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Standing Ovations: How to Earn Them and Why Some Speakers Don’t Want Them!

standing ovations

Elton John is a music legend. I went to his concert in my hometown last week, and it was apparent to everyone there that he deserved that title. Moreover, when he wrapped up, there was, of course, a 10-minute standing ovation. He likely could have stood on his head and spit nickels, and he would have received that ovation. Why? Because of his lengthy career, an incredibly rich book of hits and genius on the piano – all of which combined evokes emotion in his audience.

People receive standing ovations for a number of reasons:

  1. They have done something amazing (climbed a mountain, won an Olympic Medal, etc. )
  2. They have overcome some incredible hardship or ‘beat the odds’

Here is a third reason that an audience is moved to stand; they hear a story or speech that has them so inspired they jump to their feet. While we cannot take away from the hard work and spirit that goes into the first two reasons noted above, this third reason may be the most difficult for a speaker to achieve.

Why? Because it is based solely on your ability to evoke emotion from the audience through your words and delivery, not because of an action or goal you have achieved. I refer to this as ‘The Epic Keynote.’

So, what about speakers who get a standing ovation all the time because of reasons 1 or 2? How do they raise the bar – or do they even bother to try? Eventually, they will need to, as someone else will surely come along that has achieved the same goal or overcome the same hardship and their story may be more inspiring or more relevant or more new.

My goal for you is that every standing ovation is earned.

If you have done something amazing and your story is such that people stand every time, your work is not done. Keep working your stories to ensure they are epic. Evolve your material to go beyond. Stretch yourself. Bring the audience into your story and presentation so they can more clearly see the parallels between what you have done and what they can do. Inspire them!

For example, if you receive a standing ovation because you were told that you would never walk again, and you overcame that to run a marathon, great! That is an amazing feat; I would certainly stand and applaud you for that. However, if you told me your story in a captivating way that allowed me to see how I too could do something great, then I would leap to my feet.

Now please don’t get me wrong, a standing ovation is NOT always a sign of a speech well done. Goodness knows at our association meetings (NSA) it is not uncommon to get a standing ovation, but many speeches ARE epic, and they do not get ovations because of the nature of the audience.

Epic speaker, Joe Calloway shares this bit of advice about presentations and standing ovations:

A meeting planner once told me that “all of our main speakers have gotten standing ovations.” I laughed and told him that would not happen with me.  He asked me what would happen.  I said, “They will be thinking about what they are going to do differently when they get back to work.”  He said, “Maybe that would be better.” I got the job.  My goal is not even remotely to get standing ovations. My goal is to have the meeting planner, or others, come up to me after the speech and say, “Have you got your calendar? We want to bring you in for another group.”  Years ago, when I was a motivational speaker, I had an emotional ending that always got me a standing ovation. Now I am a business speaker and have an ending that poses a question and leaves them thinking about the value of the content.

For those of you who have yet to get a standing ovation, I would recommend that you work on your content and don’t worry about the outcome. If it comes at some point, then great. Your real goal, however, is to have a long line of people telling you how their lives will improve, or better yet, handing you their business card for a spin-off.

See you soon Wealthy Speakers!

Jane Atkinson

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