When most people face the task of giving a speech, they often spend great effort trying to sound intellectual or humorous. They seem fixated on reactions, thoughts, and opinions of their intended audience.
While those are all valid considerations, there is an important rule that must never be forgotten: always stay true to your own voice.
Although this statement echoes that of a corny line from an after-school television series, the words convey a timeless truth.
Yes, part of the speaker’s responsibility is to relate to listeners. But, in the end, it’s your voice and how you choose to send the message that counts most.
That is why this post is devoted to Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep. She is an undeniable screen and stage powerhouse, but should also be recognized for her very candid acceptance speeches. Take a look at her acceptance speech at the 2009 Screen Actors’ Guild Awards her role in the film Doubt.
Oh, I didn’t even wear a dress!
Clearly, eloquence isn’t everything. And why should it be? Being genuinely grateful goes much further than attempting to be graceful with million-dollar words and phrases. The audience’s reaction proved that they loved Streep’s message about female actors and their contribution to the film industry- no matter how rough-around-the-edges it may have sounded.
I am so in awe of the work of the women this year- nominated, not nominated. So proud of us girls!
The most memorable part of the speech was when the actress gave an unexpected shout out to her Oscar-nominated co-star, Viola Davis.
The gigantically gifted Viola Davis. My God, somebody give her a movie!
Again, it’s not a perfect delivery, but Streep’s authentic joy and burst of emotion come through and make the speech stand out.
Here is Meryl’s thank you speech after winning an Emmy in 2004 for her role in Angels in America.
Notice what she does when the orchestra begins to play the queue music.
…Thank you so much for everything you gave me- [singing] oh, and I can sing this just as well.
While it is important to have your thoughts written down in front of you, sometimes it’s best to allow yourself to live in the moment, letting whatever emotion come through.
This last video is Streep accepting a lifetime achievement award from AFI.
Rather than starting the speech off with a grand historical quote about acting or films, Meryl conveys her appreciation with prolonged curtsey (or some variation of a curtsey, anyway).
Small words and phrases can convey big ideas. But short moments of silence can be just as profound:
I really want to thank some people who aren’t here. Not because they didn’t want to be, but because they’re in heaven. And umm [moment of silence] without them, I wouldn’t be able to make this silly little speech. So I want to thank my mother and my father- just the funniest and the saddest and the most musical, gorgeous and weird, strong personalities; who fought each other 60 years and taught me everything I know about drama.
While Streep has a few pages written for her speech, it’s pretty clear that she goes off script.
When preparing a speech, take into consideration the subject, the audience, and the message. However, don’t let those concerns choke your voice. Stay true to who you are and how you sound because –more often than not- the audience will appreciate genuineness above any forced rhetorical grandeur.