Monday, February 23, 2015

What the 2015 Oscars Can Teach Us About Public Speaking

By Steven S. Vrooman

As always, there were some great Oscar speakers ..... AAANNNDDD there was Sean Penn, proving, with his terrible green card joke, that NPH's first joke, about the Oscars being the "best and the whitest," was more on-point than you thought.

Here are a few lessons to be learned from 2015. All of these images are taken from things I live Instagrammed during the broadcast.

1. Everyone needs an attention-getter.

Julianne Moore. Everyone was rooting for her. Even though her win didn't interest the Oscar-pool home balloters since it was expected, I think everyone who was still watching during this, the 14th hour of the telecast, was going to listen to her. Yet she starts with an attention-getter, just like you learn in public speaking class. Even more, she starts with a joke. And since you know she's going to talk about Alzheimer's, it's even more of a surprise. If she needs an attention-getter, so do you.

Mat Kirkby. Do you even know what category he won in? (Live Action Short, btw). This is the category most viewers refill their plate during. Yet his donut material at the beginning won my continued presence on the couch. It was even better because it was a true story. Find a way to make the audience pay attention. 

2. Use humor. Always.

I teach this and always some students tell me that humor won't work with some subjects. Nope. It's just that lazy humor won't work with lazy arch-seriousness. In addition to Julianne Moore, there are a few other good examples.

Graham Moore. He begins with such energy and lighthearted humor. And then he transitions into the story of how he tried to commit suicide. Boom: an abrupt transition that works because it softens you up for the gut punch.

Alejandro González Iñárritu. Both of his speeches were a terrific mix of funny and poignant. But it is his Best Director speech that is the best. Watch it again. It's terrific.

3. Don't be afraid of figurative language.

Common. I know, he's a rapper. You might imagine he has an occupational advantage in working with poetic language. But don't let that distract you from the power of his metaphors and his evocative language. We treat words too lightly too often (hear that, Sean Penn?). John Legend was great, too, but Common's speech was thunderous.

4. Energy always wins.

A number of speakers, like Common, like Eddie Redmayne, like Patricia Arquette, had great energy. And a number of folks Cuba Goodinged their way past the music, including quite a few already mentioned. But my favorite was:

Pawel Pawlikowski. The secret to the Cuba Gooding, Jr. move is to get the audience on your side. They want a display of energy. You and the audience are against the orchestra. And we got that here.


Think of it as a metaphor. You need the audience to be on your side against the ticking clock, even when, in your business or school setting, there is no orchestra waiting to pounce. You do that with energy.

Patricia Arquette. She was awesome, as well. She got an ovation in the Oscar party where I was. You could feel her fear that the band would start up once she jumped into politics, which the Oscars sometimes tries to suppress. But she just raised her energy level and blasted into it. It was great.

There were plenty of other great speeches. I am going to call my Mom tonight because of J.K. Simmons,for example, but these were a few things we can take away from this year's Academy Awards.


  1. I appreciated J.K. Simmons tribute to his family, but his speech left me wanting more. His character in Whiplash was so intense, I wanted to hear him talk about the role and the story. Maybe thank his co-star??
    p.s. did you call your Mom??? Hmmmmmm?