Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and More Give Lessons on the Perfect Acceptance Speech

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The Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes air this weekend, the pivotal first opportunities for the likes of Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, and Jesse Eisenberg to test out their own acceptance speeches. You see, when it comes to awards season, the speech is nearly as important as the award. Especially with today's endless kudos calendar, speeches at the precursory ceremonies serve as almost auditions for the big show: Are you exciting enough for us to feature you at entertainment's biggest night? Remember, the Critics Choice ceremony last year was where Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep famously locked lips--the first of many Bullock speeches that ingratiated her to voters, arguably more so than her actual performance in The Blind Side.

Just as Bullock charmed the pants off voters with each successive speech, a bad one can stop Oscar momentum dead in its tracks. There are many theories as to why Eddie Murphy, such a sure bet to win the Oscar for Dreamgirls, lost that year--the Norbit-effect being one of them. But awards experts agree that Murphy's dull, self-satisfied, ungracious speech at that year's Golden Globes may have turned off voters so much that it contributed to their decision to reward veteran actor Alan Arkin for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine on Oscar night instead.

Given the stakes here, what makes a good speech? Here's a guide to great speech-giving, complete with video lessons by those who did it best:

1. Scrap the List ...

Oscar-winners are given roughly 45 seconds to say something meaningful while accepting their statue; they key to remember is that this is an acceptance speech, not a thank you speech. There is nothing more infuriating, boring, and wasteful of the opportunity than to read off the long list of people no one's ever heard of, with no context of who they are: lawyers, agents, writers, producers, make up artists, publicists key grips, and the rest of the long list of people (usually separated by an insufferable amount of "ums") in the credits of your film that people don't stay to read for a reason.

Oscar producers became so fed up with this that the introduced a backstage "Thank You" cam for winners to read that list of names to, in the hopes of jazzing up those boring speeches. Last year the producers staged an intervention, warning nominees at the pre-Oscar luncheon that thank you lists were the single-most hated thing about the telecast, instructing them instead to use their time to say what winning the Oscar means to them. They even showed them an example, Renee Zellweger:



Zellweger deserves credit for at least explaining why each person she lists is important in her life (extra credit for an unexpected shout out to Tom Cruise for teaching her how to be classy), but the speech still too closely resembles a laundry list. The best "thank yous" contain heartfelt anecdotes, like Reese Witherspoon in 2006:



America Ferrara did a brilliant job during her 2007 Golden Globe win for Ugly Betty thanking the appropriate suits in a way that's actually a moving expression of her gratitude:



Rather than naming names, director Steven Soderberg paid tribute to all creators:



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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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