Dear Oscar Winners: Can We Be More Prepared Next Time?

There is quite a lot I could say about the Oscars last night, but I’ll spare you my commentary except to say that the bright spots were the Leena Horne quote (“It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it.”) and Jude Law + Robert Downey Jr as co-presenters.  Enough said.

What I continue to marvel at is the abundance of lame acceptance speeches.  The Oscar team was prescient that this year would be among the worst, and it pieced together a “top 3” list of best speeches of all time, just to ease our suffering.

In case the future holds an Oscar for you, here are some things we, the audience, wish you would consider:

Remember Who’s Out There. Yes, you’re surrounded by the who’s who of Hollywood film making, but you’re also surrounded by over 40 million every day people watching you on their TVs. Think about that: 40 MILLION minds tuned into you and your award.  That’s powerful stuff.  If just a few hundred thousand inspired people can topple a brutal, autocratic regime in Egypt, certainly 40 million people could be moved in some positive way by your words.  Need a great example? Milk Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black left a lasting impression with his powerful acceptance speech in 2009.

Don’t Let Superstition Make You Sucky. Many people think, “if I practice and take this seriously, it’ll jinx my chances.”  Unless you also carry around voodoo dolls and tarot cards, this makes no sense.  Decide up front what you want to accomplish during your speech. If that answer is “nothing” then fine.  But know that you are missing a golden opportunity to show the world who you are, what you care about, and why your film/role mattered.  And if you’re saying, “But what about spontaneity??” I’m all for it.  Allow yourself 5 seconds to have your “freak out” moment, and then get back to your plan.  Sound strict? It’s your career for the love of God.  You need to manage that 1 minute as tightly as any press junket you’ve ever been involved in.  Sandra Bullock absolutely nailed her acceptance speech last year, and showed what a talented, articulate, self possessed woman she really is – much to the surprise of many, given her low calorie movie roles prior to The Blind Side.

Thanks but No Thanks. As much as we, the audience, loathe hearing a laundry list of people to thank, we will tolerate a few shout outs if you keep it quick.  Randy Newman got this almost right, but lingered a bit too long. Write a list, bring it with you if you have to, and make sure it takes up no more than 5 - 7 seconds (note: a cheat sheet is only ok for reading off names).  5 full beats is a lot, and you can squeeze a lot in there, and still keep us in our seats instead of going to the kitchen for more Girl Scout cookies. Use the balance of time to say something important.  Or funny.  Please.  We beg of you. (And dropping the F-bomb is a little naughty, but it’s really not all that interesting.)

Self Deprecation is Always Welcome.  But don’t be dull about it. We’ve all heard the “I can’t believe my name is up there with all of these amazing actors…” bit.  Make it interesting. “I’m afraid my career has just peaked,” said Colin Firth as he accepted his well deserved Oscar, and reminded us that it is possible to be witty, self deprecating and fresh at the same time.

For those of us who aren’t up for Oscars, we can all use a reminder from time to time that even when it’s “all about us,” it’s really not.  It's all about the audience and knowing how to use your 15 minutes of fame in way that people remember… and hopefully in a good way.