What Speakers Can Learn From The Academy Awards
On February 28, 2017, the world witnessed a major blunder. The wrong name was announced as the winner of the most prestigious honor at the Academy Awards. Public speakers have much to learn from this incident.
Finger-pointing and conspiracy theories quickly followed the event. This embarrassing mistake could have been avoided if the people under the spotlight had used common sense.
It’s easy to blame the individuals who handed off the wrong envelope to the presenters. Or the producers, who could have addressed the error immediately after it occurred.
People make mistakes, especially on a big stage. Envelopes get mixed up, tele-prompters go awry, pieces of a stage set collapse.
A Key Presentation Principle For All Speakers
There is an avoidable aspect of this. The presenters were holding the card that wasn’t for the award they were presenting. When Warren Beatty opened the envelope, he was clearly confused by what he was reading. It was the card for the Best Actress award that had just been presented.
After several moments of confusion, his co-presenter took the card and read the name of the movie on the card… ‘La La Land.’ In her haste, she failed to read the entire card: ‘Best Actress – Emma Stone.’
How could this debacle have been avoided?
Mr. Beatty or Ms. Dunaway should have slowed down, read the card and used common sense. If you’re on stage to present the award for Best Picture, and the card you’re holding reads: Best Actress, you’ve got the wrong card!
At that point, it would’ve been best to say, “We’ve got a small problem. We’ve got the wrong card. We’re not kidding, we have the wrong card.”
This would’ve been embarrassing, but to a much lesser extent than what actually happened. They could’ve used the mistake to add to the suspense. More importantly, this would’ve avoided the heartbreak for the cast of ‘La La Land.’
What speaking lesson can we take from the Oscar debacle?
Know your material well. When mistakes occur – and they will – your preparation will help you stay in the moment. You’ll also keep your composure and use common sense.
One of the biggest perceptions that I take from this is that actors aren’t trained to adjust to the unexpected. The impression – fair or not – is that they can’t set the script aside when that is clearly what’s needed.
Yes, mistakes occur. Every speaker can accept this. What’s being prepared so you can handle the unexpected.
If you want to avoid being a punchline to a bad joke about presentation disasters, be prepared. Know what you’ll do if the unexpected occurs. And, for goodness sake, use common sense!
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