I’d like to thank Demosthenes…

After last night’s Oscar ceremony, Nancy Duarte has a few suggestions for any public speaker hoping to outdo Academy Award-winning artists (which is a surprisingly low bar, although there were a few standouts): personal is powerful; plan ahead; strike the right note and watch the clock.

For people used to delivering scripted lines with directorial supervision, it can be tough to get on stage in front of a large in-person audience and millions more tuned in around the world. By using a few important ingredients – powerful personal stories, carefully chosen tone and timing, and advance preparation – Nyong’o, McConnaughey, and a few others reminded us why we love tuning in to the Oscars every year. But you don’t have to be a Hollywood star to follow their example. Following the same set of principles can help speakers everywhere make a lasting impression.

Every year, I’m astonished just how many winners (and presenters) waste one of the greatest speaking opportunities they’ll ever have. They head to the mic unprepared, drunk, stoned or all three. They fritter away precious seconds on lengthy asides and meandering ad libs.

Maybe too much experience “delivering scripted lines with directorial supervision” has led some of them to believe this stuff just happens, and that screenwriters are simply an optional channel for a muse that would much rather speak through them directly. Maybe they think that preparing a speech jinxes their chances. Maybe they think nothing but complete spontaneity will suit the occasion.

Any way you dice that, they’re wrong. And those are beliefs that, in form way or another, I’ve heard from non-movie people as well — usually before a disastrous speech.So of all Nancy’s suggestions (each of them crucial), the one I’d like to reinforce the most is preparation. Whether it’s the Oscars, a welcome to a parents’ association fundraiser or something in between, know what you want to say before you hit the stage.



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