What the biggest mistake in Oscar history can teach us about presenting

In what was the most dramatic moment in the history of the Academy Awards, La La Land was announced as the best picture  winner at the 2017 Oscars on Sunday night – but then had to hand the award over to the actual  best picture winner  Moonlight after a mistake was made.

The question is what can we learn from this extraordinary presentation blunder.

  1. Mistakes happen

If the Oscar mix up can teach us anything it’s that mistakes happen. Even to the best of us. Even at an event produced and presented by a team of media professionals in front of and behind the camera.

The Oscars ceremony, running for 88 years now, has back up plans for their back up plan.

A supposed fail safe system of having duplicate envelopes for each award in the wings for presenters ironically appears to be at the heart of this fiasco.

When you stand in front of a room full of people to present, like the Oscars, you are  live ! No editing, no cutting to commercial, no double takes and like live TV,  no guarantees.

So what do you do when the worst case scenario happens ?

  1. Choose integrity and credibility

Imagine  if, upon realising their mistake on Sunday, the people in charge  said nothing. What if they saved themselves the embarrassment and just let La La Land win ? Would that be ok ?

Of course not.

When you’re  in front of  an audience and you or someone on your presentation team realizes there is a mistake  you must admit the mistake.

“There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you won best picture,” announced  Jordan Horowitz, La La Land producer .He then held up the card clearly showing the winner was Moonlight.

There was nothing elegant about his announcement.  Just an abrupt interruption of cold hard fact which left the audience and the world shocked and  confused.

The truth is no matter how well a mistake is handled and communicated the surprise and  embarrassment will be fever pitch for all involved.

It’s  in this moment of mortification however a presenter, you,  must make the right choice.

You must choose to communicate with  integrity. You   must choose to maintain your credibility.

You  must tell the audience  there has been a mistake and most  importantly you must explain why the mistake happened.  The second part is vital to helping an audience process what has just happened

An audience is not out to get you. They will understand human error if you explain it to them.

Which brings us to lesson 3 –Your reaction matters.


  1. Your reaction matters

The reactions on the stage on Sunday were mixed

Warren Beatty was bewildered, Emma Stone was suitably shocked and Ryan, well Gosling giggled.

And it is Ryan Gosling’s  reaction that is gaining the most  attention in the aftermath.


It wasn’t  a funny situation per say but what Ryan’s response did was remind us it was not the end of the world. Nobody died.  Ryan’s giggle   allowed some relief to the audience amidst the tension of the situation.

Humour is not always appropriate but what is appropriate when mistakes happen is to relieve the audience of the burden of situation. You must get over your own feelings and ensure the audience is absolved of what is happening.

Even with preparation and planning mistakes happen. All I can tell you is when your moment comes take some solace in the fact it will not be watched by 32.9 million people globally and like Ryan, try and have a giggle if you can.

For more insider media tips and tricks check out The presentation Book here 

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