By Vinette Hoffman-Jackson, Toastmasters International
Imagine the scene. You begin to speak. Your audience is loving your presentation. Then you get to the end, but you are the only person who knows this. You may experience an awkward pause, followed by some tentative clapping as the audience realizes you’ve finished!
The sad truth is many people do not dedicate enough time and effort to the closing of their speech. They either end abruptly, tell the audience they are done, or whisper thank you.
Unless you are blessed with an eidetic memory, most human beings are more likely 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 speech starts with a bang but ends with an even bigger bang!
There are a few general points to remember when closing your speech:
Make the closing 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. Remember to pause after each key point you want your audience to remember.
Craft and practise your ending.
Once signposted, every word must add impact to your speech. Do not lean into the temptation to ad-lib. Deliver the closing as you have practiced it. Going off on a tangent is likely to decrease the potency of your words and lose some part of your audience. You’re also more likely to use filler words such as ahm, err, or like. Excessive rambling will decrease your impact.
Design your presentation to build to the conclusion.
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 end. 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…’
Signpost the ending.
If you end abruptly you negate the recency effect as the audience’s brains will not be prepared. 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.
Keep your ending as you intended it to be.
Very occasionally speakers will lose track of time. When this happens, 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. Experience will help you become more adept at timings.
Make the most of 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. When the room is quiet and you have everyone’s attention, then start your ending.
You can use a similar principle on video too. 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, start your ending.
This ‘pause’ will need to be shorter via video than it would be if you were on-stage, but the aim and the effect is the same. It’s a signpost, a form of transition, it breaks the state and wakes everyone up!
Vary your voice.
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 the stage purposefully.
This only applies if your speech involves you moving around on stage. If it’s just your head and shoulders that can be seen on screen, then ignore this point! 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 for body language described above.
Introduce the wrap-around technique.
Expert speakers do a wrap-around and tie the closing of their speech to their opening. For example, the 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.
How you structure the closing of your speech 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. Try to stick with three main points as audiences tend to remember a list of three.
Your final sentence should remind people of why this important and what is in it for them or end on a quote that complements or strengthens your message. Remember to give the source of your quote first then say the quote and not vice versa. This will focus the audience on the message and not who said it.
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. For example, if you intend to give your audience a call to action so they stop smoking, you could end your speech with the following lines:
The next time you feel the smooth texture of a cigarette in your hand. The next time you hear the voices in your head saying ‘ Go on, take a puff, nothing will happen! The next time you smell that cigarette smoke and think it offers comfort, contentment, and calm. ‘ That next time… might just be your last time.
I want you to remember this picture of a father who will not see his children grow up, will not hear their laughter, will not kiss them goodnight, because of lung cancer. The message is simple. Stop smoking!
This closing is emotive and appealed to all the senses using a litany of literary devices. It is then followed by the final two words which is the key message.
No other tool can evoke a range of emotions as well as a well-told story. Choose a short, impactful story that reinforces your message. Carefully craft the final line of that story and deliver it word for word. The final line of your story should be followed with a pause then your call to action. Your call to action must not be more than three sentences long.
Use these suggestions to end your presentation or speech with maximum impact. This will ensure your words are remembered and discussed after the event.
Vinette Hoffman-Jackson, DTM is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
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