Lessons in Storytelling from Poorly Ad Libbed Golden Globes Acceptance Speeches
It never ceases to amaze me how a professional actor-- someone who, as Shakespeare said so well, "struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more" would even consider going to an award show where he or she is a nominee without some prepared remarks. They end up finishing the Shakespeare quote with their rambling, ad libbed acceptance speeches -- "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
It reminds me of the great scene in a fun comedy, "My Favorite Year." The late great Peter O'Toole is playing an Errol Flynn type character who has been booked on a live comedy show in the 1950s. He has a total meltdown when he discovers that there will be no takes; this is live. Take note, actors and actresses: there are no retakes. These awards shows are live.
I'll make some allowances for the fact that the Golden Globes is held during a long dinner in which alcohol apparently flows freely, unlike the Oscars, where everyone is nervous and starving through the long awards show. But that's not enough to excuse the overwhelming number of winners at this year's Golden Globes who claimed they were shocked they won and therefore had not prepared anything. They then proceeded to ramble on, forgetting names of people to thank (or struggling to remember them) and essentially boring their audience. How much better -- and easier -- would it have been to actually come prepared, which is what an actor is supposed to do in their daily work. Watching these people struggle reminds all of us why script writers should be better paid.
Executive Communications Coach Mary Civiello captured the problem well in a column in Fortune. She highlighted what was considered the worst speech of the night from Jacqueline Bisset:
"Jacqueline Bisset, whom I've admired for her beauty and talent, was downright disoriented in her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The 69-year-old British actress showed us how awful it can be when you fail to prepare. No excuses, even if you think your chances of reaching the stage are remote."
Alcohol plus lack of preparation resulted in an embarrassing moment when it could have been a triumph.
On the other hand, Leonardo DiCaprio bounded onto the stage victoriously with prepared remarks that thanked the appropriate people for his Best Actor nod, including his film's director, Martin Scorsese, whom he cited as a mentor, and his parents. He was professional and cool. He clearly came prepared.
Like Mary Civielo, I do a lot of storytelling training and coaching for the executive spokespeople in our client base. None of them are professional actors, but they focus on the essential elements of storytelling which is to understand your audience and have an intriguing and well supported point of view that will engage them and then establish it succinctly so it resonates. It isn't rocket science, but it requires work and preparation and practice.
This group of actors has time before the next of the series of award shows for a do-over. Take a page out of Leo DiCaprio's and my executive spokespeoples' books and do the following:
- Take the time to prepare brief remarks that make the point you'd like to make and thank only the people you need to acknowledge. Even if you don’t expect to speak in public, not preparing shows indifference towards your audience.
- Rehearse your remarks. Try them out in the mirror at first and then ask someone you trust to listen to them to make sure they are not too long and that they are appropriate and will resonate.
- As an actor you should be able to memorize lines, but, if you worry about nerves, bring some notes. The audience would prefer a short, sweet speech that is read than a long rambling inane monologue. Ask Jacqueline Bisset.
- Even if your speech lasts only for a minute, remember that every bit of air time makes a difference in terms of how you are perceived – and by association, every project you are a part of.
- And last point: it won't kill you to pass up the alcoholic beverages until after your category is called. Your legacy will thank you for it if you end up winning and needing to make a global impression on a stage that seems like a mile from your seats.
Remember: YouTube videos of gaffes live forever.