How a Standing Ovation Went Wrong (and What I Learned from It) 

Six years ago I received a standing ovation after one of my talks. While it was exciting and one of the best feelings I ever had after a talk, it also might have been one of the worst things to happen in my career. 

Let me explain…

The talk I gave was a 25-minute keynote address at the end of a two-day training. I only began working with this client a few weeks prior and this was my first big presentation for the company. As always, I practiced my talking points and thoroughly prepared. Then right before the talk, I let go of the script and trusted my gut (which is now my regular practice). 

Most of what I said was a blur, but I do remember feeling excited and sensed high-energy filling the room throughout the talk. As I concluded the presentation and my final thoughts rolled off my lips, I paused and waited for audience feedback. Within seconds, the audience erupted in a deafening roar and applause filled the space. One-by-one, every person in the room was standing, clapping, nodding, and smiling – they were crying and I was crying.

It truly was – without a doubt – one of the best feelings I ever felt in my professional career.

Falling from Cloud Nine

Post presentation, I was on cloud nine. I floated home on the high from the instant gratification of that round of applause and replayed the sights and sounds over and over again in my head grinning from ear-to-ear. 

But, this high came to a screeching halt after my next presentation. My presentation had a powerful message and seemed well-received, but was not met with roaring applause on an audience lifted from their seats. Instead, the conclusion was filled with claps and nods, but not nearly as energy-filled and not with the same level of excitement that was present at the last speaking gig. 

What happened? Did I overpromise and underperform? Did I fall short in my delivery? Did they not like me or think my presentation was valuable enough? 

I continued second-guessing everything I said down to the last second. Maybe I should have paused here, said this there, or spoke at a more varied cadence? I was lost on this huge flop of a performance and my confidence began deflating.

Speaking gig after speaking gig, I would aim to receive a standing ovation at the end. If a standing O was not the audience’s response, I would assume that I didn’t perform to expectations and I was falling flat. What was going on? Why was I not enough?

The True Value of My Self-Worth

But, one day it hit me and the lightbulb was lit. I realized that the reason I was torn apart about the audiences’ response, was because I placed my personal self-worth in the hands of the audience. The outcome of my talk (aka. the audience’s response) was how I viewed my success and self-worth. And therefore, I wasn’t focusing on what mattered and was setting myself up for disappointment. I knew the solution was to change my focus and that I needed a huge shift in my perception. 

So instead of asking myself why I didn’t get a standing ovation and wasting too much time picking my talk apart, I decided to focus on my intentions. 

After my talks, I would write down all the reasons I thought the talk was important to the audience. I brought the goal back to the true intent – impacting the audience by sharing my knowledge and expertise to unlock their potential and inspire each person to be his/her best.

Then I would ask myself if I would still give the same talk, regardless of the crowd’s response. In other words, did I feel the content of the conversation was important enough to be sent out into the universe even if only one person heard the talk and no one acknowledged my contribution? 

What I Learned…and What You Can Learn

What I learned was that this process helped me remove my ego and detach my self-worth from the outcome. It reminded me that I cannot control someone’s response – I can only deliver the best possible presentation I am capable of at that exact moment. And if I felt that the talk was important enough to put it out there without any guarantee of feedback, then I could feel good about what I did and confident that my contribution mattered. 

It did take some time to understand that the immediate effects of my contributions may not always be seen right away. But the lack of instant gratification should not deter me from fulfilling my desire to contribute and giving each talk my full effort.

Since that first standing ovation, I have been fortunate enough to delight in quite a few more (and I appreciate all of them), but I am proud to say that I have disconnected my self worth from the outcome. While I love the audience’s feedback, it does not change how I feel about my purpose. And that is the mindset we all must embrace to succeed and continue living with purpose.

Ever have a similar experience? Or want to chat about how to make a change? Follow the conversation and share at @sanschagrinchad on Instagram or Cannonball Moments on Facebook – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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