One of the key mistakes is to be unprepared. Even if there is a frontrunner to win, all of the nominees should at least consider the possibility of what they would say if they won instead. If they are truly caught unaware, a simple heartfelt "Thank you" will suffice, followed by a graceful exit from the stage, instead of a disjointed, longwinded, forgettable, or embarrassing address.
Miranda, winning his first Tony, had a fantastic sonnet prepared. It fit perfectly with his personality and with his brand.
I'm not free-styling. I'm too old-school. I wrote you a sonnet instead. 'My wife's the reason anything gets done. She nudges me towards promise by degrees. She is a perfect symphony of one. Our son is her most beautiful reprise. We chase the melodies that seem to find us until they're finished songs and start to play when senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day. This show is proof that history remembers. We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger. We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love lasts long, and love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside. I sing Vanessa's symphony. Eliza tells her story. Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.'
Try to avoid thanking too many people. The audience will not remember them, and the more people you thank, the likelihood will grow that you will forget to thank others. Frank Langella, winning as Best Leading Actor in a Play for his work in The Father, was eloquent and poised. He too referenced the Orlando attack without over-politicizing it.
When I first came to New York in 1960 from school, I consulted an astrologer who told me that my greatest successes would come late in my career. I thought she meant 30. The fact of the matter is, there really is no 'late' in an actor's career. There's just the journey and there's just now. So it's rather ironic that I should be honored with an award for playing a man who's losing his 'now,' who's losing his reality, as indeed my dear brother Andrew is at the moment. There are so many names I wrote down today to thank you, but I hope they will forgive me if I bring in a dose of true reality, what happened today in Orlando, and I found some words that will mean more to you than a litany of names. When something bad happens, we have three choices. We let it define us, we let it destroy us, or we let it strengthen us. Today in Orlando, we had a hideous dose of reality. I urge you, Orlando, to be strong, because I'm standing in a room full of the most generous human beings on Earth, and we will be with you every step of the way. Thank you.
Although the spotlight is on the winner, it works best to tell stories of others, like Miranda mentioning his wife or Langella talking about his brother who has dementia.
Keep it short, tell a story, make it heartfelt. Those are the speeches that will be the most impactful and unforgettable.