People tend to remember the start and the ending of any speech or presentation. The recency effect is a memory default where we tend to remember the most recent events; so, it is important to ensure your presentation starts strongly but ends even more powerfully whether that’s in person or online, explains communication coach Vinette Hoffman-Jackson.
How many times have you heard a speaker give a perfectly good presentation or speech and then lose their audience right at the end?
Unfortunately, even business leaders often do not dedicate enough effort to preparing the closing of their presentations. They either end abruptly, tell the audience they are done, or mumble a “thank you”. There are some key points to remember when closing your presentation or speech:
- Make the close ten to fifteen percent of your speech. This may sound like a lot because most people tend to think the closing is only the last sentence of your presentation, but it should not be. Ten percent of a thirty-minute speech is just three minutes. This gives you a reasonable time to summarise key points, give a call to action or repeat your key messages without rushing.
- Craft your ending. Do not be tempted to ad lib. Deliver the closing as you have practised it. Going off on a tangent is likely to decrease the potency of your words and lose your audience. You’re also more likely to use filler words such as ahm, err or so.
- Your presentation should flow purposefully towards the ending. Make use of effective transitions to link the body of your presentation to the ending. A story to reiterate your key points and repeat your take-away message is a great way to finish. This can be a bigger wow factor if you started and ended with the same story and added an unexpected twist. You can also use transitional connectives such as ‘having heard all this, you now understand why’ or ‘I am sure at this point you are thinking…’
- Do not cut your ending short or rush it. If you lose track of time during your presentation, do not rush to squeeze in every sentence. Acknowledge that you have run out of time. If necessary, cut something before the end, but still deliver your closing.
- Signpost the ending. Most speakers tend to incorporate terms such as ‘in summary’, ‘finally’, or ‘to conclude’ to herald the closing of their presentation. These words will trigger the recency effect and the audience will re-engage – even those who have mentally wandered off.
- Change your voice tone. Monotony kills most speeches, especially if they are over five minutes. Everyone has their own voice/tone but a great speaker will always vary their tone and intonations during their speech. Your closing and final words should be delivered using your own voice/tone. This will come across with more authenticity and sincerity.
- Use your body language. If you are presenting in-person to the room, make the most of your body language. For example, standing in a fixed position, arms at your side and slowly looking around at your audience with a smile on your face, in most cases, will quieten a room. Try and get eye contact with specific audience members at different points around the room to spread calm and silence.
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For video face the camera, stay still, pause, possibly look around at the attendees on your screen (although you can’t make eye-contact in the same way, the gesture is clear), and then, having signposted with this body language, you can for example start your ending.
- Use the stage effectively. However, if you are on stage, whether the audience is in the room with you, or watching via a live stream and seeing the entire stage, then this point applies.
Each story or each point should ideally take place at different points on the stage. Movement will attract the attention of your audience; you determine the level of subtlety or exaggeration depending on your audience and what you are comfortable with.
Two thirds from the back and in the middle of the stage is where you should stand to end your speech. This enables you to see your entire audience and focus all their attention on you.
If your speech involves a podium or limited movement, use technique number seven.
- Use the wrap-around technique. Include a wrap-around and tie the closing of your speech to the opening. For example, a speaker may ask a rhetorical question at the start and ask the same question at the close using the closing minutes to give their answer.
You can also use a cliffhanger. With a story, everyone wants to know how it all ends. Start your speech with a story and leave the ending of the story to synchronise with the close of your presentation. This technique is best for shorter speeches as your audience can lose interest if the story is broken for too long.
How you structure the closing of your presentation will depend on your intended outcome. Do you want to leave your audience with a takeaway message, a call to action or a feeling?
An informative speech should always end with a short summary of the main points presented. Audiences tend to remember a list of three or keep it tight. Your final sentence should remind people of why this important and what is in it for them.
A speech that involves a call to action must appeal to ‘pathos’, the emotions of the audience. Your closing should include emotive language that appeals to the senses.
To inspire and leave an audience with a feeling, whether it is love, inspiration or even anger; choose a story. Use an impactful story that reinforces your message. Carefully craft the final line of that story and deliver it word for word. Pause, then give your call to action (which should be no more than three sentences).
For leaders in organisation presentations need to have impact and create momentum. We can always refresh and improve our presentations, so I hope you’ll find these tips useful.