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The story behind the Big Omaha standing ovation

Grasshopper co-founder David Hauser speaks at Big Omaha 2010.

By now, Big Omaha attendees have been in and out of their seat several dozen times, and some may be wondering: what gives with giving each speaker a standing ovation before they begin?

Credit David Hauser of Grasshopper, who started the tradition when he spoke at the second Big Omaha in 2010.  

“I remember sitting there next to the tech table, with my mic on, going over my notes and looking at my slides trying to make my final decision on what to do at the start of my talk,” Hauser said this week.  

During some speaking engagements earlier that year, he’d made a joke out of forcing the audience to give him an early standing ovation, and he also recalled hearing a suggestion that “you should start every meeting with a standing ovation, cause something great had happened since the last meeting.”

Suddenly, those two concepts came together for him.

“Right there I decided I was going to try something new,” Hauser said, and “get everyone to agree to give every speaker for the rest of the conference a standing ovation when they walked on stage and walked off. My promise to everyone was this would make it the best conference they ever attended, as what speaker would not love that and then deliver the best talk they ever had?”

“What would be even better was since they were not expecting it, the feeling would be 10x,” he said.  

The before-the-speaker standing ovation was cemented further when Hauser returned as emcee in 2011, and it’s now a part of our three Big Series events.

Other Big Series alums like Brad Feld have praised the practice. Last fall, Feld wrote a blog post calling it “awesome” and said “it so changes the tone of the transition from speaker to speaker in a powerful and positive way.”

“It sort of became tradition all on its own,” said Dusty Davidson, our co-founder. “It keeps the energy level high, it keeps the audience engaged, and it makes the speakers feel incredibly welcome.

“It’s always fun to watch the speakers who don’t know it’s going to happen,” he said, but “it’s as much fun for the attendees as the speakers.”

Big Omaha is a two-and-a-half-day event that aims to inspire, educate and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest. Produced by Silicon Prairie News, it’s part of the Big Series, the nation’s most ambitious events on innovation and entrepreneurship.


Credits: Photo by Malone & Co.

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