The Secret to How Keynote Speakers Get Standing Ovations

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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Keynote Speakers LOVE Standing Ovations

One of the greatest thrills as a motivational keynote speaker is getting a standing ovation. While they feel great, standing ovations are not always a good measurement of quality. Sometimes it’s just one person who jumped to their feet, and two hundred others who stood up two by two, due to good old peer pressure. Very rarely do you see half of a standing ovation.

Two Kinds of Standing Ovations

I see two kinds of standing ovations – the kind where one person stands up and more feel obligated to follow – and the kind where the audience literally leaps to their feet in unison. While both technically qualify as a standing ovation, it’s only when they jump up in unison that you have truly wowed the entire room which is something very hard to do. It’s not easy to please everyone in the room. So take your bow with pride.

The Downside of Getting a Standing Ovation

The only problem in getting a standing ovation is that once you get one, you look for it every time. And when you don’t get it the next time you wonder why. Your brain goes into “Well, if I didn’t get a standing ovation, I must suck” mode. So don’t beat yourself up when you don’t get one. It’s not a sign of how well you did. I’ve gotten just as many “you changed my life” comments from an audience that didn’t stand up when I was through. Sometimes they don’t stand up because they are still spellbound by your speech. (Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.)

So How Can Keynote Speakers Get a Standing Ovation?

Just as standing ovations are not an exact science, neither is figuring out how to get one. I can only tell you what I think has happened in the minds and hearts of my audience to bring them to their feet.

motivational speakers love standing ovations

What Makes An Audience Jump To Its Feet?

1. They were entertained. In the United States we stand up after a show to indicate a stellar performance. People appreciate the time and effort and creativity put into a presentation.

2. They saw something they had not seen before. People LOVE different. And they appreciate it when they see it.

3. They connected to the speaker on an emotional level, not just an intellectual level. They walked away feeling like they really knew that person on stage.

4. They heard something they had not heard before. It’s not easy to present a new cutting edge thought. So when you do, people applaud it.

5. They were challenged. They were made to think in a way they had not thought before. They were shown a problem they did not know they had.

6. They resonated with the speaker’s story.  We all love a good story where the hero conquers great obstacles and comes out on top. Just like we love a good movie, we love a good story in a keynote speech.

7. They made an emotional investment.  They laughed. They cried. They were awestruck. They were taken on a journey of the emotions. People remember longest what they had an emotional connection to.

8. They resonated wildly with the speaker’s message or cause. This happens when the speaker is “one of them” or shares a cause with them.

9. They felt like you were talking to them – hearing them – seeing them – feeling their pain. A good speech is about the speaker. A phenomenal speech is about the audience. When they walk away feeling motivated and appreciated – the speaker wins.

10. All of the above.

motivational keynotes speakers crave standing ovations and laughing audiences


There you have it, my reasons behind standing ovations.  Learning how to do all this as motivational speakers – well, we’ll cover that on another day. Have anything else to add? I’d love your thoughts!



  • Hi Kelly

    I found this post every interesting. Never knew there were two standing ovations.
    Pursuing to achieve that standing ovation some day
    Great post and thanks for the tips!


    • Don’t worry if you don’t see a standing ovation, Sue. They don’t always do them in other countries. You are changing lives anyway. Know that!