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January 18, 2006

How to Get a Standing Ovation


When I started public speaking in about 1986, I was deathly afraid of public speaking—for one thing, working for the division run by Steve Jobs was hugely intimidating: How could you possibly compete with Steve? It’s taken me twenty years to get comfortable at it. I hope that many of you are are called upon to give speeches—it’s the closest thing to being a professional athlete that many of us will achieve. The purpose of this blog entry is to help you give great speeches.

  1. Have something interesting to say. This is 80% of the battle. If you have something interesting to say, then it’s much easier to give a great speech. If you have nothing to say, you should not speak. End of discussion. It’s better to decline the opportunity so that no one knows you don’t have anything to say than it is to make the speech and prove it.
  2. Cut the sales pitch. The purpose of most keynotes is to entertain and inform the audience. It is seldom to provide you with an opportunity to pitch your product, service, or company. For example, if you’re invited to speak about the future of digital music, you shouldn’t talk about the latest MP3 player that your company is selling.
  3. Focus on entertaining. Many speech coaches will disagree with this, but the goal of a speech is to entertain the audience. If people are entertained, you can slip in a few nuggets of information. But if your speech is deathly dull, no amount of information will make it a great speech. If I had to pick between entertaining and informing an audience, I would pick entertaining—knowing that informing will probably happen too.
  4. Understand the audience. If you can prove to your audience in the first five minutes that you understand who they are, you’ve got them for the rest of the speech. All you need to understand is the trends, competition, and key issues that the audience faces. This simply requires consultation with the host organization and a willingness to customize your introductory remarks. This ain’t that hard.
  5. Overdress. My father was a politician in Hawaii. He was a very good speaker. When I started speaking he gave me a piece of advice: Never dress beneath the level of the audience. That is, if they’re wearing suits, then you should wear a suit. To underdress is to communicate the following message: “I’m smarter/richer/more powerful than you. I can insult you and not take you serious, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” This is hardly the way to get an audience to like you.
  6. Don’t denigrate the competition. If you truly do cut the sales pitch, then this won’t even come up. But just in case, never denigrate the competition because by doing so, you are taking undue advantage of the privilege of giving a speech. You’re not doing the audience a favor. The audience is doing you a favor, so do not stoop so low as to use this opportunity to slander your competition.
  7. Tell stories. The best way to relax when giving a speech is to tell stories. Any stories. Stories about your youth. Stories about your kids. Stories about your customers. Stories about things that you read about. When you tell a story, you lose yourself in the storytelling. You’re not “making a speech” anymore. You’re simply having a conversation. Good speakers are good storytellers; great speakers tell stories that support their message.
  8. Pre-circulate with the audience. True or false: the audience wants your speech to go well. The answer is True. Audiences don’t want to see you fail—for one thing, why would people want to waste their time listening to you fail? And here’s the way to heighten your audience’s concern for you: circulate with the audience before the speech. Meet people. Talk to them. Let them make contact with you. Especially the ones in the first few rows; then, when you’re on the podium, you’ll see these friendly faces. Your confidence will soar. You will relax. And you will be great.
  9. Speak at the start of an event. If you have the choice, get in the beginning part of the agenda. The audience is fresher then. They’re more apt to listen to you, laugh at your jokes, and follow along with your stories. On the third day of a three-day conference, the audience is tired, and all they’re thinking about is going home. It’s hard enough to give a great speech—why increase the challenge by having to lift the audience out of the doldrums?
  10. Ask for a small room. If you have a choice, get the smallest room possible for your speech. If it’s a large room, ask that it be set “classroom style”—ie, with tables and chairs—instead of theatre style. A packed room is a more emotional room. It is better to have 200 people in a 200 person room than 500 people in a 1,000 person room. You want people to remember, “It was standing room only.”
  11. Practice and speak all the time. This is a “duhism,” but nonetheless relevant. My theory is that it takes giving a speech at least twenty times to get decent at it. You can give it nineteen times to your dog if you like, but it takes practice and repetition. There is no shortcut to Carnegie Hall. As Jascha Heifitz said, “If I don’t practice one day, I know it. If I don’t practice two days, my critics know it. If I don’t practice three days, everyone knows it.” Read this article to learn what Steve Jobs does.

It’s taken me twenty years to get to this point. I hope it takes you less. Part of the reason why it took me so long is that no one explained the art of giving a speech to me, and I was too dumb to do the research. And now, twenty years later, I love speaking. My goal, every time I get up to the podium, is to get a standing ovation. I don’t succeed very often, but sometimes I do. More importantly, I hope that I’m standing and clapping in the audience of your speech soon.


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I agree with every point that you have presented. I believed these points will help everyone struggles in public speaking.

Please add that every speaker must not only entertain the audience. He must show that his "big idea" when accepted will benefit the audience. Speaking is about the big idea, the audience, and you.

I don't know if my saying that you are a great speaker indeed and that i myself at the first place give you a standing ovation, for just any simple words you utter that make a great deal of potentional and wise-versa. I have gotten ahead with alot of blogs, expertised bloggers, those in their predecent lineage of literary quest. It starred from and in all controversial issues that come be far streched, politics, economic, war and thrill, emotions and fatigues and then blogging experiences (ex: How the blogger spent his summer holiday or how it spent him). Blogging history is a long list, of expertise, technical skills and immense talent. It doesn't take me to just thank you, but bow my head and keep yah that we all owe it to you. I wish to learn that much of a 0.1% and you someday are the adjuciator for my speech giving occassion. Untill then, let's bound to be guru and student.

