As someone who has had the honor and pleasure of working with celebrities, I am always glued to the awards shows. The recent Golden Globes provided a fascinating opportunity to watch and observe public speaking and presentation in a very high stakes, high-pressure environment.
At the top of my list of fabulous acceptance speeches was Meryl Streep (video starts at about 2:00). Her performance was magical. Her remarks were unscripted, but not unprepared. She was humble, funny, and very, very authentic. She exudes confidence and presence. I was especially struck by her tribute to her mother, describing her as anti-gloom and doom and her frank admission that she, herself, was not like that. This was an example of the type of self-disclosure I strongly advocate as a way to connect with an audience. It was not an intimate detail, but added just enough information to allow her admirers feel closer to her. Brilliant.
Importantly, we must remember that Streep is an experienced performer and acceptor of awards. She embodied the maxim, Practice + Experience = Spontaneity.
Drew Barrymore’s acceptance speech (video starts at about 1:30), on the other hand, did not serve her well. And, surprisingly, just a week later, she flubbed her acceptance of a Screen Actors Guild Award.
A gifted actor and, now, director, Barrymore has been in the business since she was a young child and overcome significant obstacles along the way. Although she may not have expected to win, she should have prepared nonetheless. Better performances could have further solidified the public view of her as a major Hollywood player. Instead, the addled nature of her remarks and uncertain body language had me recalling her years of struggle, which is something, I can only imagine, she would like to put behind her.
Fortunately, the performances will not seriously undermine her image, as she has more than proven herself as someone worthy of significant admiration. For someone with less star power or for the average person, a performance like that could be lethal.
I recently worked with a COO who had to substitute for the ailing CEO and keynote the institution’s annual meeting. It was not clear until the last minute whether the CEO would be delivering the presentation. That didn’t stop this COO from preparing well in advance. He blew them away.
Here are the takeaways:
1. Even if you are not sure you will be performing, you must always be ready for your close-up.
2. If your performance contradicts your accomplishments, it will be unnecessarily distracting or worse.
3. A little self-disclosure goes a long way in connecting with your audience. A personal story often does the trick.
Here’s the other takeaway: Celebrities are not that different from the rest of us, after all.
P.S.: I’ll be tweeting about the celebrity acceptance speeches during the Oscars on Sunday, March 7, on ABC. The focus will be on technique. Should be very entertaining, lots of fun, and a great learning opportunity for us all. Follow me and join in the conversation!
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Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Communication / Greenwich, CT