What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Include in an Awards-Show Speech

Halle Berry. Photo: Getty Images

This weekend, the Golden Globes will be handing out trophies to some of Hollywood’s finest, but even a winner can lose if he or she doesn’t make the right kind of acceptance speech. Sure, awards voters keep in mind all sorts of important things when they fill out a ballot — “Was the performance amazing?” “Did I like the movie?” “Is this actor more successful than me and should I vote for someone else just to spite him?” — but one underrated, undeniable factor in picking a winner is how that victor will behave when called up to the podium to babble on for a full a minute, and the Golden Globes serve as a highly visible dry run for the Oscars. Luckily, Vulture is here to help! Here are three things to keep in mind to make any acceptance speech better, as well as three things to leave out of it.

INCLUDE: Cussing
What’s the quickest way to galvanize the audience in the theater and at home? A well-placed, tossed-off expletive! Don’t worry, producers will usually bleep it — it’s what they’ve got the seven-second delay for, after all. Melissa Leo got all the morning-after attention from the press for her inadvertent cussing during last year’s Oscarcast, but it’s even better to fling an F-bomb if you happen to be a well-respected British actress winning for a costume drama: Immediately, you’ve broken out of your own typecasting!

Grammy winners and Super Bowl champions are always quick to give holy hosannas after a big win, but actors are typically more selfish: They’re convinced that only they (and sometimes, their publicists) fully deserve that win. And that’s as it should be! God has nothing to do with the Oscars, or else he wouldn’t keep hiring Bruce Vilanch back.

INCLUDE: A good anecdote
Actors aren’t writers (though admittedly, when they try, they usually win an Oscar for it, as Emma Thompson, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck can attest). Still, they’d be wise to think like one when crafting a speech, and it especially helps to make a really compelling anecdote the centerpiece of your time onstage. Was there a teacher who once gave you heartwarming advice? Do you have a spouse who drove you to that audition no one thought you could get, and his encouragement gave you the confidence you needed? Was Lauren Graham really mean to you when you were a mere extra on Gilmore Girls, and you’d like to dedicate this win to her? Find a good story and shape your speech around it! (And save it for the Oscars, if you can … it’s no fun to waste your best material at the dinner for the National Board of Review.)

DON’T INCLUDE: Thank-yous to your agent and publicist
“But Vulture, my agent, publicist, stylist, lawyer, mistress, and makeup artist will never forgive me if I don’t dutifully recite their names during my precious minute at the podium!” Then here’s what you do: Give each of those important people their own speech in the months-long slog to Oscar. There are plenty of opportunities: Use the Los Angeles Film Critics ceremony to tout your publicist! Use the Critics Choice Awards to talk about your hair and makeup people! By the time the actual Oscar telecast comes around, they won’t mind (much) if you decide to go long talking about the importance of your late father, and how you wish he could be there to see this. And besides, there’s always Oscar’s backstage thank-you cam.

Be funny! Practice a good zinger! Starting things off with a joke is almost as effective as letting loose a good cuss word. Remember that great meeting you took with Judd Apatow a few months ago? Maybe he’d be willing to ghostwrite a good punch line.

DON’T INCLUDE: Time wasted on the conductor
That time you spent pausing, squinting into the orchestra pit, and hesitantly saying, “Oh, they want me to wrap it up?” Wasted! Sure, you’ve got no sense of time up there, but if you’re going to refer to the conductor at all, take your cues from Julia Roberts and threaten him with bodily harm. At least it’s creative! (He has a stick, and several orifices. Brainstorm from there.)

Keep in mind that if you do start blubbering up at the podium, the audience at home will tear up too … but then they’ll turn on you for it. Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet all started crying when they won Oscars, and though they gave us what we wanted — emotion and heightened stakes — they were roundly mocked afterwards, especially Winslet, who’s been pilloried in the British press ever since. Still, we’d advise you to go for it, as long as tears can be deployed at the appropriate moment (cry for your spouse, not your manager).

What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Include in an Awards-Show Speech