Written By: Elspeth Macintosh
Illustration: Lara Delmage
From hysterical Oscar winners to out-of-touch politicians, many people on this planet are given a large-scale platform on which to run their mouths. It’s only natural that a few of them will really, really miss the mark from time to time.
We all have our own memories of blundering words in public – memories which might make us panic and sweat even to this day. With so much technology at our disposal now, people can share speeches and feats of public speaking from across the world instantaneously. The power of a good speech should not be underestimated, but neither should the hilarity of watching a terrible one. So get your soapboxes out for some of the top contenders for the absolute worst speeches of recent years!
The most recent Conservative Party conference saw Theresa May give a disastrous speech. The PM managed to fail in delivering her lines thanks to a bad cough; she wheezed her way through and struggled to get her words out. To top this off, she was handed a P45 form as a joke, and her set began falling apart around her (a letter fell from the catchphrase on the wall behind her). Her speech certainly wins this category – it was a mess.
Public speaking disasters aren’t just the preserve of political figures. Decide for yourself if this counts as a speech or just a long and garbled sentence – but Miss South Carolina of the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant has this one in the bag. She was asked why it might be that US citizens are unable to locate their own country on a map, and she responded with an answer that went viral for its ridiculousness. Her dubious knowledge of geography and nonsensical rambling – mixed in with a healthy dose of the phrase ‘such as’ – has so far earned this 50-second clip over 60 million views online, and its deliverer is now somewhat infamous as a result.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s acceptance speech for Best Actress in 1999 wasn’t unusual for the Oscars in that it saw the star saying thank you to as many people as she could possibly fit into three minutes. It soon became a little ridiculous, though, as she thanked everyone from her fellow nominees to her Grandpa Buster – amongst around twenty others. Yep, SCORES of people were thanked during this spectacle.
Paltrow isn’t alone in dramatic acceptance speeches, however. When actress Sally Field collected her Academy Award in 1985, she also thanked many people in her speech – including the people watching it, to whom she unabashedly proclaimed: ‘I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now – you like me!’
If you thought that was an egocentric ending to an acceptance speech, it gets better (worse?). When James Cameron accepted his 1998 Oscar for Best Director, he finished his speech in true Titanic style by shouting ‘I’m the KING OF THE WORLD!’ and whooping after he had named all the amazing people he worked with on the film. Cheesy, no?
Having a wedding speech go awry is the worst nightmare of every best man and bridesmaid, and it’s not as uncommon as we all wish it could be. There are so many horribly awkward tales of unthoughtful wedding toasts, so for this one we’re keeping it strictly fictional (but it had to be included because it’s such a staple category in the bad speech world).
The wedding speech is a concept which has been dutifully parodied throughout comedy. A stellar example of this is in a sketch from double act Mitchell and Webb, where a best man insults his friend’s new wife by saying, ‘it’s not nasty to say someone isn’t the most beautiful woman in the world!’ This causes much upset, and, after Mitchell’s character delivers an incredibly insulting rant to the wedding party, the butt of the joke is how little it seems to have annoyed the groom.
This list shouldn’t be taken too seriously, although it might give you some idea of what not to do when giving a public speech. It’s certainly easy to be critical, but it’s also important for us to focus on the good, motivational speeches – as well as the ones that are uninspiring and messy.