Four speaking tips from Oscar winner Brad Pitt

nerves public speaking Feb 16, 2020

Today’s quick quiz question: who recently said: “Speeches make me nervous. I’ve always been really tentative.”

OK, if you answered Brad Pitt, award yourself an Oscar.

Brad Pitt is no stranger to making speeches. This year he delivered acclaimed acceptance speeches at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and sent a speech to the BAFTAs for his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-star Margo Robbie to read which included references to Brexit and Prince Harry relocating to North America.

And yet there he is at the Oscars, picking up the trophy for Best Supporting Actor, and professing that public speaking makes him nervous.

There are a couple of conclusions we can draw from this:

1 - speaking is public is not easy, not even for those who earn extraordinary amounts speaking the words of others for a living;

2 - Pitt’s strategy for overcoming his self-confessed nerves can be followed by anyone.

Brad Pitt’s solution had four elements worth noting:

  1. 'Put some real work into it'. From our perspective as presentations skills coaches, the hardest part for many people is finding a conversational voice, using words and sentence structures that flow off the tongue easily and authentically. The more we write our drafts in silence (basically, constructing essays) the harder it is to perform those scripts naturally, leading to fluffs, stumbles, hesitations and a steady erosion of confidence.
  2. 'Get comfortable'. Actors know the secret of a good performance: rehearse, rehearse and then rehearse some more. The more you practice, the easier it will be to find the places where you need to pause, where you need to add emphasis, where you maybe need to repeat a line.
  3. 'Let it come from the heart'. Observers had been wondering whether script writers were responsible for the improvement in Pitt’s speeches. No, he said. He tries his scripts out on his friends. This applies particularly to his jokes and topical references, to check if others find them as funny as he does. Your passion is your strongest persuader so, yes, let your feelings show. And if others say ‘I don’t get that’ about one of your references, they are probably worth listening to.
  4. 'Be yourself'. Brad Pitt’s style is nothing like the sprawling political diatribes of fellow actor Joaquin Phoenix. But you don’t need long to make a point. Pitt started his speech by noting: "Our speeches here have to last 45 seconds. That’s 45 seconds more than the US Senate gave John Bolton", referencing President Trump's Senate impeachment trial not seeking witnesses. He made his point, and moved on.