When presenting to an audience whose minds you wish to fundamentally change, a standing ovation means you failed.
First, recognize that you seldom find yourself delivering a presentation designed to change minds. Instead, you present mostly to audiences who already agree with you, or are prepared to agree with you. No mind changing required. That’s because given the choice:
- a person will attend the presentation of a speaker he already agrees with
- a speaker will tailor her message to an audience so that it resonates with their existing worldview
But in the case you do find yourself with both the opportunity and the courage to actually change people’s minds, know that standing ovations, wide-eyed smiles, thunderous applause or any overly enthusiastic reactions are all false positives. They’re signs you fascinated, entertained, inspired, but you didn’t go deep enough to provoke real change.
Think about a deeply held belief you have and imagine someone successfully poking holes in it, convincing you of your need to change, and then forcing you to confront the painful realities associated with that change. In the moment, you’re more likely to jeer that person than praise him.
On the other hand, skepticism, mild resentment, sadness, confusion, reactions that normally horrify speakers, might actually signal that your audience is seriously considering a transformation. These expressions are usually accompanied by a polite golf clap, not a standing ovation.
But if you’re really serious about changing minds, you ought not look too hard for signals of success altogether. Because although individuals are capable of changing at any moment during the course of your presentation they rarely will. Instead, they’ll change their mind over breakfast a week later, so they can convince themselves it was their idea all along.
The true champion can deal. The cause is more important than the credit. Maybe some day in the future they’ll realize the gift you gave them. Maybe on on another night, they’ll give you a true standing ovation.