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9 acceptance speech lessons from Daniel Day-Lewis

When lucky enough to be honored at any ceremony, the first thing anyone should do is research how to give an acceptance speech. We offer 9 lessons from the now famous speech by Daniel Day-Lewis as a shortcut in your research.

daniel day lewis as lincoln

daniel day lewis acceptance speech

Awarding Daniel Day-Lewis with “Best Acceptance Speech”

Daniel Day-Lewis wins again. No, I’m not talking about the Academy Award for Best Actor that he received on Sunday evening (the most in Oscar History), I’m talking about his landslide victory in the category of “Best Acceptance Speech at the Oscars.”

If only the Oscars would just give up the tradition of awkward acceptance speech moments by having Lewis handle each one. It would do wonders for the ‘second half of the night’ ratings. Besides, as a method actor, Lewis could pull off each speech in the character of the actual winner. Everyone wins.

Giving an acceptance speech is awkward. What other situation in life requires you to talk about how great you are, but then judges you if you sound like you think you are great? Given the unique circumstances, it’s easy to see why so many people handle it poorly.

Acceptance speech and communication

In honor of the Academy Awards, here are a few key things to know about great acceptance speeches.

At the root of it all, audiences want to see three key character traits through the words and non-verbals you use to communicate.

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  • Humility – You must somehow act like you don’t think you are great without disagreeing with those who gave you the award. Good luck.
  • Authenticity – People want to believe they are seeing the ‘real’ you.
  • Personality – Everyone wants to see what makes you unique.

Creating the proper perception during an acceptance speech

How can you create this perception? Here’s a quick list of practical tips:

  1. Reference the losers: whatever you feel about how great of a job you did to receive this award, put those traits on the people who voters decided weren’t as good as you. The more personal and the more over the top, the better. Use phrases like “to even be mentioned in the same sentence as,” “each of you deserves this,” “I’ve learned so much from,” etc.
  2. Drop “I would like to thank…”: This is counter-intuitive. The problem with the phrase is that it gives the impression of false humility- it’s all about you. Instead, thank these people in more creative ways. One option is to just start with the person’s name and follow with how they impacted you. “Wife, you’ve been there for all of these years…” It’s a thank you speech- so it’s implied.
  3. Reference the “pre-successful” self: Reveal that you still see yourself as the person you were before your accolades began rolling in. Ways to do this include mentions of people who knew you beforehand, jokes about how they remind you of that self. You can also express complete surprise over the moment (though don’t be Taylor Swift who still acts shocked after being the most successful woman her age on the planet).
  4. Limit lists: Nothing turns people off faster than long lists of people they don’t know. Every additional name reduces the significance of those who mean the most. Instead, focus on a small number of people who have had particularly profound impact. Use these individuals to symbolize spheres of people.
  5. Get personal: Extending the previous tip, remember that the goal of a name dump is to have the space to reference detailed reasons for your gratitude in a select few. Saying thanks can feel trite, but stating why you are thankful shows that you are being honest.
  6. Make it about something epic: This is a biggie. The best way to reveal humility is to make the meaning of the award/experience about something that connects to our deepest emotions. A cause, a team, a community… tell us the why. Why does this matter?
  7. Stay away from controversy: There’s no faster way to lose half of your audience than to turn a moment of celebration into an attack on their beliefs. There’s a place for political and philosophical disagreement- this is not it.
  8. Keep it brief: In the words of Mark Twain, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” No one likes the person who feels so self important that they can’t stop talking after receiving an award.
  9. Prepare: Again I turn to Mark Twain who noted, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” Put another way, the likelihood that you look prideful is higher if you don’t prepare than if you do prepare like you are going to win.

Giving a highly thought of acceptance speech is not complicated, but it is challenging. Follow these nine tips and you’ll avoid the pitfalls of so many before you. Now, if we can just get this advice to the Oscar nominees for next year, we will all benefit.

Written By

Curt Steinhorst loves attention. More specifically, he loves understanding attention. How it works. Why it matters. How to get it. As someone who personally deals with ADD, he overcame the unique distractions that today’s technology creates to start a Communications Consultancy, The Promentum Group, and Speakers Bureau, Promentum Speakers, both of which he runs today. Curt’s expertise and communication style has led to more than 75 speaking engagements in the last year to organizations such as GM, Raytheon, Naval Academy, Cadillac, and World Presidents’ Organization.

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