6 Steps To Giving an Incredible Speech Like Meryl Streep
The amount of awards Meryl Streep has acquired throughout her stellar career have more crystal and gold than all of Liberace's estate. By this point you might assume the living legend has run out of ways to say "thank you" and "I'm so honored." But au contraire, dear readers. Meryl once again brought down the house with a short, touching, funny speech after receiving the Monte Cristo Award by the Eugene O'Neill Theater Monday night in New York City.
Not only was Streep honored amongst her most-lauded colleagues including Tracy Letts and Tony Kushner, she also got to pay personal tribute to the theater where she started her career after graduating from the Yale School of Drama. As many Oscars, Golden Globes and everything in between Streep has, the Monte Cristo honor is quite a high accolade for her contributions to her many iconic roles in live theater and in film.
Though there were many lovely speeches made in her honor last night, it was her closing words that encapsulated why she continues to be celebrated. As wedding and graduation season rolls around, plenty of us will be tasked with the overwhelming challenge that is speech-writing. Here are a few tips for tackling the big moment from our girl Meryl.
Step One: Start With a Joke
Writing jokes is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of speech-writing, which is why it's best to get it out of the way first. You want your audience to be engaged, not bored. So get those funny ha-ha's brewing! Think about your audience and let your own brand of humor shine through. Take it from Meryl:
Well, I feel like I’m at the funeral, so I’m really happy! You usually don’t get to be there.
Step Two: Make Yourself Relatable
Listen, if you're the Valedictorian of your graduating class, chances are you were too busy studying to be raging hard with all of the thousands of students currently staring at your from the podium. Or, if you're the maid of honor at a big wedding, even the bride doesn't know half of the people there, so you definitely don't know all of the guests. In any case,that doesn't mean you can't be real with the people in the room. Meryl knows:
I have so many things to say, but really, just, you know, you can’t at those moments when you’re nobody and just starting, and you have gigantic student loans thanks to Yale -- I mean, thanks to Yale!
If Meryl-Freakin'-Streep can talk about student loan debt, you can talk about anything.
Step Three: Talk About the Right People
Remember, even if you're the one GIVING the speech, it's not all about you. People love being recognized. Think of a shout-out as an old-school version of being retweeted by a celeb. BIG DEAL RIGHT? Again, Meryl:
Tonight, three of my esteemed teachers are here -- and I’m just blown away -- from Yale: Alvin Epstein, Betsy Parrish, Carmen DeLavallade...there’s just nothing like great teachers.
Step Four: Say Something Poetic
Words are your arsenal in a speech. Even the funniest of comedians know when to tug at the heart strings and get to the truth of the occasion. Or if you're Meryl Streep (except only MERYL is because she's MERYL), speak to your life's philosophy and dole out a bit of sage advice:
I just think being an artist is the opportunity to learn all your life, just to soak everything up.
Step Five: Soak Up the Sap With Another Joke
As you near the home stretch of your speech, you want to engage the audience again with a little humor. There are probably a few nodded heads at this point or people distractedly checking their phone (ugh, modern times!), so you're going to want to bring it back in with another joke. Take it away Meryl:
So thank you for the opportunity you gave me and about a hundred other theater hopefuls in 1975, in those six weeks. I will never forget it, and thank you to all of you for supporting this wonderful organization and for coming out for me. Oh my god, the Vassar trustees are here, and now I owe them even more [money]!
Step Six: End on a Touching Personal Note
Ignore everything I said about making your speech universal — in closing, say something that's significant to you. As personal as it may be, you will be surprised by how much everyone in the room can be touched by your experiences, inside jokes, or truths. If Meryl's last line doesn't get you choked up, I don't know what will.
And thank you to my husband for those four children that I dreamed of on the beach that day. He came along, thank god. Thank you very much.