All around the world in every culture birthdays are viewed as special occasions because they mark a unique moment in a person's life. Birthday guests take time out of their normal routine to purchase or make gifts. They rearrange their schedules to attend the celebration, they look forward to having a good time, eating tasty food and creating memories with the people they care about.
If you think about it, the act of giving and receiving birthday presents can teach us a lot about how to give a really good acceptance speech. If you're giving a thank-you speech at an event, it's because an organization chose to give you an award or recognize your achievement.
Here are nine lessons borrowed from birthdays that you can use to make your next acceptance speech the best it can be.
1. Be gracious.
An acceptance speech is not a time for false humility or to say, "Aw, shucks. You shouldn't have." All this does is diminish the award and make the people who gave it to you feel bad.
2. Act happy to receive the gift.
No matter how you feel on the inside, project a sense of joy that you're being honored in this way. For some, it's going to take a herculean effort internally to display genuine happiness on the outside.
3. Remember your manners.
It almost goes without saying, but be sure that your first order of business is thanking the people who gave you the award. Be clear and direct. This is one time when you don't want to be subtle.
4. Give proper attention to the gift giver.
Of course you're glad for everyone who made the time to attend, but when you receive the award try to make as much eye contact with and align your posture toward the key people responsible for giving you the honor. Remember, everyone wants to sit next to the birthday person (you) so do your best to give them the sense that they are close to you.
5. Recognize that the person(s) giving you the gift spent time picking it out.
This recognition is not a spur-of-the-moment occasion, lots of people spent time planning it and they had you in mind when they chose you for this honor. Make sure your speech reflects this.
6. Allow the spotlight to shine on you.
Even if you can't stand being the center of attention, this is perhaps the one time in your life when you have to put away those feelings and bask in the glow of others' applause. This is especially true for introverts who do not find social interaction energizing, but rather draining. Just tell yourself it's only for a brief time and the adulation won't last forever.
7. Be in the moment.
It's tempting to want to look past your speech if speaking in public is not your thing, but try to stay grounded and squarely in the present. Make it your personal goal to echo the excitement and energy of the crowd by not thinking beyond the moment at hand.
8. Send a thank you note.
After a birthday party, it's polite to send a thank you note, but in an acceptance speech you don't have the luxury of following up after the fact. So, be sure to thank them thoroughly at the time and don't leave anything left unsaid. You won't have a second chance to add to your remarks after the audience goes home.
9. Have fun!
This is supposed to be a celebration, not a funeral. The audience wants to see you happy. An acceptance speech is your opportunity to give the greatest speech of your life, so feel free to smile and take pleasure in your achievement.
10. Allow yourself to be in awe of the gift.
Even though it wasn't his birthday, the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States, from then President George W. Bush in 2007. Instead of just accepting the medal, quickly placing it on the podium, and launching into his acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama beheld it in his hands, turned it over and examined every inch of it as if it were the most precious gift he had ever received. Then, he walked over to Nancy Pelosi, Laura Bush and the other dignitaries to let them share in the experience.
You don't necessarily have to be that deliberate when you receive your award or recognition, but it is nice to take an extra few seconds to gaze longingly at it before you to express your appreciation.
So remember, just like with birthday presents, when it comes to acceptance speeches, it's the thought that counts.