The F-word and other no nos at the Academy Awards

I love the Academy Awards. Every year I get together with a group of friends to watch and share our thoughts on the awards show. This year, I was with a different group of friends, in celebration of a pal’s birthday, but the critiquing was just as serious. 

As I did last year, I’d like to share the lessons we can learn from the mannerly and not so mannerly behaviors witnessed at the event. 

Swearing is not cool

Melissa Leo, Best Supporting Actress winner, used the F-word in her acceptance speech. While she was clearly overwhelmed and excited by winning, she did not need to “drop the F-bomb”, as so many people referred to it. Further, I was disappointed that Ann Hathaway condoned the word usage when she was interviewed afterwards at the Governor’s Ball. I know the Academy was trying to make the event appeal to a younger, hipper audience, but really, that does not mean you need to swear. 

Be prepared, but not too prepared

I was also surprised Melissa Leo didn’t have a speech prepared. She was a pretty clear favorite for winning an Oscar, so one would expect she would have given some thought to what she would say. She even admitted on the red carpet she hadn’t prepared a speech. Consequently, she breathlessly rambled. 

On the other hand, Colleen Atwood, the costume designer for Alice in Wonderland, wrote a speech, and then read it word for word. It was a lovely speech, but it would have been much better delivered if she had used bullet points, or at least made an effort to look up at the audience occasionally. 

Whether an Academy Awards nominee, a sales person or someone in a meeting, be ready to be called on to speak, but use notes sparingly.

Mom knows bet

Tom Hooper, director of The King’s Speech, was right, “listen to your mother”, especially when it comes to manners. Moms usually know best in this arena.


Mila Kunis was lovely in her lacy purple dress, but as several of the commentators stated, her serious facial expression made her seem unapproachable or even bored. A smile enhances your beauty. Do it often.

“Energy people!”

Ann Hathaway did a great job as co-host of the show. She was upbeat, funny and enthusiastic. Her co-host, James Franco, was just the opposite. He lacked energy and almost seemed bored with the whole thing. He also rarely looked at Ann or even the camera. As a speaker, energy is vital to keeping people engaged and enthusiastic.

Don’t bend over the mic

I mentioned this last year and it bears repeating. A few people bent over the microphone to speak directly into it, despite the mic being raised or lowered to accommodate each speaker’s height.

This is also really common in the professional world. I often see speakers contort themselves to get their mouth right next to the microphone. It’s usually not necessary. Microphones are a lot more sensitive these days. Even if they don’t move, they should amplify your voice just fine. Stand up straight and speak. You’ll be heard.

Best quote of the night

Actress Halle Berry paid tribute to Lena Horne, singer and actor who died last year, and shared one of Ms. Horne’s quotes; “It’s not the load that beats you down. It’s how you carry it.” While that quote can mean so many things, I am reminded of the amazing poise Sandra Bullock had at last year’s Academy Awards as she accepted her Oscar. Despite a difficult year, having been jaded by her then husband, Jesse James, she was poised, confident, humble and gracious.

Readers, what gaffes and good graces did you witness at the Academy Awards?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Natalie on February 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I was very impressed with the gratitude and sincerity of Natalie Portman!

  2. Arden Clise on February 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Yes, she was very gracious and sincere. She was a great example of what to do.

    Thanks for sharing Natalie.

  3. Rustin Klein on March 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    It is a double-edged sword to have a speech prepared for accepting an award. On one hand, it is seen as presumptuous to think you are going to win (even though as you stated, she was a clear favorite). On the other hand, it allows you to hone in on a concise speech – enabling you to focus and assist you in remembering to name all of the names who got you up there.
    As for the F-bomb, clearly you are right. While being overwhelmed can be taken into consideration – it is a family show.
    Also – you are spot on with James Franco. Albeit he is one of my favorite actors (who is extremely multi-talented and currently on the path to a Ph.D), he was incredibly smug and did not once look at his co-host.
    Anne was fabulous – energetic, beautiful and very engaging.
    I think Kirk Douglas was VERY cute but it stretched on a wee bit and became a little embarrassing.
    Just a note of trivia: the sets were designed by a guy who was one year behind me in high school. Steve Bass constructed sets for all of our plays and has received several Emmys for his set designs that have been seen on several award shows past and present. I think the sets during this broadcast were AMAZING. (No etiquette involved – just a fun fact!)

  4. Arden Clise on March 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks for your comment Rustin. Yes, hadn’t thought about the fact you don’t want to look too prepared so as to look as if you’re sure you will win. But, at least have some thoughts put together for what you could say if you win.

    I love the fun fact about the sets. That is very cool. They were nice.

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