Thursday, December 01, 2011


Do you listen to and/or (later) read speeches given by those accepting awards? I hasten to note that I am not writing on my own behalf here, at least not as the recipient of an award and therefore not as the giver of such a speech. I am writing as someone listening to/reading such a speech given by someone else.

What do you want to hear (if anything) in such a speech? Let's say the speaker has 5-10 minutes (maybe less) to cram in all the thank-yous  and personal history things that are necessary and expected, but perhaps there is a bit of time -- a minute or three -- to go beyond the ritual thanks.

Do you want them to talk about Research -- for example, their perspective on what is interesting in their field? More about their Life -- professional and/or personal? Pitfalls (in addition to Successes)? Important cats?

What makes a good speech? Should it be somehow different and memorable, or just try for the usual heartfelt thanks to those who helped along the way?

In the last couple of years, I heard at least one award-acceptance speech that took a political detour after the ritual thanking of mentors and students. The speech could have been interpreted as being highly critical of people in the audience with particular citizenship/political views. Responses that I heard ranged from

"Whatever -- he can say whatever he wants; it's his award and his speech" to

"Why go nuclear with strong political views and criticize innocent people in a friendly audience? We aren't responsible for the decisions of governments and behavior of politicians" to

specific rebuttals of the political statements ("He's wrong because..").

At least the speech was memorable. I suppose the other way to be memorable -- if that is your goal -- is to say something really bizarre. Or, instead of thanking those who helped you along the way, you could list all the people you hate the most.

If you have heard or read a memorable award-acceptance speech (for positive or negative reasons), what was memorable about it?


mOOm said...

The only one I'd read are the Nobel Prize ones. But they are research talks.

Berserk Dad said...

I think the best ones are the humble and thankful ones. Say your thank yous, acknowledge that no one does anything in a bubble - so you had help along the way, be genuine, and end early (if needed).

mjphd said...

I always find it interesting when award winners/people being recognized for their accomplishments share some little story of the time they almost gave up or were really discouraged, or the odd path that lead them to their important research project, etc. As a young investigator, it's nice to hear that that even the big names struggled at times.

Anonymous said...

I was at a talk where the awardee went on at some length about how important his mentees had been to his career, and listed all of their names on a slide and talked effusively about them.

However, he left one name off of the slide - perhaps his most well-known mentee, who was the person who had introduced him for the award and had presented him with the plaque a few minutes earlier. Everyone noticed this, it seemed, except the speaker.

The very same speaker also spent the "lecture" part of his presentation making several vindictive comments toward "whoever reviewed this manuscript," etc. It was entertaining, at least...but not very professional.

The award is a rather big deal in my field, and I feel rather bad for him that these are the only two things that I can remember about his lecture.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember anything from any speech, and no, I don't want to hear anything. I would rather have the speech end quickly and have the 5 minutes of my life back. This applies to the 5 - 10 minute variety, not an invited lecture.

AnEngineeringProf said...

In my opinion, there are two commandments:
1. Keep it brief
2. Stay positive

and one recommendation:
1. Tell a story (if you can -- i.e., make your speech have a bit of a story element)

Anonymous said...

I would remember an acceptance speech that mentioned cats.

Anonymous said...

Not an acceptance speech, but a commencement speech by Conan O'Brien at Dartmouth blew my mind!