Whether you're accepting an award for philanthropic contributions to your alma mater or being recognized for your exemplary contributions in the workplace, the way you express your appreciation could be the second-most important highlight of the event. You will likely be called on to give a speech to which you have devoted enough time writing, refining and practicing before your special day.
Create the Framework
The simplest way to begin writing a speech, or any other presentation for that matter, is to prepare an outline. The first item in your outline should be a simple "Thank You," and that you're honored to be an award recipient. Continue with a list of three or four topics you intend to cover. One of the topics might include background about your work. If it's an annual award, don't list everything you've achieved during your lifetime; talk about what you've done lately. Other topics might include your team members who deserve recognition for their contributions, or your vision for the organization. Finish with your final appreciation and wrap up.
Fill In the Blanks
Flesh out your outline with specific details, such as how you were notified of the award. Avoid telling too much, lest you will lose the listeners' attention. If you were called into your boss's office and told during an executive board meeting, briefly explain your surprise or tell a story about you wondering why you were invited to a meeting where your presence was never required before. Don't be afraid to use humor in your gratitude speech, but you needn't feel like you're the entertainment of the evening. The award is all about your accomplishments, but the event probably isn't. The host could have other activities planned for the evening.
Recognize the Team
Avoid using too many cliches, but if you are accepting an award on behalf of your team, it's acceptable to use something like, "Teamwork makes the dream work, and for that reason, I'd like to recognize the members of my team who worked diligently to make this project a success." If you intend to recognize individual team members, ensure you include each person with whom you worked. If you even inadvertently omit someone, you are bound to hurt someone's feelings. List the individuals' names you intend to mention and double-check your list to ensure you don't overlook anyone.
State Your Individual Contribution
Even if you worked alone to accomplish this feat, you might feel that you owe your success to your family, the upbringing and values you learned, your education or your interest in the particular area. For example, if you are a volunteer for a university award from your alma mater, include a brief description about your experience as a student and how being an alum inspired you to volunteer your time and talent to the institution. In other words, attribute your success to more than just you, for example, acknowledge your supportive family, especially during times when you worked long hours.
Transfer Your Notes
Using index cards is convenient since they're compact and prevent you from fumbling with a page of notes. Carrying large sheets of paper with you to the podium gives the appearance that you have too much to say, particularly if you have to shuffle through papers as you're speaking. Some people can deliver a speech from just an outline, but your modesty will show through your admission that you need to read your speech. Edit your speech, and shorten run-on sentences and simplify overly technical words and jargon. Consider the audience and adapt your communication style to the various perspectives and backgrounds of a diverse group. On the other hand, don't create such an elementary speech that your audience wonders if you really know who they are.
Before You Deliver the Speech
Rest your eyes for several hours after you finish drafting your speech; a day is better unless you're short on time. Review your draft with fresh eyes, and refine or edit it before you finalize your remarks. Write your final speech or outline on the index cards and practice several times in front of your mirror until you're comfortable with your speech. Keep an eye on timing, here. The time limit for Academy Award speeches is less than one minute! You might be the only person speaking, or one of very few, so you can afford to speak for more than a minute. Even so, your speech should last just one- to three minutes. Any longer than that could bore your audience.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition, she is a certified facilitator for the Center for Creative Leadership Benchmarks 360 Assessment Suite, and is a Logical Operations Modern Classroom Certified Trainer . Ruth resides in North Carolina and works from her office in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.