In this column, professional speechwriter Chandler Dean provides partly satirical, partly genuine “How To” advice focused on a hyper-specific subcategory of speeches—from graduation speeches to wedding toasts to eulogies, and all the rhetorical occasions in between.

- - -

Oh my god, they said your name! It’s you! Everyone’s looking over here! Quick, get up, get up! This counts as part of your time! Move, move, move! And here’s what you should do when you get up there:

Take the sheet of paper out of your pocket that has the remarks you’ve already written, and read it.

I don’t care how much of a long shot you think you are. If you’re nominated, take like thirty minutes—one hour tops—to cobble something together. If you lose having written a speech, it will be an exercise in gratitude. If you win having not written a speech, it will be an exercise in feeling just how quickly forty-five seconds can go by when you don’t have a plan to fill them.

And yes: write it down on paper. It strikes the balance. Reading off your iPhone makes you seem careless: “This award wasn’t important enough for you to break out pen and paper?” But reading off a printed, typed document might go too far in the opposite direction: "How long ago did you become convinced you would win? Long enough to restock on toner?

Writing your speech longhand is just thoughtful enough to make you seem invested, but also just casual enough to provide plausible deniability that maybe you just scribbled down some thoughts during the technical awards.

You can also try to memorize it, but I cannot be held accountable if you forget to thank your wife.


If you didn’t write a speech, open with that.

If the reason you didn’t write a speech is because you didn’t think you would win, say so. It can earn you a lot of goodwill, not just because it makes you look humble, and not just because it lowers expectations for what you’re about to say, but because it creates compelling dramatic tension. (Same goes for any mitigating factors that might affect your performance. Tell us, for instance, if you took a big bite of a delicious meatball sub right before you had to get up.)

Much as it is not in my professional interest to admit it, the language of your speech is not necessarily the first thing people will remember about it—particularly in the case of an awards speech, when the fact that you would be speaking was not a foregone conclusion. The audience is eager to see your genuine reaction to this victory.

So, if the truth is that you’re frazzled and have no idea what the hell you’re about to say, let us in on that. It will make us listen to the rest of your speech more closely, and the fact that you pushed through will probably stick out in our minds more than whatever you actually say anyway.

That said, this only works if it’s plausible that you could lose. If you’re Christopher Nolan and directed a film titled Oppenheimer and you say you didn’t prepare anything because you didn’t know you would win, you’ll look like more of an idiot than a guy who built an atomic bomb because he thought it would lead to world peace.

In any case, once you’ve gotten started:

Acknowledge your fellow nominees—and get specific.

It takes so little effort, and you will look so good. Whether you’re Adele basically saying that the Grammys screwed up by awarding her over Beyoncé, or Bong Joon Ho taking his Best Director speech as an opportunity to express his gratitude to fellow filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, finding a way to briefly convey what your partners-in-clout mean to you is the menschiest choice you could make. Plus, you’ll want to set that precedent so you can benefit the next time you lose an award, which will be the case for almost every other award ever given for the rest of your life.

Also of note: the camera crew at your awards ceremony are already pointing their lenses at the other nominees, just in case you say something about them. You would deny the world the extraordinary television of watching someone who just lost an award pretend to be really happy for their slightly more popular competitor? Be considerate of the folks in the control room with the power to implement those cutaways. They want to win awards, too.

On the other hand:

If you’ve included a list of executives, financiers, agents, managers, and anyone else who is not either famous or an underrecognized craftsperson, I swear to God, you had better just read those names really really fast.

I get it: there is a small group of very powerful people whose whole lives are built around supporting actual talent in exchange for the ego trip of that talent occasionally acknowledging they exist. But you don’t have to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Marvin LaFontaine, obviously” and leave a big fat pause for us to reflect on the life and career of Marvin LaFontaine. 99.9999 percent of the people who see this speech will use that time to either think, “Who is Marvin LaFontaine?” or play on their phones. So please: list a litany if you must, but it should be the obligatory preamble to your speech, not the totality of it.


I’m not sure I’m personally comfortable with the implications of thanking God.

You do you, but like, do you really think He’s spending His time making sure that your fellow nominees peak too early?


Tell a story about someone in your life who made this moment possible.

There are some archetypal figures here who correspond to satisfying narrative structures: the teacher who believed in you (underdog story), the teacher who didn’t believe in you (revenge saga), the mentor who gave you unforgettable advice (imparting wisdom), the successful person who gave you a big break when you were down on your luck (motivational storytelling), the parent who’s watching from up above right now (because they’ve passed away), the parent who’s watching from up above right now (because you couldn’t get them better seats).

Whatever your experience, you didn’t get here alone (because the studio hired a driver to pick you up). Okay, fine, and also because you are the product of the love and support of your community. So talk about who kept you going, and how they did it.

Or, alternatively:

By all means, use your speech to make a political statement, but you’ll have a much easier time if it’s relevant to your project.

Look, you won, you’ve got a platform, it’s live TV—spend that political capital however you see fit.

If you’re winning for Best Documentary Short, boom, easy: just talk about whatever incredibly dispiriting geopolitical quagmire your movie was about. Same goes for a biopic about a civil rights leader or a satire that skewers corrupt leaders; the fact that you just won for that kind of project means the crowd will likely be receptive to your point of view.

On the other hand, if you think it’s really important to get a message out there about the ethical implications of artificially inseminating cows, I don’t know, man—maybe try to make some art saying something about that instead of shoehorning this plea into your speech about playing the Joker in Joker? On the other hand, I don’t want you to do that at all. Forget I said anything.

Moving on:

If you have to give multiple speeches for the same work, draw relevant themes from each honor.

If this advice wasn’t hyper-specific enough already, it’s time to address an even more exclusive group: the sweepers. Maybe you wrote and directed and produced the best television episode of the year, and you’re going to have to get on that stage like three times in one night. Or maybe you’re one of those supporting actor nominees whose narrative gets solidified early in awards season, and now the true acting challenge begins: acting like you’re surprised when the seventeenth regional critic’s group in a row calls your name.

Whatever the case may be, you now have a problem that not a single person on Earth will feel bad for you about, but that nevertheless must be solved: you’ve got too many acceptance speeches to give.

My sage advice as someone who has never been and will never be in this position? Don’t try to cover everything and everyone every time. Find a story that speaks to the specific nature of the award you’re receiving. At the SAG Awards, talk about your first union gig. At the Emmys, talk about the show you stayed up late watching that inspired you to pursue an entertainment career. And at the Golden Globes, discuss the underappreciated value of rigging elections.


Make the end of your speech sound good if you have to shout it over playoff music.

Perhaps you’ve meandered, perhaps you didn’t get to the stage as quickly as you should have, perhaps you’re only halfway through thanking your full roster of entertainment lawyers—but now they’re sending you off with the most passive-aggressive yet beautiful orchestration you’ve ever heard. So make sure that no matter how much of your speech you have to skip, you’ve got at least one banger line to sign off with. The last word is what folks are most likely to remember anyway.

For Sally Field, it was “I can’t deny the fact that you like me! Right now! You like me!” For James Cameron, it was “I’m king of the world!” And for Michael Moore, it was “Anytime you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against ya, your time is up!”

Don’t all these sound so much better than “Uhhhh, oh no, I’m out of time! Who am I forgetting? Did I say Marvin LaFontaine yet?”

Open humbly. Close boldly. In between, give us some insight into who you are and what you believe. And if all else fails, you can’t go wrong if you thank Steven Spielberg.