch the Clock

Sometimes the most powerful words come in small packages. Jared Leto’s thank you speech started incredibly strong. He held the entire audience’s heart in his hands after a moving opening in which he thanked his mother for raising him in challenging circumstances. But like so many Oscar winners before him, Leto didn’t know how to leave it at that. Watch his speech.

His comments on Ukraine and Venezuela were certainly understandable and timely. But their loose tie to the rest of his speech caused him to lose his hold on the audience. When he finally got to talking about the millions who’ve suffered from AIDS (the subject of his winning film), he’d reached his third topic and much of the audience had tuned out. Leto’s speech would have been more memorable had he chosen one subject and stuck to that. Imagine if he’d walked off the stage immediately after thanking his mother. The audience would have been left with tears in their eyes and an incredible impression of Jared Leto to close out awards season.

For people used to delivering scripted lines with directorial supervision, it can be tough to get on stage in front of a large in-person audience and millions more tuned in around the world. By using a few important ingredients – powerful personal stories, carefully chosen tone and timing, and advance preparation – Nyong’o, McConnaughey, and a few others reminded us why we love tuning in to the Oscars every year. But you don’t have to be a Hollywood star to follow their example. Following the same set of principles can help speakers everywhere make a lasting impression.

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