April 6, 2009

Does a standing ovation equal success?

As a speaker, the best indicator of a successful speech or presentation is a standing ovation. Right?


Sure, we'd all love one. It feels fantastic, it boosts our ego, it shows that that audience was entertained and enjoyed themselves, and it gives us that Sally Field moment: "You like me!"

But getting a standing ovation doesn't actually mean that the audience is going to retain your information, and take action by putting it into practice. It doesn't mean that your message has any lifespan after the audience walks out the door.

First of all, the kind of speaking that most of us are doing doesn't lend itself to standing ovations. When you're the regional director training your staff on the latest initiative, or you're the team leader giving a report to another department on a project, it's unlikely that you'll be getting a standing ovation, no matter how successful your talk.

Unless you're giving keynotes at large conferences, audiences are probably not going to jump to their feet at the end of your presentation.

But the more important issue here is this: is your purpose to get a standing ovation, or is it to inspire the audience to do something? Are you trying to change attitudes or behavior? Are you trying to persuade the group to come around to your way of thinking? Are you giving a critical update that everyone needs to understand? You don't need a standing ovation to prove your success.

You need to have a purpose and an objective when speaking to an audience, and it has to be about giving meaningful value to the audience. A standing ovation is all about you. Serving your audience is all about them.

When I spoke in high school classrooms, sometimes it was hard to tell if anyone was getting anything out of my presentations. High school students are known for being a tough audience, and frequently they were just too cool to let on if they got anything out of it.

But years later, I would be at the checkout counter, or paying a parking attendant, and that person would say to me, "I remember you. You came to my classroom freshman year and talked about healthy relationships. That talk was really helpful to me."

That's my standing ovation.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago at Church I was ready to give the preacher a standing ovation, just to celebrate the fact that he finally shut up!
Unfortunately, applause isn't allowed in Church.

Lisa Braithwaite said...


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