In the wake of last weekend’s Golden Globes and today’s announcement of the Academy Award nominees (among which much to my dismay neither Fruitvale Station nor Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom were included, but I digress) I felt the need to discuss Hollywood’s problems with public speaking.
As I watched the Golden Globes on Sunday, I found myself annoyed by the winners’ continuously subpar acceptance speeches. First, please understand that this is not a post about grammar, eloquence, etiquette, or anything like that. I don’t expect, and I don’t think anyone else expects, for award show speeches to be comparable to The Gettysburg Address. And I don’t really care if the winners dance the jig, trip and fall, or bring fifty people on stage with them. I don’t even really need or expect to be moved or inspired in any particular way. I just ask that if they are going to make an acceptance speech that they actually say something.
As I G-chatted back and forth with my friend on Sunday night as we watched the Golden Globes, the dysfunction and repetitive empty monotony was killing me. “Oh my God, if one more person gets up here and says how shocked they are and how they don’t have anything prepared, I’m going to scream,” I said to myself, to my friend on G-chat, and out loud to my television.
Whenever I hear someone say how shocked they are to win–except in certain circumstances–I’m immediately doubtful. “Are you really shocked?” I ask myself and the so-called “shocked” winner. Just by virtue of the fact that you were nominated, you knew that there was at least some possibility that you were going to win. No matter how slim you thought your chances of actually winning were, at most award shows, with approximately five nominees per category, there is at least a 20 percent chance that you will win. That means that there is a 20 percent chance that you will have to get on stage and make a speech. You might be incredibly honored, but are you really shocked?
Sure those are not the best odds in the world. But the Golden Globe fairy doesn’t just sneak up behind you in your seat as you’re minding your business, drinking your wine, and watching the show and say, “Surprise! You win! No go talk.” That is no slim margin. There’s no excuse for not having “anything prepared.” And if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, current Hollywood “it girl,” are you really shocked? I mean, really? I wasn’t–even if you weren’t my first choice.
I understand that some people may think it’s arrogant or presumptuous to prepare anything because they do not actually know whether they are going to win, no matter the margin of possibility. However, unless you are the type of person who can adequately wing it if your name happens to be called, preparation does not undermine humility. False modesty isn’t cute either, especially when it’s followed up by no words. If anything, I think it’s arrogant to assume that the audience and the viewers want to watch 50 people say how shocked and unprepared they are and try to hold their liquor, or whatever else for three hours, no matter how much we like your outfit and especially with no musical or other form of distraction or entertainment (at least in the case of the Golden Globes). In the proverbial words of Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Why not put some thoughts together just in case the odds play out in your favor? Write some names down on a piece of paper. Jot down a little outline: thank God (if that’s your preference), your family, friends, agent/manager/lawyers/business people, cast/crew, the Academy and/or whatever other agency voted for you to win, and the fans. Good night. Feel free to find a nice inspirational quote to stick in there for decoration if you want. Then, walk off stage. Boom.
I also understand that emotions and nerves are involved, so even the person who jots down names on a piece of paper might forget it. All the calm and decorum in the world can go out of the window when that moment hits. Of course, I have never won an award of that magnitude and I cannot predict how I would react in these people’s shoes. Public speaking is one of many people’s biggest fears. I get that. However, I think you can be emotional and still somewhat articulate. Again, by articulate, I don’t mean grammar or eloquence, I mean the ability to convey a logical thought. At the very least, everyone should not get on stage and say how unprepared they are. Nominees need to work it out amongst themselves before the show and leave the “I’m-so-unprepareds” to a three person minimum. If worse comes to worse and you win and you don’t know what to say, you’re actors/performers/entertainers: fake it till you make it.
And here’s another solution: if you really don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything. Merritt Wever hit the nail on the head with her Emmy speech when she said, “Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye.” That’s all it takes. All I’m saying is don’t stand on the stage and have us watch you fumbling and bumbling and saying “oh my God” over and over again until the music starts playing. That doesn’t take 30 seconds or a minute or however long they give you to speak.
I’ve even thought about the possibility of having an option to waive acceptance speeches. Just as they would have the presenters accept someone’s award on his behalf if he wasn’t present, they should give the winners an option to opt out if acceptance speeches aren’t their thing or if they don’t have anything to say.
No one likes excessive formality, but the laxness of these sorts of presentations has gotten out of hand. As a kid, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time on stages, in the arts, and learning speaking and self-presentation skills. In a choir that I was a part of as a teen, we had this exercise that we had to do called “Say Your Name.” That meant that when it was our turn, we had to “turn our lights on” (smile, stand up straight, etc., not fidget, etc.) and introduce ourselves. Before we could even start singing, we had to learn how to just “be” on stage and in the public eye. So, it bothers me to have to watch people who have actively sought and been given a stage trip all over themselves on it. I know they have communications and public relations people.
Thankfully, the 9th grader who introduced President Obama recently did a much better job than all of the award winners at the Golden Globes, but other young people watching the Golden Globes might not be as skilled. And no, this isn’t just another “celebrities are role models” pitch (because if you read this blog, you already know how I feel about that). This is about the importance of not wasting a platform. No, I don’t believe that everyone has to be a master public speaker or perfectly poised (because I’m not and probably never will be), but I believe that if you have the ability to speak, you have to use it. If you are fortunate enough to be given an opportunity and a platform to speak, you really have to use it. If you have an audience, do something worth watching–even if it isn’t necessarily “unique” or memorable. A speech is not just a potential award show disaster. It is a real privilege that not everyone has.