Accept an Award

“I Would Like to Thank…” — The dance steps of Academy Award hostess Ellen DeGeneres will keep the mother-of-all award shows moving. The acceptance speeches are another story. It’s one thing to sit in judgment of the antics of Hollywood types. It’s another to stand before colleagues, friends, and family. Here’s how you can express genuine appreciation without rattling on too long.

Be Gracious

Gloria Steinem

Avoid inadvertently insulting the award presenters by rushing off the stage. If you’re uncomfortable in the spotlight you may try to downplay the occasion. However, the recognition of your talent, contribution, or dedication is coming from people who share your commitment. Voice your appreciation for the work they do. Before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Gloria Steinem said: “I’d be crazy if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement… It belongs to Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, and… so, many more.” Watch Gloria Steinem’s speech.

Acknowledge Contributions

Mia Hamm

Convey heartfelt gratitude to those who were there along the way by skipping the platitude about working with a “great team.” Be specific and it will be memorable. At her Soccer Hall of Fame induction, Mia Hamm said her life has been a collaborative effort by family, fans, media, sponsors, and coaches. To the players, she said: “There are times when you’re playing, when you’re not at your best. There are times when you’re at your best and you carry the team. But, when you are not at your best, they carry you. And, let me tell you I have been carried much more than I ever carried.” Watch Mia Hamm’s speech.

Shout Out to Family

Mary Barra

While not technically an award, the news that a car gal would lead a major automaker mattered to the family of Mary Barra. It’s the people closest to you that bear the cost of late meals, missed events, and college tuition. Upon taking over as CEO at GM, Barra said she is the daughter of an auto factory worker who as a child loved touring dealerships with her dad. It was mom who insisted she go to college.

No Crying

Malala Yousafzai

No one wants to endure a soppy mess. A moist eye is fine but if you are prone to tears channel Malala Yousafzai. If the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out on girl’s education can hold it together, so can you. At a Glamour Woman of the Year event she forcefully urged the audience to: “Not be afraid of anything… One student, one teacher, one book, one pen can save the world.”


The Funny Side

Anita Borg

In 2011, the Anita Borg Institute honored “nerd girl” Dr. Karen Panetta for encouraging girls to enter engineering. At the ceremony, the professor recalled the results of a high school career assessment exam. Her best friend, a boy who scored lower than she did in math and science, was told he could be a university professor, engineer, or politician. Her top three were school teacher, cosmetic sales lady, or cook. Ignoring the test results, Panetta chose engineering: “It would be cruel and unjust punishment for anyone to eat my cooking.” Watch Anita Borg’s speech.

Make a Bigger Statement

Wangari Maathai

Kenyan Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Noble Peace Prize in 2004. Recognized as a champion for human dignity and tree planting, Maathai used her Noble lecture to make an appeal for a sister laureate. She called for the freedom of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi who had been held under house arrest for 15 years. Maathai spoke to the privileged who have received education, skills, experiences, and even power: “…expand democratic space and build fair and just societies that allow the creativity and energy of their citizens to flourish.”

Humble but not Modest

Meryl Streep

The award for best accepter of awards goes to Meryl Streep. The gold standard is her win for The Iron Lady. The greatest living actress relishes her success while making it clear the journey was not undertaken alone.