5 presentation tips from the Oscars

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Just because they're all famous, highly-paid actors doesn't necessarily make them great presenters. While I didn't watch the Oscars from start to finish, I did have them on in the background as I was getting some work done. If you believe much of what the media and Twitter are reporting today, last night's Oscars were among the most boring/awkward in recent memory. And at least a small part of the blame lies with the mediocre presentation skills of some of the actors who took to the stage. 

With that as the backdrop, here are five quick presentation tips I took away from last night's Academy Awards ceremony:

  1. Share the Spotlight: No matter who you are, a speech that's all 'me, me, me' will alienate your audience, irritate your co-stars and get people sniping about you on Twitter. Whether you're presenting or accepting an award at the Oscars, your kid's high school or a veterinary conference in Pasadena, acknowledge the contributions of others, tell stories and work to connect with your audience.
  2. Don't overstay your welcome: Imagine giving a presentation at your annual sales meeting and suddenly the theme from Jaws starts playing over the sound system. Then, some intern comes to tap you on the shoulder and tell you your time is up. Don't write a speech longer than your allotted time. Everyone who goes to the Oscars knows how much time they get. There's no excuse for going over your time limit. No one has ever disappointed their audience by finishing their presentation early.
  3. Don't cut off your audience: Nicole Kidman stopped herself at one point because she realized she hadn't given the audience time to applaud before she started in on her next line. If you're fortunate enough to tell a joke that gets a decent laugh in your presentation, let them finish before you move along.
  4. Don't put your audience to sleep: I don't know about you but I find the laundry lists of actors and directors thanking everyone they've ever met extremely boring. What a missed opportunity. One award winner last night got it right, saying they'd thank all the appropriate people in the coming weeks and used their speech to connect with the audience. Just because 98% of the other people who get up to the microphone do it a certain way doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Imagine it was you in the audience. What kind of speech would you want to hear? Then, reverse engineer that kind of speech for yourself.
  5. Handle humor with extreme caution: Humor is a fickle beast - one that should approached sparingly and carefully in any presentation. I've seen attempts at humor crash and burn and completely wreck what could have been a decent presentation. In one instance, I was in the audience when an accountant was presenting to an industry group. Wanting to liven up his presentation, he inserted some questionable graphics and examples that relied on sexual innuendo. He badly misjudged his audience that day. Numerous people were murmuring and shaking their heads during his presentation. A few offended people actually left the room and complained to the conference organizers. Seth MacFarlane had some funny lines last night. The one about President Lincoln's assassination wasn't one of them, as demonstrated by all the air being sucked out of the room and a few seconds of really awkward silence.

One of the best speeches of the night was from Christoph Waltz, who won his second Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Django Unchained. His speech was classy, succinct and he took time to acknowledge a few important people. He even borrowed some of the lines from his character in the film. And no Jaws music... Which speech was your favorite and why?