All good things must come to an end, including your presentation. Especially your presentation. The way you close will affect how your audience responds and remembers.
A weak ending will leave them unenthused and uninspired, within a few hours they may even have forgotten your message.
But a strong ending will fire them up. A strong ending motivates and empowers. A strong ending encourages people to take action.
So how do you end on a high? Here are 6 tips to ensure you go out with a bang.
1) Call your audience to action
It's not enough to assume your message will inspire people to take action. You need to actually tell them to take action.
I asked Dee Clayton, motivational speaker, public speaking trainer and author of Taming Your Public Speaking Monkeys to share her insight and experience. The call-to-action is Dee's preferred method of closing a speech.
"Summing up the action you want your audience to take is a great way to finish up. To do this, it's best to use a two-pronged approach:
- Start with a negative motivation – help them see how bad things will be if they don't do what you are suggesting.
- Finish with a positive motivation – paint a picture of how good things will be when they do what you recommend."
Dee stresses the importance of following this pattern.
Always give the negative first, followed by the positive. You'll end on a motivating high and will maximise your chances of inspiring the audience into action.
2) Refer back to the opening message
Closing a presentation with a look back at the opening message is a popular technique. It's a neat way to round off your message, whilst simultaneously summing up the entire speech.
There are a few ways to approach this technique:
- Set up a question at the beginning of your speech and use your ending to answer it.
- Finish a story you started, using the anecdote to demonstrate your message.
- Close with the title of the presentation – this works best with a provocative, memorable title.
Do you know who's really good at this technique? Stand up comedians. They often make jokes early in the set that they unexpectedly refer back to (in a different context) at the end.
This is known as callback comedy and it often generates the biggest laugh of the night. It's a powerful move because it creates a feeling of familiarity and camaraderie with the audience, making them feel like they're in on the joke.
3) Practice the rule of three
The rule of three is a simple yet powerful and effective method of communication. We use it in written and spoken communications all the time (did you notice I used it just then?).
The rule of three is the understanding that ideas, concepts and beliefs are more memorable and interesting when presented in threes. It's a very persuasive number, three.
Here are three excellent real-world examples of the rule of three. First, Winston Churchill:
This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Now, Julius Caesar:
Veni, vidi, vici.
And Benjamin Disraeli:
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
4) Close with a summary
"If you've already explained your content well and in an engaging way, there is no need to summarise the content again at the end," Dee Clayton says.
She's right. There are far more powerful ways to end your presentation. However, it might be necessary if your message is particularly complicated or your speech is a long one.
Summarising content can be a little dry – both for you and your audience. Make your summary more palatable with humour, a fascinating anecdote or interesting linguistic devices (like repetition, rhyming, and the rule of three).
5) Don't end with the questions
If Dee has one absolute speechwriting no-no, it's this:
Never end with the questions. Too many people make this mistake. If you get a negative question, you've dulled the whole presentation and the audience leave on a negative note. Always do the questions before the wrap up.
Too many people end with questions and it often goes off track. This is memorable for no one. By the time you've answered a handful of semi-relevant questions, the audience have forgotten most of what you've told them.
Take questions throughout your presentation so they remain pertinent to the content.
6) Make it clear that you've finished
Nothing is more uncomfortable than the deafening silence of an audience working out if you've finished.
Your closing words should make it very clear that it's the end of the presentation. The audience should be able to read this immediately, and respond (hopefully with applause).
If the applause isn't forthcoming, stand confidently and wait. Don't fidget and certainly don't eke out a half-hearted, 'And that just about covers it. Thank you'.
Dee used her two-prong approach to explain the importance of making your ending clear:
If you don't spend some time considering how to end your presentation, you may find yourself floundering at the end. You may wonder why few people actually action what you suggest and why there's no reassuring applause! But when you do put a bit of thought, planning and practice into your ending, you will look confident, inspire the audience into action and be able to leave the stage with your head held high.
And isn't that all we really want from our presentations?