Tips on How to Give an Acceptance Speech

Accepting an award is like walking a tightrope. You need to be gracious, grateful, and humble, yet not so humble or self-deprecating that the audience thinks you are trivializing the honor.

In May of 2022, Dan Maddux, my best long-time client and Executive Director of the American Payroll Association honored me with their inaugural Partner of Excellence Award. This was presented at the opening General Session. Dan told the audience, “This award is for Patricia’s 30 years of contributing to the leadership development and presentation skills of APA’s members and leaders.”

Although Dan told me I could take as long as I wanted, it was more appropriate to be short and sweet.

In my short presentation, I said, “It is a privilege to be honored for my contribution to the success of others. For decades, I have sat in the audience and felt like a proud parent as I watched APA members and leaders deliver powerful and important presentations. Thank you for the award. As long as you invite me, I look forward to being with you.”

Delivering a short acceptance speech at APA.

Often, you can have more impact with a well-crafted three- to five-minute speech than you can with 45 minutes. However, every word must count. Consider this a cameo appearance.

With another client, I was coaching a highly-visible member of their association who was due to receive their highest award. The organization has over 100,000 members. Two thousand people would be in the audience.

He told me, “I want to be funny, so I’ll start by saying how desperate they must be to give me this award.” In no uncertain terms, I persuaded him that this line was not funny, and he would be insulting everyone who had been honored with this award. We worked together to come up with a gracious acceptance speech, still funny, that would leave the audience feeling great about the event, the award, and the organization.

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Powerful, Persuasive Presentations: 5 Techniques that Lead to the Results You Want

Sooner or later, you’re probably going to be presented with an award.

It may be a surprise, or you may have time to prepare. Use your answers to the following questions to weave a warm, wonderful story that will leave everyone with a big smile and perhaps a tear.

  • Who invited you to join this group or encouraged you to get involved in this project or event?
  • What is your most personal connection to this group?
  • How do you feel about the people, the organization’s goals, or its mission?
  • Why are they giving you this award?
  • When was the first time you attended a meeting, and what were your experiences?
  • Have you seen someone else accept this same award?

People will not remember all the details of what you say, but they will remember the stories you tell.

Include a memorable story or incident, something entertaining or touching about your connection.

Dan Maddux, Executive Director of APA, received the Meeting Partner of the Year award from the National Speakers Association. His acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the convention.

First, he said he was honored.

Dan Maddux reading the first Partner of Excellence Award.

Second, he said what his audience loved hearing: “I consider professional speakers to be my partners and my best investment in the success of my conventions.”

Third, he told a story about a much-loved NSA member, Jeanne Robertson, and how she had educated him.

“You know, Dan, most popular speakers like me, have more than one speech. Your audience loves me. You can keep bringing me back.”  Dan reenacted their conversations, imitating her southern accent. One of Jeanne’s claims to fame is her height. She told her audiences she was 6’ 2” with her hair mashed down. Dan, a tall man, pretended he was looking up at her. That brought the house down.

As a speech coach, I am often disappointed with the quality of acceptance speeches from celebrities we love and admire. It is especially disheartening when we have seen them deliver magnificently long pieces of dialogue in movies and on the stage.

In general, Academy Award speeches are not the best examples of great acceptance speeches. There are, however, some memorable ones.

A few of my personal favorites:

When Russell Crowe won an Oscar for The Gladiator (2000), he dedicated it to “Everyone who has seen the downside of disadvantage.” Then he won the 2002 Golden Globe Award for A Beautiful Mind. First, he gave credit to the characters in the film, offering special thanks to “John and Alicia Nash, for living such an inspirational love story.” He added, “A Beautiful Mind is just a movie, folks, but hopefully it will help us open our hearts to believe that something extraordinary can always happen in our lives.” Wow!

It’s okay to be excited. The audience is on your side.

Sally Field’s joy when she won the 1979 Academy Award for Norma Rae has never been forgotten: “You like me! You really like me!” And when she won the 1987 Oscar for Moonstruck, Cher said, “I know this does not mean I am somebody, but I am on my way to becoming somebody.” I quoted her when I won the 1996 Cavett Award, the highest award offered by the NSA.

In 2002, action star Harrison Ford was honored with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for “Outstanding Contribution to the Entertainment Field.” Or more specifically, 35 movies over four decades, including Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Witness, The Fugitive, and Patriot Games. “In anticipation of tonight,” he said, “I wrote two speeches, a long one and a short one. I’ll give you the short one, ‘Thank you.’ It seems there might be enough time for the long one as well, which is, ‘Thank you very much.’”

Hilary Swank, Best Actress, Million Dollar Baby, gave hope to so many watching at home with, “I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream. I never thought this would ever happen.”

Sidney Poitier, Best Actor, The Defiant Ones, reminded us to keep going with, “It has been a long journey to this moment.”

Lupita Nyong’o, Best Supporting Actress, 12 Years a Slave, said, “When I’m being true to myself, I can avail myself to extraordinary things such as this. You have to allow for the impossible to be possible.”

Oscar examples that make the speech bigger than the recipient.

Elizabeth Taylor accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, said, “I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being to prove that we are a human race. To prove that our love outweighs our need to hate. That our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame. That our sensitivity to those in need is stronger than our greed.”

Meryl Streep, Best Actress, The Iron Lady, said, “This is such an honor. But the thing that counts the most with me is the friendships, and the love, and the sheer joy we have shared making movies together.”

Steven Soderbergh, Best Director, Traffic, said, “I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theatre, or a piece of music. Anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think the world would be unlivable without art.”

Halle Berry, Best Actress, Monster’s Ball, said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me: Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

Whenever you have advance notice, be sure to ask how long you are expected to speak.

