How to Give an Acceptance Speech

Bob Sommers asked:

So, you’ve been asked to give an acceptance speech on behalf of your organization and you don’t know what to say. You do know however, that you want to leave your audience with a presentation that is funny, emotionally moving and memorable. But where do you start? Here are a few tips that will get you through the experience with flying colors.

Before you begin crafting your presentation, take a moment to understand the psychology of an award ceremony. Consider the role the people in the audience played in your standing before them with an award in hand. What do they want from you? What do they expect from you? What can you do or say that will make them feel good about themselves and their decision to present you and/or your association with this award? Once you understand the answer to these questions, you’ll be well on your way to giving the acceptance speech of a lifetime.

I’ve had the opportunity to give more than one acceptance speech in my career, and this is what I’ve learned from those experiences. If you do a good job, you will quickly discover that the appreciation the audience had for you before your speech will pale in comparison to how they will feel about you after your speech. Giving a humorous and gracious acceptance speech that makes the audience feel good about themselves, is the most powerful, career enhancing, relationship building experience you will ever have. Please don’t take this speaking opportunity lightly.

Generally you are going to find three different groups of people in the audience. The first group is composed of the people on your staff or within your organization who helped you achieve the award. The second group is made up of the people responsible for giving you and/or your organization the award. And the third group includes people who have nothing to do with your award. They typically include spouses and invited guests. Your job is to make certain that all three groups are acknowledged and rewarded by your comments. That’s all there is to it. And it’s not a bad idea to give them something to chuckle about along the way.

One quick word of warning. It is not appropriate to brag about why you won the award or tell the audience what you did to overtake your competition. This is a time to be gracious and thankful. You’re only goal is make everyone in the audience feel good about themselves and this is how you do it.

1. Start your presentation by immediately thanking the people who gave you the award. Make sure you thank them on behalf of all the recipients of the award if it was given to you on behalf of your team or organization. Under no circumstances is it appropriate to imply that you are not worthy of receiving the award. This is insulting to the people who gave it to you. It is appropriate however, to praise everyone else who was under consideration for the award.

2. Acknowledge the people in your organization who made it possible for you to win the award. If your team is a small group, ask them to stand and acknowledge them individually while mentioning their specific role in your success. If you are accepting the award on behalf of a large group, ask them to stand and acknowledge them as a group.

Here is a quick rule of thumb. If you have time to say something nice about everyone in your group, do it. If you don’t have time to say something nice about everyone in your group, don’t call out anyone individually. It is better to avoid mentioning anyone than it is to forget even one person. The only exception to this rule is if everyone in your group knows that a particular individual played a key role in you receiving this award. Then, and only then is it OK to call them out by name.

3. Tell a story about how you got involved with this organization or how this project has impacted you, your family and/or your business. It’s a good idea to list at least three things and be as specific as possible.

4. If anything funny or inspiring happened during the project, mention it here. What did you learn from the wonderful people you associated with on this project? How are you going to be a different and better person because of your association with this organization? How is the world a better place because of what this association has done and is doing? Answer one or more of those questions in a funny and inspiring way and you will move the audience to tears.

5. Pause to thank the people responsible for giving you the award. This is the most important part of your speech. This is your opportunity to be sincere and thankful and appreciative for the wonderful opportunity you have been given.

If time permits, thank everyone involved in making this award possible. Don’t rely on your memory. Take a piece of paper with the names of everyone you want to thank to the podium with you. You don’t have to look at it, but if you need it, it’s there in your hand.

6. Close your speech with a moving comment. Your audience will remember you and leave the event with complete confidence that they gave the award to the right person.

7. Have fun, be humble and be brief.

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