Presenting an award requires the same discipline as introducing a speaker: you have to remember that you are not the main feature on the program; you have to keep your remarks to a minimum (no jokes; no editorializing); you must stick to your script or notes-- and you should always use a script or notes.
Following is a foolproof set of rules for presenting an award.
- If you haven’t already been introduced, tell the audience who you are and why you are there
- Give a brief history of the award
- Outline the criteria that have to be met in order to receive the award
- Briefly outline how the recipient met the criteria, being careful to avoid exaggeration
- Even if the audience already knows who the winner is, don’t mention the recipient’s name until the very end, and pause for a beat or two before announcing it with lots of excitement in your voice
- Enthusiastically start the applause
- If the recipient doesn’t know what to do after his or her name is announced, issue a clear invitation to join you at the lectern.
All of the above should be carried off in a sincere, businesslike manner with no smart aleck remarks.
Here is an example of a perfectly appropriate award presentation speech.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Wendy Russell and it’s my honour, as Chair of the Selection Committee, to present this year’s Harry Carmichael Memorial Award. The Harry Carmichael Memorial Award was inaugurated in 1985 in memory of the late Harry Carmichael, who was an outstanding athlete and citizen of our city. The recipient of the Harry Carmichael Award must have demonstrated, over a significant period of time, dedication to the promotion of athletics in our city, combined with a strong sense of civic and family duty. It’s been said of this year’s winner that he has for some time, and continues to, put his whole heart and soul into his community, his sports and his family. He’s a past president of the Kiwanis Club. He’s a member of City Council. In his younger days he played baseball and football at the High School, College, and State levels. He’s coached kids’ football and baseball for the past twenty years. He and his wife have raised four outstanding children. Ladies and gentlemen please acknowledge this year’s Harry Carmichael Memorial Award winner…………Mr. Hank Dalton!”
If Hank remains frozen in his chair, you should say something like, “O.K. Hank, come on up here and receive this honor that you so richly deserve!”
When Hank arrives at the lectern, congratulate him, give him his award, and ask him if he’d like to say a few words.
When you’re finished, go and sit down.
If you’ve ever watched an award show you are aware that acceptance speeches represent another wonderful opportunity to make a bad impression on an audience. This needn’t be the case at all. A little thought beforehand, some preparation, and some rehearsal will ensure success.
The thought beforehand should consist of two things: deciding who you will include in your list of people to thank, and what you intend to do with the award. Be absolutely ruthless when deciding who to thank, including only those who played a truly important role in your achievement. If you include people who were only marginally involved you diminish the importance of the role played by those with whom you could not have done without.
Just as with any other speech, you need to write out and rehearse your acceptance speech in order to get it into the appropriate form and length. With the exception of a list of the names of the people you’re going to thank, you probably don’t need to have any notes at the lectern; but if you’ll be more comfortable having a script or notes, by all means do so. You should write out the names of those you’re going to thank, even if there are only two.
Rehearse your acceptance speech out loud at least two or three times, and continue to go over it in your mind whenever you get a chance, such as in the shower, waiting for an elevator, or stuck in traffic.
Any time you’re attending an event where there is even the remotest chance that you might receive an honor, have something prepared, at least in your mind.
Here is a can’t-fail formula for an effective acceptance speech.
- Thank the sponsoring organization for whatever it is you’re receiving (certificate, gift, trophy, plaque or whatever) and acknowledge how you feel about it
- Briefly thank anyone who played an important role in your reaching the particular achievement
- Tell the audience what you intend to do with the award or gift, such as, “This will occupy a place of honour on the fireplace in my den”
- Close with another simple, general “thank you”
Here is an example of an appropriate speech of acceptance:
“I sincerely thank the Financial Times for nominating me, and The Press Club for honoring me with this National Business Writing Award. Believe me, ladies and gentlemen, it is a very proud recipient who is standing here before you. I especially want to thank my writing mentor, Dave Scott, whose gentle wisdom and great wit have been instrumental in encouraging me and improving my writing. I also thank my partners who, without complaint, have allowed me the time to indulge in what, for an international accounting firm, is truly a sideline. This certificate will always have a place of honor on my wall. Thank you again.”
(This column is based on my book The Elements of Great Public Speaking.)