5 things the Oscars 2016 taught us about public speaking

Be funny, not offensive. Public speaking is harder than it looks, says Lucy Musselwhite

Leonardo diCaprio

Titanic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet at the 2016 Oscars

And the award for Best Speech at the Oscars 2016 goes to… actually, there were many winners in this category during the 88th Academy Awards. On Sunday night, the stars of the silver screen employed a mix of great anecdotes, controlled body language and immense passion to create a legacy with their words.

In fact, the public speaking skills employed by our favourite, award-winning actors translate across the professional world, as useful for a senior manager addressing their team or a keynote speaker who needs to fire up a group of delegates. Here are the five key skills which stood out for us:

Make your speech memorable

There’s no doubt words have the power to change, especially when uttered on a global platform. This year’s Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio took the opportunity to comment on climate change (he’s had five previous nominations to perfect his point after all), while Adam McKay, director of Best Writing Adapted Screenplay winner ‘The Big Short’, chose to address his concerns on the current election.  

When putting together your own speech, it’s good practice to bear in mind what you really want your audiences to remember and take away from an event and the impact your words can have. 

Body language matters

Ambiguous and over-the-top body language is the norm at The Oscars. According to mentalist Gilan Gork, an analysis of non-verbal cues can give away what people on the stage are really thinking (even through the Botox). Taking a look at this year’s Oscars, for example, body language expert Judi James explains how Brie Larson’s raised shoulders and brows signalled shock in a manner that oozed ‘Most Humble-Looking Winner’ in addition to Best Actress.

It’s important to think about your own posture, facial expression and voice when you present as it will affect how your audience perceive you. 

Keep calm and jabber on

Giving a speech in front of live audience (of any number) is nerve-wracking, so it’s not surprising that there’s been a nervous stumble or two at the Oscar’s podium over the years.

It’s true that John Travolta’s incorrect introduction of Idina Menzel at the Awards a couple of years ago wasn’t technically an acceptance speech, but the lesson is strong: research your facts beforehand. If you do make an error, the best response is to laugh it off and swiftly move on to put the audience back at their ease.

Be funny, but not offensive

Humour can definitely enrich a speech, but you should aim to avoid potentially offensive territory. It could have got sticky at the Awards this year following various controversies dominating the build-up, but host Chris Rock’s deft stagecraft, gusto and general likeability allowed jokes to be made around sensitive issues without humiliating the audience or drawing attention away from the prize-giving.

Make the audience the stars

Even if you’ve just won an Oscar, this does not mean you have to be the star of the speech you’re giving. For maximum engagement, make it about the about the audience, rather than yourself.

The awe-struck thanks of Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander as she shared her successes with her co-stars and director is a classic Oscars-way to do this, but the principle applies to speech-making in general: when relaying personal achievements, make your anecdotes relatable by situating them within the wider context, and you’ll be winning awards for your speeches in no time.

Lucy Musselwhite is content editor at Speakers Corner

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