I wanted to introduce myself and my company to this blog. I know that I will be able to offer free advice in the areas of telemarketing, corporate motivation and public speaking. I look forward to sharing ideas with other bloggers. Let's learn from each other to make our profits grow.

Best regards,



For me this post is very intresting.

Thanks for that.

An excellent advice for anybody. for this post i give you full marks..

you definately deserve a Standing Ovation

i hope all orther commentators will agree to this..

All those suggestions comes in handy for the bloke who really needs it: the job candidate!

Very apt article. Mind if I post it on our career site?

Great insight into the art of public speaking.



I am a recent grad, looking to speak. I talk about the way many people become famous from low-income backgrounds, such as celebs, singers, etc.
I counsel people from all walks. I can help anyone with anything.
Please email or call me. Thank you
Joe C. 509-421-7310

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

Thanks for the great article. The most important thing in my opinion is that you make something special, something different than others, especially, when there are more speakers. In the end, not the presentation with the best content, but the presentation which entertained the audience is remembered.

@ mike (1st posting)
Kennedy said, in correct German "Ich bin ein Berliner", which means "I am from Berlin" or "I am a citizen from Berlin". Berliner is also a food, but not in that context.

you say "ech ben ein berlina", which in German means "i am a doungut". ein berlina was a dougnut at the time, the correct way to say it is "ech ben berlina".

You are correct and you are not. First you can say "Ich bin ein Berliner" and mean "I am from Berlin." although technically "Ich bin Berliner" would be better.

Also, jelly doughnuts are called "Berliner" in most parts of Germany, except in Berlin. It is confusing otherwise. In Berlin, a jelly goughnut is called "Pfannkuchen", which means something else entirely in the rest of Germany.

hi i have a question i am 13 and i ws wondering what things you can do to get people to listen to you like for example one would be like in a famou speech the use the same saying 3 times so that it stays in the audiences head are there anyothers story telling is a good one but any other ones please i need this for my english oral speech.

About "ech ben ein berlina" - gelly dounuts are known in German speaking Europe as "Berliners". In Berlin though, they are called "pfankuchen" :).

As a hypnotherapist the most common phobia I help people with is public speaking. I always say that if you can speak calmly and confidently to one person, then you have all you need to speak to thousands. For my own public speaking, I found I can enjoy the occasion once I learnt to speak slowly and with pauses. I felt more relaxed and the audience were not overwhelmed by the speed of what I wanted to communicate.

These comments are right on the mark. In particular #2 and #5. If you want to read more about how to leverage events beyond just your presentation, please visit my blog at www.ericglazer.com

If you're top objective (at the conference which you are speaking) is to promote/sell your company’s products or services then the best way to accomplish this objective is to NOT sell during your presentation.

Entertaining the audience and offering free "value" will have them lining up for business cards after your talk while a sales pitch will find you alone at a table set for ten during lunch. Read more about how to effectively leverage conferences to market your company on my blog www.ericglazer.com.

This is great information, as i am about to start (Energy Savings Assn.).


Robert Swank

Good work, clauses articles are picked perfectly up.I express you only gratitude, for yours blog.

I think all єто the truth, and that who with you disagrees let goes in an ass,You it is simple good fellows.

Great advice Guy. Looking forward to your talk at WebmasterWorld Las Vegas!

Great advice...very usefull! Thank you.I hope to see you again

I'm looking for some feedback, comments on 2 fairly new blogs I have and would appreciate it very much.

thnks dave



Good stuff, but I've got a problem with it. The problem is with the intial concept that getting a standing ovation is a good thing. I'd want to go one step back from that and ask why we're presenting....

In our presentation skills training courses I get people to tell me what their best analogy for a presentation is. For a long time I used "a brick wrapped in velvet" (the message was the brick, the velvet was the way you presented it. Recently though, I've found a better one. A presentation is like a glass: its job is to support the liquid inside, let you appreciate what you're getting and not interfere at all - transparent, clear and simple. If people notice how nice my glass is, it means the whisky I'm serving them hasn't grabbed their attention! :)


In your case you've got a habit of not leaving the stage when event organisers want you to. You rebel without a cause you.


This only happened once in my career. You had to be there: there was only one session following me; the speaker was from Google, so she was filthy rich; it was early in the afternoon; it was their mistake to only give me 30 minutes; and I felt the mojo.



Having been speaking for years, I'm sorry I didn't fall upon this top ten earlier. Makes a world of difference.

Very good article, Guy. I fully agree with almost all of your points. I have a different opinion about the #5 Overdress part, though.

If you are really good, people don't care what you are wearing. I listened to many speeches, where the speaker was dressed totally different from the rest of the audience and nobody cared, because the speaker performed just great - and often also was one the best speakers of the day.

The audience may care at the beginning of your speech, but if you are good, they definitely won't care at the end.

A great trainer on public speaking said it like this: If you are not good, wear a tie.

Regarding the "I'm smarter/richer/more powerful than you" point you mentioned. If the person giving a speech also feels and acts like that ("I'm better than you, heheh"), it doesn't really matter if he/she is wearing a suite or just jeans and a t-shirt. He would come across as being arrogant anyway. However, if someone actually is richer, more famous and more powerful, but is giving his speech in a natural way at the same level of the audience, people won't care what he/she is wearing.

I also experienced that when you dress comfortably, your speeches are sometimes also better than when wearing a suite or whatever, just because everybody else does. Comfortable means, something that makes you feeling well when going to a specific event, etc., which could be a suite+tie, too. If you are speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, you may feel more comfortable, when wearing a suite.

Though, I still think, if you are good and you have someting interesting to tell, people won't care - even at the WEF in Davos. :)

Just my $0.02

Other than that, keep up the good work! :-)

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