It is highly unlikely that you’ll live a life free of public speech obligations. Team meetings, board meetings, pitches, presentations, toasts and the like, will all call on you to dig into yourself (extrovert or not) to publicly drive home a meaningful message. Consider this ability to connect to people, and move them with your words, one of the skills you’ll need to remain an asset in future workplaces.
So how do we keep from becoming the living version of Charlie Brown’s boring, seemingly gibberish-speaking teacher? We watched the 91st Academy Awards and took notes from some of the best presenters and speeches to help you get it right. Here are five tips from Oscar-winning pros:
Break the Ice
This year’s Oscars didn’t have a host, so they got three premier comedians to start things off on a humorous note. I know, we’re not all Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. The first few moments of a meeting can be awkward, so try carving out room to let the humor shine through. Lower the audience’s guard by leaving room for your personality. Tell a joke, ask about people’s weekends, or even share your perspective on a current event. A couple laughs will likely make the audience more receptive to what’s coming next but might also loosen up your own nerves. We saw smiles break out across the audience at Tina Fey’s hilarious mention of the Fyre Festival debacle. “Look under your seats, you’re all getting one of those cheese sandwiches from the Fyre Festival!” Every presenter had it way easier after that.
The Gratitude Sandwich
If I had a dime for every time an Academy Award recipient started and ended their speech with the words, “thank you,” someone else would be writing this blog post right now. If there’s one thing we can gather from the Oscar-winner speeches, it’s that gratitude is crucial. Not only is it important to recognize all the moving parts that contribute to the specific moment, but gratitude gives off humility. Humility makes you likeable. So next time you present or hold a team meeting, make sure you’re thanking everyone for their attendance when you start, and for their attention when you end. Showing appreciation is a great way to include everyone in the moment. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” remember?
Lead with Authentic Emotion
If you’re feeling joy, uncontrollable excitement, or anything else on the emotional spectrum, don’t be afraid to say it. Give yourself permission to be human – publicly! Your emotions aren’t secret, they’re what makes a moment authentic and memorable. If you want people to connect, infuse some humanity into it. You know the saying, “they’ll forget what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” We’re still over here wiping away tears from Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s sentimental performance of “Shallow.” While we wouldn’t recommend moving your peers to tears, showing excitement for a new work initiative is a great way to transfer positive feelings and get some investment in return.
Sure, your presentation is pre-written and rehearsed, but who says that means it has to be stale and impersonal? Adding personal anecdotes not only humanizes the speaker, it makes the topic relatable. After Spike Lee went down the long list of sacrifices his grandmother made to support his filmmaking journey, it was easy to relate to his uncontainable joy because many of us have someone in our lives who’s done the same. Getting personal can help you connect with even the stiffest audience.
Talk to the People!
The fourth wall is the metaphorical barrier between the audience and the actors. It lets the actors live in the scene and pretend the audience isn’t there. During any form of public speech, it’s easy to accidentally create a fourth wall and speak at the room rather than to it. Remember, no matter how much you’ve rehearsed, you’re not just speaking out into a room you’re speak to the people in it. Barbra Streisand masterfully broke this fourth wall when she looked away from the teleprompter to have an impromptu moment with Spike Lee, the director of a film she was praising. In this moment they gushed over their hometown, Brooklyn, NY and their love for hats! Streisand demonstrated a unique way to connect with the audience, beyond eye-contact. Speak to individuals in the room! Make audible note of a commonality, address a publicly known personal fact, etc...
Public speaking can be daunting. People are watching you and even worse – most times they’re actually listening to you. Instead of obsessing over everything that can go wrong, like the robot you’re not, invest in being as human as you can. We love to watch the Oscars because this is the one time we get to see our favorite actors come out of character and be real people, with real emotions, win or lose. Yes, you should prepare, yes you can practice, but remember that your audience is more than a collective body. They’re people. If you focus on connecting to the people, you’ll engage them, you’ll entertain them and maybe even move them. Before you know it, you could be on a major stage accepting your own award.