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The Oscars 2019 blasted onto our screens with two show stoppers from real members of the rock band, Queen.  The audience were indeed rocking and suddenly it looked like a great night ahead.

A powerful beginning is the hallmark of great shows and great public speaking. It’s about getting attention and getting the audience excited about what’s to come.  In public speaking high impact starts can include a strong story, a question, a quote, a significant number or a powerful picture. 

Business presentations can afford to be bolder when it comes to a powerful beginning.  Playing too safe limits impact. There’s a great presentation by author Roger Fairhead about leadership development. He starts by playing the violin to the 1970’s Diana Ross song ‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To?’ It gets attention and establishes the central theme of personal purpose.

Powerful end
A powerful beginning deserves a powerful end and in this the Oscars came up short.  The show closed with actress Julia Roberts saying goodbye and hope you had a good night. It felt apologetic. It fizzled out. What a wasted opportunity.  In fact, worse than that, Julia Roberts’ efforts triggered in my mind thoughts of the all the negative pre-Oscar talk about no host and unpopular format changes.

Some experts recommend leaving the best bit of a speech until the end. I’m not so sure. That strikes me as risky. If you don’t attract attention at the beginning it’s too late to rescue things when finishing.

Given that an audience will always remember the end spend plenty of time on it.  Ensure it delivers impact and reinforces the main message. Quotes always work well.  The best quote of the night was “periods should end a sentence not a girl’s education “.  This short, sharp message came  from the winner of the documentary short award. Theirs was a campaigning film about menstruation. The strongly memorable statement also keenly summarised the key message.

Masterclass from Olivia Colman
But the speech of the night came from winning actress Olivia Colman. She  gave a masterclass in public speaking.  Hers wasn’t a technically perfect speech with a manicured message.  She had something much better: an authentic presence and she was ‘in the moment’. 

Despite winning one of the top prizes in front of a live global audience she came across as genuinely moved.  It’s hard to believe as she’d already won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. But yes, she seemed thrilled.

The sense of authenticity comes from her unguarded, spontaneous comments. She hopes her Mum and Dad and children are watching because “it’s not gonna happen again!” I’ve never heard an Oscar winner utter those words.  It suggests a refreshing modesty. She just seems so likeable even when she blows a raspberry after being asked to wrap up the speech.  You trust that what she’s saying is her unvarnished truth. 

That is something pretty rare in public speaking.  There’s so much focus on technical competence: getting the slides right, speaking clearly, using positive gestures and saying memorable things. And all of these things do matter but they only get you so far without authentic presence.

In a volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex business world authentic presence helps to develop  trust and connection. The first step is knowing your purpose as a human being and as a leader and expressing your inner presence. When audiences sense who you really are there are opportunities to inspire.

One of the other remarkable things about Olivia Colman’s speech is she is totally immersed in the moment.  And it’s quite a rollercoaster. She bursts into tears when announced as the winner.  Then the first thing she says at the microphone is “It’s hilarious. I’ve got an Oscar”.  And she’s unwittingly very funny when she says to actress Glenn Close “you are my idol and this is not how I wanted it to be”.

There is an interesting ‘dance’ for public speakers to navigate when in the moment. You don’t want to be so internally focused that you forget to connect to the audience. Colman handles this well. She retains enough composure to think about inspiring future actors and give her speech a bigger purpose.  She encourages any little girl who’s practising her speech on the telly to be hopeful because they could win an Oscar in the future.

So, a few  lessons from the Oscars.

Pitfalls to avoid in Business Award Speeches
Don’t start with the word ‘wow’
Don’t use your smartphone to read notes
Don’t read out a long lists of thank you names

Jacqui Harper – Crystal Business Coaching

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