No matter how many times a person may have stood in the mirror and practiced their acceptance speech into a hairbrush as a child, or all of the pre-preparation as an adult nominee, there is always an element of Impromptu Speech during an award show. To hear one's name called for something as big as a TONY award can set off a physical reaction similar to delivering impromptu speech topics- adrenaline rushing, palms sweating, knees knocking. Unexpected, indeed.
The winners of this year's TONY awards handled their big wins with aplomb, and we've pulled out a few great examples of things that YOU can do to help yourself the next time you're speaking in an impromptu setting. (Feel free to watch Hugh Jackman bounce his way through his opening number first, just for fun.)
Practice Everything You Can- Mark Rylance: When Rylance won for Twelfth Night, he was the first winner to take the stage that evening. He actually mentioned that fact- how difficult could that have been! He then launched into a clearly very rehearsed speech- clear, well-paced, and deliberate.
In an impromptu setting, practice everything you possibly can beforehand- possible answers to potential questions, your lead into the session, your conclusion. You may not know what will be thrown at you, but it will take a lot of the guess work out of your off-the-cuff speaking.
Always Be Ready with a Personal Story-Darko Tresnjak: The Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder director gave an emotional speech which included a brief pocket story about his mother- he said she "literally taught me how to jump out of airplanes". He then shared that his mother fought during WWII, and jumped out of planes herself. His few sentences to her in their native language, (he grew up in Yugoslavia) punctuated a lovely personal moment.
Even when speaking off- the-cuff, it is useful to have a few personal stories at the ready. You never know when you may have the opportunity to share one.
Those First 30 Seconds Mean Everything- Kenny Leon: Leon opened his speech by repeating one word, three times: "Denzel, Denzel Denzel". The director was not only giving a shout out to his leading man, Denzel Washington, but starting strong in a stressful situation. We know that an audience forms opinions about us the moment we step in front of them, so it's of the utmost importance to nail those first seconds. Leon had his opening prepared, and then launched into a very strong speech.
You can prepare an opening in an impromptu setting, whether it's an introduction you've crafted ahead of time, or a system for answering questions thrown at you. Having an opening to rely on also helps you prepare and formulate the rest of your answer or statement in the moment- you've bought yourself some time!
Acknowledge and Move On- Fran Drescher: Drescher was thrown into an impromptu situation when a teleprompter went rogue. Fortunately, with the help of co-presenter Zachary Levi, she was able to acknowledge the error and jump back in as best she could.
In short, the show must go on! Don't be afraid to keep things like a Q&A moving, even if something may go slightly off the rails. Be honest with your audience, and keep going.
"I'm Trying to Breathe Here!" -Bryan Cranston: "OOOOH Boy!" The erstwhile Walter White won his TONY, and embraced the fact that he was completely nervous. Kudos to him for trying to control those anxious feelings with large intakes and exhalations of breath. He knows that's the best way to find your center.
Especially with impromptu speech, remember to BREATHE before you speak! Not only will it center you physically, but it will give you some time to formulate your responses.
Just Go with It- Nominees for Best Actress in a Musical: Sure, they probably rehearsed the bit beforehand, but most of the song-and-dance Hugh Jackman performed with the ladies in the Best Actress in a Musical category was done "in the moment". And what did they all do? They smiled, laughed and went with it- every joke, spin and unexpected dip.
Unless you are speaking in a truly negative impromptu speech situation, there is no reason not to smile, breathe, and go along for the ride! You've done your homework, you know your stuff, and you're ready to shine. Now THAT'S an award-worthy performance.