you like me

 Sally Field

One of my best friends recently sent an urgent text.She said something like, “Award speech on Tuesday.3 days to write a three minute speech.

This is an accomplished woman - author, renowned expert in her field and a sought-after keynote speaker.She routinely gets invited to Washington to testify and lectures around the world.The issue was not eloquence.It was twofold. How to say it without bragging; and how to say it in three minutes.

Ahhh…the acceptance speech.What pressure!Our framework has been shaped by the best and worst Oscar moments.Something about grasping a golden statue in front of a billion people brings out shockingly wonderful and awful speechmaking.(My husband who writes screenplays claims this is because actors usually only say the things that writers write for them).

Think about it.We remember Sally Field for “You like me!You really like me!” That’s not precisely what she said, though it’s close.See her actual words, below.Some years earlier, Jane Wyman famously floored film’s glitterati while grasping her Oscar for the portrayal of a mute character in Johnny Belinda in 1949. “I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once,” she proclaimed. And then, she sat down.

Ruth Gordon at age 72, brought the house down when she said, “I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like this is.”And who can forget the exuberant Cuba Gooding leaping in the air shouting “I love you! I love you Tom Cruise!I love you…”

One thing these memorable moments had in common is they did not involve long, long lists on paper napkins.The show’s producers don’t even put up with those dull soliloquies anymore.Miss your countdown clock cue and they will exert their authority to end it mid-sentence with music and send out those two buxom, Oscar De La Renta clad escorts to take you to backstage purgatory.

You probably won’t be accepting your award on a red carpet, but the same rules apply.Be brief, be gracious, and be seated.This is no time to acknowledge your second grade teacher, your hairdresser and your live-in-nanny.Send them a note after the event.

Learning the art of the acceptance speech is important because … well… if you live long enough, accomplish something and have enough money to buy a table of ten at the event, someone is going to punish you with an award.

So let’s talk about how to have your Sally Field/Jane Wyman/Ruth Gordo/Cuba Gooding moment.

Here’s one formula that I’ve found works like a charm.

         Recognize the organization for its good work.(Yes, it’s really about them)

         Thank a couple of people.(Enough to be gracious)

         Share a quick anecdote or inspirational moment in your life (This avoids the bragging issue)

         Wrap it up and get off the stage (Imagine people applauding wildly with gratitude)

Why should you care about mastering this moment?It’s not about other people.Sure, they’ll note how you did.But it’s really about you.You want to remember it as a moment of triumph. I’ve seen plenty that weren’t.

ack in my TV anchor days I emceed no fewer than 8,967 awards banquets (and ate 2,356 tons of span style="font-size: 10pt; line-height: 115%;">chicken).The biggest challenge in fulfilling my duties wasn’t reading the script; it was trying to keep the event on time.

More often than I care to remember I had to move toward the podium, and give a loquacious recipient a less than subtle nod.My next intervention would be the hairy eyeball.When all else failed, more desperate measures were required.Once I actually walked up to a woman who had gone 20 minutes on a five minute speech and touched her on the elbow.She kept going.I interrupted and apologized that it was a great story but we were over time.She ignored me and went five more minutes.I kid you not. You cannot make this stuff up.

You, however, upon accepting your award, will be the master of your moment.You will be brilliant.You will inspire.And you’ll do it in three minutes.Because when you walk off the stage, that’s what you’ll want to remember.

Sally Field, Best Actress for “Places in the Heart,” after having won in 1980 for Norma Rae: “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect.The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.” (1985)

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