The shorter your time slot, the more every word counts. When the time comes, look directly at the audience. Although you most likely will have a script, rehearse it often enough that you only need the script for confidence. Never read your first few lines; that is when you need to look at your audience and smile. In case you need to glance at notes, make sure they are printed in a large font and written one sentence at a time down the page rather than in paragraphs. If you need a reminder, this will make it easier to find your place.

Whenever you are involved in leadership in your professional organization, in your community, or in philanthropy, one day you are likely to get an award. It’s better to have a few well-crafted remarks ready rather than be caught speechless.

Now you know how to accept an award. Be gracious. Be modest. Be prepared!

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Powerful, Persuasive Presentations: 5 Techniques that Lead to the Results You Want

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“I wanted a super bowl-quality coach, and I was lucky to be introduced to Patricia Fripp. Her help in coaching and scripting was world-class. With Patricia Fripp on your team, you can go places.”
– Don Yaeger, Long-Time Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated magazine, Award-Winning Keynote Speaker,  13-time New York Times Best-Selling Author

Patricia Fripp was interviewed for this article on acceptance speeches for Toastmasters magazine.

April 2021 Toastmasters magazine 


Marketing wisdom from an unexpected source.

Robert and Patricia Fripp keynoting a conference.

My brother Robert Fripp is the founding and ongoing member of the band King Crimson. Rolling Stone magazine named him the 42nd best guitarist in the world, living or dead. One of the thrills of my life is when I have the opportunity to share the stage with him when he has not strapped on his guitar. Robert is a deep thinker. Certainly, one of the most articulate speakers I have heard.

Enjoy this excerpt from our speech, Beginner to Mastery. In most of our speeches, I ask Robert questions. His answers are brilliant and his stories amusing. His comments are well thought through.

While attending college, Robert worked in a hotel dance band.

Robert tells the audience, “In 1966-68, when I was 18-21, I paid my way through Bournemouth College, where I was studying economics, economic history, and political history with a special paper on social conditions 1850-1900, by playing at the Majestic Hotel in Bournemouth. The Majestic was a well-known Jewish hotel, run by the formidable Fay Schneider.


One January, Mark, a district sales manager from a biotech company, was preparing to moderate a panel at the Las Vegas National Sales Meeting.

He was nervous about his new role in front of a 100-person audience.

In our pre-coaching communications, I noticed his email signature line included a quote about “moving fast.” He explained that he had a new role and was “moving fast” to understand new products, clients, and products.

His panel’s task was to encourage the audience to embrace new jobs in different areas and to realize that they would have to move fast to get up to speed in different roles in new territories.

Mark did not have any idea how to set the tone for the meeting.

I asked, “What experience do you have with Las Vegas?”

He said, “After last year’s sales meeting, my wife Tammy came in for the weekend. We went to see David Copperfield, and he made her disappear.”


Congratulations! You’ve been asked to moderate a panel. This is a great opportunity to build your reputation and add value to your customers.

Moderating a panel can be more challenging than delivering a keynote speech.

As you probably realize, when you moderate a panel discussion, you have multiple responsibilities and many more elements to stay aware of. You will set the tone for the session, raise the audience’s expectations, and keep the discussion cohesive so it moves along well. These thirteen strategies can help you:


How to Make a Powerful Impact in Your Presentations

Never Make the Mistake and Underestimate the Power of a Moment to Reflect

Alan Alda says, “It is the space between the lines that make it a great performance.”

That means you must never underestimate the power of the pause. This is true in acting as well as in speaking and music.

My brother Robert Fripp, the legendary guitarist and one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists,” explains, “The music is between the notes, not in the notes.”

Your message is not simply conveyed by your words; it is also with your pauses.


Don’t Write Out Your Complete Speech

I’m frequently asked, “What are the mistakes that speakers make?”

One is thinking they have to write out their complete speech. What I recommend you do instead is follow a logical presentation preparation process.

Think, what is the big idea of your speech, your premise, or your central theme?


True Professionals Do Not Do This

I’m frequently asked, “Patricia, what are some of the mistakes that speakers make?”

One is to act like a prima donna rather than a partner with the person who invited you to speak at the meeting.

Don’t be an ass. Be nice. Be friendly.

Remember your place. You are there to contribute to the meeting and take a problem off the meeting planner’s list, not add to it.

Some of the most famous and in-demand speakers are easy to deal with. Yes, they know how to be a success and communicate what they need in advance.

Lessons from one of my long-term clients, the American Payroll Association.

The very dynamic Executive Director, Dan Maddux has entertained me with many stories of celebrities and professional speakers who were a delight to work with and those who were really nasty.

You may be interested to know that some of their highest-rated speakers are not the best speakers; they are really nice to the audience members and happy to go to the booths of their sponsors.

Remember that at all your future meetings and conferences. 

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The investment is worth ten times more than I paid and has been life-changing. My fees, recommendations, and referrals have increased dramatically. I am delighted. For the first time in my speaking career, I know exactly want I am doing when I walk on stage.”

Mitzi Perdue, author of How to Make Your Family Business Last


Why Not Set Yourself Up for Success and Write Your Own Introduction

I am frequently asked, “Patricia, what mistakes do many speakers make?” One is not writing your own introduction. Most individuals who introduce you do not know the difference between a bio and an introduction. A bio can be long; an introduction needs to be no more than one page, 16-18-point type.

When you write your introduction for somebody else to read, send it in advance as well as take a copy with you.


Always Have a Sure-Fire Opening

I’m frequently asked what mistakes most speakers make. One is thinking that once they have prepared their presentation, they don’t need to script and internalize the opening.

Very often I hear professional speakers and executives say, “Oh, when I get there, I’m going to see what’s going on and personalize it.”

You Cannot Rely on Inspiration