RESPECT YOUR CRAFT! That’s what my dance director would yell as we’d wrap up a rehearsal to remind us to really give it our all for the finale, and that’s what I think about when I’m asked “How to end a speech or presentation.”
Hey, I get it. You’re putting so much effort into the main body of your speech that you might run out of steam by the end, and finish kind of abruptly with a meek “and if anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer.”
But the end should be the most exciting part. Know why? That’s what the audience remembers most.
Ever leave a presentation with only a vague idea of what you just learned? (Much less what you’re supposed to do about it.) That’s what happens when the ending of your speech is an afterthought.
So wouldn’t you rather leave a strong lasting impression? (Not a weak one?) Wouldn’t you rather create excitement and then capitalize on it by inspiring action? How you end a speech can make or break what happens next.
- It can make or break whether you make the sale.
- It can make or break whether you get the promotion.
- It can make or break whether your audience walks away inspired to take action and if they even remember everything you’ve just said.
That’s right. Even if you fumble in the beginning, even if you lose them in the middle, as long as you can bring it back strong in the end, your audience will go wild!
How to end a speech or presentation
“Begin with the end in mind”~ Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
So often I see presenters finish their last point and then basically just stop. And while you may think that your presentation went well, your audience walked away with basically nothing.
Before even beginning your presentation, you have to decide on the main takeaway message and what you want the audience to do with it.
Once you decide on those, you can create a strong conclusion and call to action that will ensure everyone leaves inspired and excited.
So how do we do that?
To recap, here’s my engagement formula for maximum gasps and nods from the audience:
Three main chunks
The Call to Action
How to transition into the end of the speech
You don’t want your speech to feel like you’re walking off a cliff.
Remember that your audience’s attention may have slightly wandered away and they need a little warning to perk it back up before the end. This will make sure that the “take-home message” really sinks in.
My suggestion is:
1 – Give a long pause to make sure that everyone catches up, and then
2 – Use transition words like:
- To summarize…
- Now let’s tie this all together…
- In conclusion, what does this all mean for you?
(See also – Speech transition words)
Grabbing attention at the very end will really help you finish on a strong note and leave a lasting impression. But your audience won’t know you’re in the home stretch unless you warn them!
The conclusion – connect the dots as you end your speech
Just like a good movie needs a resolution before the end, you need to take a moment and tie everything together. If you’re pinched for time (or ideas,) a quick way to do this is to offer a brief summary of the main points you just covered.
That’s fine. The most effective way, however, is to help connect the dots between the chunks of your presentation and the big picture.
What does this look like?
- Well, if you’re giving a sales pitch – re-state why you’re the obvious choice to work with.
- If you’re teaching a seminar on, say, mental health, recap on what they just learned and why it’s crucial to take action.
- And if you’re in front of your whole company sharing the details of the last project, remind them why it was such a success.
Don’t assume it’s obvious to your audience. Help them connect the dots.
I sometimes get a little pushback on this. We assume that some things should be left implied, especially when it comes to asking for business or patting yourself on the back after a successful project.
We also assume that the audience can draw their own conclusion, and we might even be insulting their intelligence by telling them what to think.
But I disagree. Remember that your audience’s attention ebbs and flows throughout your presentation, and they have not spent the hours upon hours thinking about this content like you have.
There’s nothing wrong with drawing your own conclusion and sharing it. People do want help in lightening their mental load.
Here’s a quick example
Say you’re trying to make the case for implementing a new time-tracking system to your upper management. Here’s how you can end your presentation:
- What’s the conclusion here? (A nice transition along with a pause.)
- I want to make a case for implementing this system permanently. (See, being direct is easy! Don’t leave it to assumption!)
- Given the overwhelmingly positive response from employee surveys, and the fact that similar companies are already attributing their success to this strategy, (Quick summary or recap of what you covered.)
- I think that using this system is the solution we’ve been looking for to increase our productivity in a way that EVERYONE will buy-in! (Tie it back to the big picture.)
Isn’t this so much better than “so that’s what this time-tracking system looks like… Any questions?”
But wait! It gets better!
The call to action – capitalize on the excitement!
This is where you make it obvious what to do next. Give them a next step, something to do as a result.
With the example above, you could give it that extra oomph by adding:
This is what I propose – I want the upper management to commit to using this for a month starting this week to REALLY set an example. What do we think?
If you’ve taken a moment to tie everything together in a conclusion, congratulations! You’ve just ensured that your audience remembers what you told them instead of having some vague idea of where they just spent their last hour.
But if you really want to kick it up a notch, end your speech with a call to action.
After a good speech, your audience should be excited and inspired, but they don’t know what to do next. Don’t squander this excitement. Give them that natural next step.
Those who have worked with me know that I give homework at the end of my lessons. This isn’t my sadistic way of playing school. I want you to take one action to really ingrain what you just learned.
A call to action doesn’t have to be big either. It can be a question to ponder (or to discuss,) it can be a piece of homework, or it can be an invitation to discuss what’s next.
- if you’re presenting about new productivity strategies, you can invite your group to open up their calendars right now to start implementing them.
- If you’re giving a mental health workshop, you can ask a question like “what can you do today to improve your mental health?”
- And if you’re giving a sales presentation, you can lead the sales process with “as we conclude, I’d love to start discussing how we can make this work for you.”
Whatever you choose, you’re putting the ball into the audience’s court to get their own gears turning for how they can use what they just learned.
What do we think?
Lastly, I want to invite you to rethink that last slide. The one that reads “Thank you. Questions?” There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I find that a more powerful way to finish up is to ask “What do we think?”
Using the word “We” reconnects you to the rest of the group and implies that you’ll be part of the decision-making process if there is one.
Also, asking for “thoughts” instead of questions invites the audience into a discussion rather than just a barrage for more information.
And then of course, don’t forget to say “Thank you” when you’re done.
So next time you end a presentation, RESPECT YOUR CRAFT and leave on a strong note.
Don’t forget to begin with the end in mind and tie your presentation together with a strong conclusion and a call to action.
PS – If you’re getting ready for that high-stakes talk and need help making it engaging, persuasive, and impactful, let’s connect to make it happen.
And if you want to learn more about delivering engaging presentations with confidence, check out my free online workshop.