What an Oscars Mishap Can Teach Leaders About Authentic Communication

We couldn’t have scripted a better example of leadership communications than the Oscars mishap at the 2017 Academy Awards on Sunday.

Jordan Horowitz, one of the producers of the film La La Land, had just accepted the award for Best Picture when it was discovered the presenters had been handed the wrong card and announced the wrong winner.  Amid the confusion, embarrassment, and apologies that followed, Horowitz held up the right card and declared, “Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture,’” and then, “I’m going to be really proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.”

Horowitz simply told the truth. But it’s how he did it that captured hearts and minds.  He was calm, decisive, and reassuring during a hugely awkward and uncomfortable few moments. He was also authentic, a term that is commonly used in connection with leadership, but can get leaders into trouble.

Indeed, leaders must communicate authentically. The problem is, in the drive to do so, many are eschewing preparation and practice, as though authentic is synonymous with spontaneous. It isn’t.

In fact, it takes a great deal of work to identify and connect with your own values and vision, and then, expert guidance and slavish rehearsal to be able to articulate them with clarity and confidence.  It’s hard enough when you have to deliver prepared remarks – exponentially more difficult to react with emotional honesty when there’s no time to prepare.

“I try to operate from a place of doing what’s right on a moment-to-moment basis,” said Horowitz in an interview.  So that’s who he is, what he stands for.  But he didn’t suddenly wake up one day and know that, or how to communicate from a place of knowing it.

As a leader, connecting with your own truth is the first step; then you have to learn to communicate not just facts and figures, but words that resonate and drive people to action.  It’s about both what you say and how you say it.  This takes time, but the effort is worth it.

Once you as a leader really understand WHY what you do is important – you can learn to translate it to an audience – even with only a moment’s notice.  That way, when your “Oscars mishap moment” presents itself – even if it’s not in front of 33 million people — you will be able to communicate as a true leader.

It’s never too soon to start preparing.



Penny Daniels is a strategic communications consultant and coach for pharmaceutical and device companies, academic institutions, government, and non-profits. As an accomplished writer and former national broadcast journalist, Penny uses her expertise to help 3D clients communicate effectively in challenging environments, including FDA Advisory Committee meetings. Penny excels at empowering communicators to optimize their own individual styles to meet audience needs and achieve business and organizational goals. Connect with Penny on LinkedIn.

Cindy DiBiasi has built a reputation as a leading health care communications consultant by working with top executives at some of the world’s largest companies. Cindy helps clients identify their communications strategy and develop messages on controversial healthcare issues. Her FDA consulting work includes leading clients through high-stakes FDA and Advisory Committee meetings. Cindy also leads 3D’s Market Access/Reimbursement communications work. Connect with Cindy on LinkedIn.