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March 2, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

Speak Of The Week: The Oscars

“And the winner is….” Few words have the power of these four words. From creating butterflies in stomachs to potentially changing the course of a life, when “and the winner is” is voiced, these four little words (and the name that immediately follows them) can command attention almost like no others.

What an epic disaster, then, when the awards show of all awards shows, The Oscars, got the words wrong on Sunday night.

In front of hundreds at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, and in front of millions watching on screens around the world, the Oscars became a study in the deleterious effects of distraction and poor planning at (arguably) its most critical moment. Days later, we are all still shaking our collective heads in amazement.

Of course, you know what happened – either because you were watching in real time, or because you’ve been unable to avoid hearing about it in the days since. On Sunday night, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, when presenting the show’s final award for Best Picture, were given the wrong envelope by one of the two PwC accountants that were acting as “keepers of the secrets” that evening.

While Beatty seemed to recognize the mistake in the moment, pausing at the mic in confusion to confer about what was on the winning card with his co-presenter, Dunaway didn’t grasp his hesitation, and instead read the name of the film, “La La Land” aloud to thunderous applause, and the procession of the film’s team to the stage to bask in their glory.

From there, it took two full minutes for all hell to break loose.

With the show’s host Jimmy Kimmel lost in a sea of people on-stage – from stage managers to accountants, from producers to stars – the show had been derailed like never before when La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz took to the microphone to announce “there’s a mistake, Moonlight, you guys won best picture.”

The gaffe left Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, and the team behind it, to have to forgo much of what they deserved – the time to bask in the spotlight, say their thank yous, and receive the recognition they deserved for the prize.

Since Sunday, the uproar online and elsewhere has been unrelenting – from conspiracy theorists who believe that someone (or someones) deliberately tried to keep Moonlight from winning, to people calling for the resignation (or firing) of the PwC accountants behind the mix-up – the mistake has highlighted the Oscar’s unpreparedness like never before.

As the week has unrolled, we’ve learned a few things. Namely, that one PwC accountant was largely to blame for the error, likely at least in part because he was caught up in the excitement of the show. At the very moment he should have been focused on putting the right envelope in the right hands at the right time, he was instead live Tweeting a photo of Emma Stone, who had just won for Best Actress. (While understandable – who among us wouldn’t be distracted by Emma Stone? – we at Speakers’ Spotlight nevertheless think he would be a good candidate to attend a talk by Distraction Expert Curt Steinhorst).

From there, we’ve also learned that the Academy had no back-up plan, were a mistake of this magnitude to occur. In fact, when the stage manager was asked on Wednesday what protocol was in place in case of a mix up, he admitted that the shows producers “don’t usually talk about that.”

It’s enough to make even the most novice of event planners wither.

All in all, there are no real excuses for a blunder of this magnitude to have transpired. While human error was bound to happen sooner or later, checks and balances should have been in place to ensure such a mistake was caught before it was too late, or at the very least, there needed to be a game plan to ensure things wouldn’t devolve into chaos the way they did.

So, for demonstrating that sometimes the words that have the most impact are the absolute wrong words, written on the wrong card, and said at the wrong time, we chose The Oscars as our Speak of the Week.