Posted by: Kristen Ridley | March 1, 2011

And the Oscar for terrible communication goes to . . .

Oscar I am an unrepentently gleeful fan of awards shows, and the Oscars [which, in case you aren’t a fan and don’t know, took place this past Sunday evening] is the grand finale in a slew of awards shows. Basically it’s the Superbowl of awards shows. It’s also my guilty pleasure, allowing me to gorge myself on fashion, frivolity, movies, celebrities, and poking fun at all of the above in one convenient evening telecast!

But, regrettably, from an effective communication perspective, the thing’s mostly a disaster! If you watch the Oscars, or have ever watched an Oscars telecast you know what I’m talking about, but for those who don’t [perhaps having better things to do for the three-plus hours it drags on] the acceptance speeches tend to be lists of varying lengths, of people the winner would like to thank for helping him or her to win the award. And while I am sure that the people on that list are thrilled to hear their names on television, the hundreds of millions of people in the world-wide television-viewing audience watching the show just couldn’t give a hoot.

Sorry, but it’s the truth. Most of the TV audience can’t grab for the remote to hit the mute button fast enough after a name is announced and the winner is making their way to the stage, unless of course they’ve already dozed off during the previous acceptance speech! But every now and then we get some speeches that stand out – sometimes for being better than the norm, and other times for being SO VERY BAD.

There were some of both at this year’s show, and as a whole, they reminded me, yet again, of some of the key things communicators everywhere spend their careers trying to get through to the people they support:

It’s not about you!
Okay, I’ll grant you that where the Oscars are concerned, it sort of IS all about them, but even with that the people watching the show – whether in the audience or watching on TV – don’t actually have to listen to their speeches, so if you want anyone to remember or care what you say, you probably want to say it well, and in a way that will be engaging to the audience, like Colin Firth’s acceptance for the Best Actor award, in which he makes us laugh and is sweetly self-deprecating, two things that almost always help you connect with an audience.

Be genuine
The ability to be real and human when speaking to an audience is critical, no matter who you are, who your audience is, or what you’re speaking about. Every person in every audience knows when someone on the stage is trying to scam them or bamboozle them with words or flash, and nobody enjoys that experience. So, if you try to be something you aren’t when speaking to people, you’re almost guaranteed not to be successful. Conversely, when you ARE genuine with your audience, even if your speech isn’t perfect or ideal or completely polished, you’ll probably have them on your side because the people listening to you are real, and will appreciate that you are too!

If there was an award for the most “real” speech at this year’s Oscars – and very possibly any Oscars EVER! – it would pretty much have to go to Melissa Leo who was so genuine and shocked that she actually bursts out with the “F-word” as she tries to say thank you. It was a very unique speech, especially for live tv!

Now, while obviously I’m not advocating tossing F-bombs into the communications you create for your executives or your business, you should definitely use whatever IS real about those you create communication for and from, whether in person or written, because the audience – especially within your own company – KNOWS what the people communicating with them are like. If the messages that go out from those people truly sound like something they would say, the trust factor goes way up and the likelihood of the audience getting behind you – because we’re usually asking them to do, or not do something that will help the business succeed – grows exponentially.

Why should they care?
This one was beautifully demonstrated at this year’s Oscar’s by the Best Director winner, Tom Hooper, who thanked his mother. Now, lots of performers thank their parents when they win, and nobody cares much about the parents of the performers but in Hooper’s case he goes on to tell the audience that the movie for which he was accepting his Oscar was actually discovered by his mother, when she attended a regional production of The King’s Speech, and then came home and told him: “I think I just found your next movie.” Hooper continues on to say: “So the moral of the story is listen to your mother!” Always good advice on its own, but in this case particularly applicable to why he was thanking his mom.

Again, I’m not advocating that you include references to the CEO’s wife, parents or kids in the business communications you create for your organization, just that you keep in mind that the best way to get and keep an audience’s attention – which is a monumental challenge even when the material is exciting, like the Oscars – is to make it plain what all this has to do with THEM, and why it would be of value to THEM to read or listen to your messages. It’s really easy to get caught up when writing business communications and pay more attention to what you need to tell them, instead of what they want to know. As soon as you get stuck doing the former you’re basically dead in the water, especially if you really need the audience to DO something as a result of your communication.

It always strikes me as funny how often I see lessons on effective communications in the world around me as I’m going about my life. That either means those lessons really are everywhere, or, [and I’m afraid this is the more likely explanation] I’m just overly obsessed with the work I do, and so I look for and find examples – good and bad – in everything I experience. Still, it was kind of neat to find a rationale for watching the Oscars that allowed me to call it “work-related research”!




  1. I’m a sucker for any connection between pop culture and the work we do. Great post!

  2. Thanks Eileen! I agree – pop culture is fascinating. Even better when we can connect it to our life’s work.

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