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The #1 Secret to Getting Standing Ovations

What’s the secret? Hint: the answer is in the title.
I wonder how often you have been in an audience where you and the entire group around you felt a spontaneous need to stand and enthusiastically applaud a presentation you just heard. How often does this happen? And how often have you been the one up the front walking off with rapturous cheers ringing in your ears?
If this possibility sounds ridiculous to you then I would like to politely suggest that you have been working in the corporate world too long! You know what I’m talking about. You get an invite to an offsite, a conference, a team get together, a forum, an extended team meeting. Whatever you want to call it, it usually conjures up one image in your mind: a bunch people sitting quietly through mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, listening politely and clapping off the presenter. Only to be greeted by more of the same.
This should just be a cliche. But based on the dozens and dozens of offsites and conferences I’ve facilitated and the hundreds of presenters I’ve seen in the last few years, experiencing this in the next 6 months is a statistical probability for you.
I want to share with you the most important lesson I have learned to avoid becoming one of these ‘statistics’.

What’s Possible?

Let me paint two scenarios for you. Firstly, imagine getting a group of intelligent, energetic and creative humans and putting them in a room cut off from the stimulus of the outside world. Then sit them in chairs. For 2 hours. And tell them to be silent. No talking. Then show them lots of slides covered with graphs and numbers and lots and lots of words. And talk at them. Apologise with ‘I know this slide is busy, but…’ Get to the end and ask ‘Any questions?’ You know what happens next. You can hear a pin drop. And not in a good way.

Now imagine a stadium concert. It could be The Rolling Stones. Or Beyonce. Or…One Direction? As you enter the stadium people are jumping about, talking, laughing, screaming. When the music starts there is a rush of humanity to the front, people climbing on their friends’ shoulders. When the star or stars take the stage the crowd goes absolutely bananas. Everyone joins in, singing the words. Maybe the star will actually stop singing entirely at some point so that the audience can take over. Emotions are expressed and stories are told through the music in ways the audience connects with. And the performance is phrased in such a way as the energy and the emotion builds to a crescendo until the audience is left gasping and screaming for more. They demand an encore. Everyone stands. The ovation is deafening.
Which of these scenarios did your last presentation, team offsite or conference most resemble?

The Secret

Let’s be clear, getting a standing ovation does NOT hinge on the following:

  • expertise
  • intelligence
  • great information
  • wonderful visuals
  • multi-media
  • passionate and eloquent delivery
  • talent

All of these things are important to you being a good presenter, but they won’t have you filling the Sydney Opera House or Madison Square Garden any time soon. In fact, the secret to a standing ovation has nothing to do with the PRESENTER at all!
The number one secret to getting standing ovations is controlling the physiology of your audience. Nothing else matters more. That’s it.
Think about it. The secret is in the title of this post: standing ovation. The act of standing is a physiological response. It requires energy and effort to execute. Looking back at those two scenarios, the biggest difference is not what the ‘presenters’ were doing, but what physiological state the audience was in. Standing. Moving. Talking. Screaming. Two way interaction. Laughing. Crying. These are all physiological responses. And I’m not talking about the corporate conference.

Is a standing ovation the end or the beginning?

While an appreciative response to your presentation feels good, it can’t be the end in of itself. What is more important is that your audience hears your message and takes action. If what you are sharing requires no action from your audience you need to ask yourself ‘Why am I sharing this?’
And what is the best indicator that your audience will take action? You guessed it! Their physiological state. Think about it. Once the crowd leaves the physiological rollercoaster of a Beyonce concert, what is the likelihood they will be buying her next album? Pretty high! But when a CEO finishes his or her 60 minute State of the Nation address and the entire audience are sitting still, slumped in their chairs with eyes glazed over, what do you think the chances are that the audience will take action in the way the CEO hoped? Pretty slim unfortunately.

So what’s next?

So what does this mean for you? Here’s my suggestion. I do this in preparation for every single presentation, facilitation, keynote address or MC event. Whether I am with 6 people in a training session or 1,000 conference delegates. I simply ask myself three questions:

  • What physiological state do I need my audience to be in if I they are to take the action I want them to take?
  • What physiological state are they likely to be in when I start?
  • What can I do to move them from ‘starting state’ to ‘desired state’?

Coming up with an answer to each of these three questions in preparation for your next presentation has the power to totally transform the impact you have on your audiences. It will set you apart from 99.9% of presenters and your audience will thank you. They might even be standing as they do.
I hope this has been useful. I wish you the best of luck in your next presentation!
By the way, if you’re puzzling over how to answer Question 3 then that is understandable. I can tell you that there are three keys to most effectively changing an audience’s physiological state. I guess I’ll have to put that in another blog post!

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Posted to Developing Leadership Capability on 21st May 2015

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