For the past few years, I’ve had the honor of writing speeches with some of America’s greatest (American) football players.
How can that be? (you might ask), when I know almost nothing about football or, in fact, any sport besides lying on the couch reading romance novels?
It can be because we are writing acceptance speeches
Are All Acceptance Speeches Created Equal?
A speech that you would give to accept an Academy Award or enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is not the same as a speech you would give to accept an honorary degree or thanks from a local charity.
But they’re not that different, either, because they’re all about the gratitude you feel toward the community that’s honoring you.
So—at the risk of making myself obsolete by sharing these professional secrets—I’ve sketched out an approach to expressing that gratitude in an organized way, in a limited amount of time.
The Elements of Good Acceptance Speeches
You don’t need to hit all of these beats, and you don’t need to deliver them in this order. But if (like my clients who are being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you have dozens and dozens of people to thank), this outline will help you pull that off.
(So called because it’s not part of the body of your speech)
- Greet the audience. Let them know how much you appreciate their presence.
- Thank the organization that’s honoring or recognizing you.
- If this is relevant, comment on how proud you are to be part of the long tradition of exceptional people who’ve received this honor before you.
- And if you’re inclined to thank God, this is a good place to do that, too.
2. Share a Little Background
- If it’s appropriate and you have time, share a little bit about what started you on the path to this award.
- This could be as short as 30 seconds or as long as several minutes.
- If you have a charming or funny story about your early involvement with the topic, now is the time to tell it.
3. Acknowledge Your Debt to Others
- Let the audience know that you know that you couldn’t have made it this far without help from many, many other people—some of whom are present today. (Don’t list them all right now, that will come soon. 🙂
- Lots of people thank and/or talk about their parents at this point in their acceptance speeches. Whether your folks drove you to football practice or gave you a moral foundation that helped you excel, they helped put you on the road to success.
4. Now Talk About the People Who Helped You Develop and Grow
- Begin with the people who helped mold you into the person you are today. They deserve the most recognition, and if you have time, a brief comment about what makes them so special to you.
- Then, as you go down the list, you can start putting slightly less important people into groups (“all of the great line coaches I worked with, including…”). Here, you’re mostly listing people, since you don’t have time to share a personal detail about each one.
- Finally, thank people in categories (“the great back office team,” “all of our fine training staff,” etc.)
- And don’t forget your audience members, fans, or volunteers who helped you achieve your success. (You wouldn’t anyway! :-)) Without them, you would literally be nowhere.
5. Finally, Thank Your Family
- Your spouse, your children (if any), maybe your siblings, your parents (if you haven’t already spoken about them), and again, God, if God is central to your life, all deserve public gratitude.
- Say a few words about what your family members have sacrificed, how they’ve stood by you during the hard times, and how they are the best spouse/kids/siblings anyone could ever have! (Assuming that all of this is true. If it’s not, don’t say anything! :-))
6. If You Want, Get Big Picture
- If you want to share advice, or a philosophy of success, now’s a good time to do that.
- And if you told a personal story at the beginning, does it tie back to your advice? (“Watching my Dad work in the fields helped me understand how to be a success in life…”)
- Make your advice (or the values you’re recommending) simple and to the point.
7. Close with More Thanks
- “So I just want to say again how much I appreciate being part of this great community. Thank you for being here with me today; I’ll never forget it.”
- “All of you are the reason I’m getting this award, and I wish I could share it with each and every one of you. So thank you again, and let’s keep winning together.”
Ready to Write Your Acceptance Speech?
Even though acceptance speeches generally hit these traditional beats, they should still be highly individual. Your speech should convey your feelings, and your thoughts, in a way that nobody else but you could express.
Writing acceptance speeches isn’t rocket science—but it is a skill that, as the New York Times pointed out, speechwriters like me have worked hard to perfect.
So if you find out that you’re going to be honored, congratulations!