The 2013 Academy Awards ceremony offers a number of lessons for trainers, teachers and speakers. Nine presentation skills lessons are listed below.
1. Keep it short and pithy
Clocking in at three hours and forty-five minutes, the 2013 show was twenty minutes longer than the 2012 and 2011 show. Imagine sitting this long in one place without a break. The scramble for the restrooms during commercial breaks must have been something to see. Now, imagine the length of time we expect our attendees to sit while we drone on. An old show biz saying—leave them wanting more—is always true, especially in the classroom. It’s better than leaving them wanting less.
2. Know what you will say before asked to say it
Award winners were given a limited amount of time to make their acceptance speech. When they exceeded the allotted time, the theme from Jaws swelled up in the background, making it obvious when a winner was not adequately prepared to deliver his or her remarks. In presentation rooms, our participants do not have control of the music. But, how many would play the Jaws theme to shut us up if they could?
3. Avoid assassinated president jokes
Viewership was up by 34% over last year, and many credited Seth McFarlane with pulling in a younger, more male, demographic. McFarlane’s humor did have a downside. Audience members emitted audible gasps to his joke about assassinated US President Abraham Lincoln. Jokes that open raw nerves are never a good idea and we should avoid them during presentations.
4. Don’t denigrate ethnic groups
McFarlane’s alter ego—Ted the bear—took to the stage to say that Jews controlled Hollywood. When combined with a second bit in which a Nazi entered a door instead of Christopher Plummer, the comments were demeaning and tasteless. In presentations, we should avoid any attempts at humor, and even specific references, directed towards any ethnic group. They all are our learners.
5. Remove trip hazards
When approaching the podium to receive her Best Actress award, Jennifer Lawrence tripped over the long train of her dress. The Oscar stage was designed with a series of stairs that award winners had to traverse to reach the stage. A shorter dress or longer rehearsal would have prevented this embarrassing problem. Presentation rooms often include microphones cords, power strips, flimsy step stairs and risers. Each of these items presents a potential trip hazard. Tape those wires down, know when the steps will slip, wear shorter hemmed clothes and otherwise do everything you can to remove all trip hazards so you and your learners can focus on the content and not your clumsiness.
6. Maintain your cool even when provoked
In the aforementioned fake Christopher Plummer intro, Plummer did eventually enter the stage to the strains music from the Sound of Music, a movie he was not a fan of. Additionally, Ben Affleck took the stage immediately after a dig at his Gigli move role. Both men, although provoked, maintained their cool. When presenting, participants, sponsors and staff can sometimes make remarks or engage in behavior designed to provoke us. Whether the issue is servers making noise behind the separation wall, an insulting introduction or a participant who is acting obnoxiously, address the issue, if you can, quietly and off to the side. Above all else, maintain your cool. Do not deflect the spotlight onto yourself with boorish behavior. Be the in charge adult.
7. Be magnanimous in defeat
Steven Spielberg, in spite of his Oscar winning successes with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan has never been an Academy member favorite. His films are too commercial and perhaps make too much money for most of the Hollywood crowd. This year, Spielberg’s Lincoln was largely snubbed with the single exception of Daniel Day Lewis’ Best Actor win. Spielberg, knowing that a win was unlikely, still attended. To add further insult, the Academy chose the ominous music from his Jaws to chase people off the stage. Us presenters never get the recognition we deserve. Learning is not about us. It is about our participants.
8. Align your content with your audience
Several of the best picture nominees were not the types of films favored by the Academy members. Zero Dark Thirty makes a case for water boarding terrorists, Life of Pi champions religion, and Lincoln demonstrated how the Democratic Party was the pro-slavery party. None of these films was likely to find favor with the politically left-leaning audience. Argo, on the other hand, champions Hollywood as heroes in the effort to free American hostages from Iran. Argo was, therefore, the most likely best picture winner. It did win. Is your presentation aligned with the needs, wants, desires and sensibilities of your audience? If you want to win it should be.
9. Celebrate your success
Although many directors, producers, actors, and other film professionals did not win. Hollywood is a tough place to make a living and the fact that they were attending the Academy Awards ceremony indicated a level of success few obtain. Likewise, it is difficult to make a living speaking or training. It is also difficult to become a teacher and then survive on a teacher’s salary. The very fact that you are able to do so indicates a level of success to be celebrated, even if you don’t get the award.