Public-Speaking Lessons From Daniel Day-Lewis Oscar Speech

Very few people will ever deliver a speech to quite as large a crowd as Daniel Day-Lewis did Sunday evening when he accepted the Oscar for Best Actor, but business leaders could stand to take a few notes from the veteran actor, says Bill Connor, principal at Washington, D.C.-based Oratorio Media and Presentation Training.

“A few of the things that Daniel Day-Lewis did exemplified what a public speaker ought to do,” says Connor. “He was funny, he was brief and he was very gracious.”

Here’s what Connor says are three takeaways from the Best Actor’s acceptance for anyone looking to make an effective speech.

No. 1: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Unlike many actors, who say that they didn’t think to prepare a speech, Day-Lewis seemed to have prepared his talking points before the Oscars, said Connor.

“He had a very specific idea as to what he wanted to say, and how he was going to say it.”

No. 2: Employ the Rule of Threes

“We often teach people to use the ‘rule of threes,’ in which you tell the audience, ‘I’m going to tell you about three things,’ and then your listeners are able to focus easily,” says Connor. In this case, Day-Lewis’s “three” were screenwriter Tony Kushner, director Steven Spielberg and President Abraham Lincoln himself.

No. 3: Start and End Strongly

“Last night, he ended very strongly … He paused and said, ‘For my mother,’ which made his speech very tight, concise, elegant and memorable,” says Connor. That said, Connor said Day-Lewis could have began on a stronger note –possibly beginning with his line about Meryl Streep being the original choice to play Lincoln, rather than demurring by saying, “I really don’t know how any of this happened.”

As for the worst speaker of the night, Connor gives that distinction to Kristin Stewart, who he says seemed “awkward,” “self-conscious” and “embarrassed” about her limp, but didn’t  address it appropriately, thus making it a bigger deal than it needed to be. In comparison, Connor says that Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence did a great job addressing her would-be embarrassing fall in a self-deprecating, humorous way.

“If you’re ever in a public-speaking situation and something goes wrong – you start coughing or there are projector issues – live in the moment! Audiences are more forgiving than we assume, so it’s better to address it in a natural way,” said Connor.