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Accepting an Award with Class

When It’s Your Turn, Be Grateful and Engaging.

By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

Accepting an award is like walking a tightrope. You need to be gracious, grateful and humble – but not so humble or self-deprecating that the audience thinks you are trivializing the honor. The warm glow of the occasion can suddenly turn chilly or sour with a few ill-chosen words.

I once coached a man who was due to receive an award from a large organization. Two thousand people would be in the audience. “I want to be funny,” he told me, “so I’ll start by saying how desperate they must be to give me this award.” I persuaded him that he’d be insulting the organization and everyone who had ever been honored. We worked together to come up with a gracious acceptance speech; one that was still funny but would leave everyone present feeling great about the evening, the award and the organization.

Sooner or later, you’ll be presented with an award. It may be a surprise, or you may have time to prepare. Use your answers to the following questions to weave a warm, wonderful speech that will leave everyone with a big smile (and maybe a tear):

  • Who nominated you?
  • Who invited you to join this group or encouraged you to get involved in this project or event?
  • What is your connection to this group?
  • How do you feel about the people and the organization’s goals?
  • Why are they giving you this award?

People will not remember all the details of what you say, but they will remember the stories you tell. Include a memorable vignette or incident, something entertaining or touching about your connection.

Inspiration From the Oscars
Show biz can provide wonderful examples of gracious acceptance speeches. When Russell Crowe won an Oscar for The Gladiator (2000), he dedicated it to “everyone who has seen the downside of disadvantage.” Then he received the 2002 Golden Globe Award for A Beautiful Mind. He gave credit to the people on whose life the film was based, offering special thanks to “John and Alicia Nash, for living such an inspirational love story.”

Being succinct also has its charms. Action-star “Everyman” Harrison Ford was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2002, for “outstanding contribution to the entertainment field” – or more specifically, 35 movies over four decades, including Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Fugitive. “In anticipation of tonight,” he told the audience, “I wrote two speeches, a long one and a short one. I’ll give you the short one: ‘Thank you’ But it seems there might be enough time for the long one as well, which is: ‘Thank you very much.’”

Typically, however, an acceptance speech won’t be that short. Whenever you have some advance notice, be sure to ask how long you are expected to speak. The shorter your time slot, the more you will need to practice! When the time comes, look directly at the audience. Never read your remarks. You can walk up on stage with notes, but they should consist of a few bulleted points.

Whenever you are involved in philanthropy or leadership in your professional organization, your company or your community, you are likely to get an award some day. It’s better to have a few well-crafted remarks ready than to be caught speechless – or worse, say the wrong thing. A planned speech can help you avoid appearing overanxious. So be gracious. Be modest. Be prepared!

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is an executive speech coach, professional speaker and author of several books, including Get What You Want! She’s also a former member of the Cable Car Toastmasters and ProToasties clubs in San Francisco and San Mateo, California. Reach her at

Make your next speech memorable using these manuals from the Advanced Communication Series: