by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | March 7, 2014

Last week’s broadcast of the Academy Awards had 43 million viewers. Some watch because they love movies, others because they like to see what the celebrities are wearing, maybe still more because they simply hope to see which moments will go viral on social media the next morning.
If you’re like me, you probably also watch with the eye of a meeting professional and consider what it takes to pull off an event of that scale, and to see what you can learn from its mistakes and successes. This year in particular, I learned a lot about what makes a good presenter and speaker. While I don’t expect many who are reading this will be in front of an audience the size of the Oscars, the reality is that we are either accepting, or managing, public speaking opportunities on a regular basis. What can we learn about our own presentations from people who have delivered them on one of the world’s largest stages?
Always be prepared. The acceptance speeches that were the most fun to watch were the ones where the winner had a clear message to convey, but also spoke with some spontaneity. If you or one of your speakers will be presenting without a script, make sure ahead of time that they (or you) are in command of the material. But not so much that it sounds as if there is a script when there isn’t. If there is a script, make sure that the stage is not the first time it’s seen or read by the presenter. You can’t mispronounce a name and still come across as professional.
Keep to your set time. Meetings run on schedules, and people have a right to expect them to both start and end on time. The Academy Awards are notorious for running long, and even avid fans tune out for parts of it as a result. Winners know they have under a minute to accept their award, but emotion and opportunity often make them talk through the music that is being played to stop them. Don’t be the kind of speaker that makes the audience check their watch.
Dress for the stage. At the Oscars, my favorite part is the fashion. And I’m usually surprised at how different something looks on the red carpet from how it looks on stage during the program. For speakers, dressing to present doesn’t always mean the same thing as dressing for a networking event. On a stage, the lights are stronger and you’re likely somewhat higher than your viewing audience. Also important is the color or texture of the background behind the speaker. These considerations may affect what the best choices are in terms of colors, patterns and proportions. For example, a skirt that is perfectly professional in the meeting room might appear too short when viewed on an elevated stage, or a patterned blouse or tie might be too busy to compete with a colorful backdrop. The idea is to remove visual distractions so that your audience focuses on the content of the presentation.
What are some of the lessons you have learned by watching highly publicized special events? I’d love to hear your examples. Please comment below, or send me an email at You can also tweet me @E_Zielinski.