Last night I spent two hours of my precious life, watching and waiting to have the BAFTA awards ceremony lift and inspire me. It did, and it then it didn't.
What we got on the plus side was a reminder of the brilliance, depth and vast diversity of British television. This was bracketed by the lacklustre, nigh on unprofessional and sometimes cringe worthy efforts of the presenters and those receiving the awards.
In the last three week in my capacity as a public speaking coach, I contacted agents and tweeted nominees. This was in a genuine effort to offer my help to them to create something other than the weak and formulaic, predictable speeches I saw some give at the Oliviers this year. Here's where it all went wrong and what we can do about it.
Presenters: we know that actors often don't like speaking on their own behalf yet you can do better. Grasp the chance at a great intro, give your colleagues a boost and look smooth. DON'T look at the floor (Matt Smith) or try to have a comedy routine with your co-presenter (too many to mention) leaving us wincing and distracted from the great stuff in the nominations. Don't lean into the mic. It can hear you. Instead please, oh please, get professional. Learn what it is you're going to say (so as not to open the show by squinting at the autocue - you know who you are...). Find out the accurate pronunciation of names sorted beforehand so that you are not forced to leave them out and apologise, never a good look. Keep it natural, simple and light. Rob Brydon did it with humour. Tom Ellis and Suranne Jones made it conversational. Both left the work and the nominees to be the star of the show. They were not trying to draw unwarranted attention to themselves. It's a clear brief, no?
Winners, oh dear. You can act, produce and create; yet when it comes to speaking, you really let the side down. Here is what we've come to expect, none of which is inspiring to an audience hoping for some emotional connection or awe at what you've achieved. First: an expression of: "Oh, er...I really didn't think this could happen..." when you know that it could. Then, "Oh I can't believe it when such an amazing group of nominees..." we know they're good. A list of the people you want thank... we don't know them... We expect all that stuff.
It's time to get creative. Give us something we don't know. Have a 90 sec story from the production process, your journey into the part, or your heartfelt experience with a bit of detail. Give our brains something to picture, to remember... I still recall that Colin Firth thanked the fridge-repair man, which inadvertently led to him (he left us wondering how) to take the part in A Single Man. He even referenced that speech ('broken kitchen appliances') in his acceptance of his award for a The King's Speech the following year! So cool. As an audience member it makes for a much richer evening, when each person is memorable for the right reasons. And it means the winner can really shine and enjoy being up there. It's a win-win-win.
So bring on the entertainment. Let awards ceremonies be wonderful to watch and listen to. There you all are, these supremely talented people, dressed and polished, in a celebration of your art, which we love too. Then with so much talent oozing from each seat, you get up and apologise for not having prepared anything. (I even called your agent!) It's human - we know public speaking is a huge deal for people. Hence my calls. As a shy person myself, when it really matters, when you are being recognised in your field, then it's vital to get prepared. It also is much, much more fun.
Come on BAFTA, BBC and all you gong-givers and receivers. Get prepared; have something unique and quirky to tell us about the broadcasting of the Royal Wedding - the stories from that day must have been legion. Or follow Monica Dolan's quirky recall of all her mum's NHS glasses coming in handy. And then her passionate concern for Fred West's victims, with her wish to live in a world where everyone is missed. I think it's time you learnt your acceptance speech lines. and raised the whole game.
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