How to end your presentation with skill
It’s been said that a strong beginning to a presentation is the most important part of gaining audience attention.
Really?…ever heard of the Recency Effect?
The Recency Effect was discovered by the psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, during experiments on memory. Simply, it says that “given a list of items to remember, we will tend to remember the last few things more than the things in the middle.” Dr. Ebbinghaus’ research showed that we tend to assume that items at the end of the list of are greater importance.
It’s the reason so many court cases are won on the strength of the lawyer’s closing argument. It’s a lesson I learned from years of being a performer. You can make a flub anytime during a show, but as long as you end strong, the audience is likely to forget any mishaps and think the performance was great.
Bottom line . . . endings matter. Specifically, the way you close your presentation is as important as how you open your presentation. (Want tips on that? Check out: How to Start a Presentation.) A sloppy or uninspired ending can undermine an otherwise successful presentation.
That’s what this blog post is about: how to end your presentation with skill. We’ll look at how to signal you’ve reached the end of your presentation. Then we’ll look at how to summarize your main point and how to add a call to action to your presentation. Finally, we’ll consider some common closes for presentations. When you finish this post, you should have a better idea how to end your presentation so that it sticks with audience members.
This post is drawn in part from our NobleEdge leadership workshop, The Art of Skilled Presentations. In addition to learning about how to use your mind and body to increase your presentation skills, participants practice and present with each other to learn how to make their presentations impactful and memorable.
Ready? Let’s go!
Signal to your audience that you are coming to a close
Your audience has been present with you the entirety of your presentation. So, we want to ease them into your wrap-up. Don’t shock your audience with an abrupt ending. Signal that things are beginning to close so they are prepared.
There are a number of common phrases you can utter to signal you’re nearing the end of your presentation:
“Before I leave, let me leave you with this closing thought... ”
“Let’s wrap up…”
“This brings me to the end of my presentation…”
“Well, that is all I have for today…”
“So, what does this mean for you?...”
“I see that our time is just about up. As I finish,…”
The point is to just make it obvious that the presentation is coming to an end. This will help your audience stay attentive to your final thoughts.
Summarize your main points
Back in grade school, I learned the rule for giving a speech was to “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Said differently, your presentation should have a short list of key messages—maybe one!—that you lead with and then weave throughout your content, ultimately ending with them once again.
One of the most successful things you can do as you bring your presentation to a close is to summarize your main points. But don’t just read off your main points like a laundry list. Think of it like the last paragraph of an academic essay. Identify the most crucial points from your presentation and summarize them briefly and in context so they make sense.
This is how British author and public speaker, Andy Puddicombe, closed his TED Talk “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes”:
“We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life. But we can change the way that we experience it. That’s the potential of meditation, of mindfulness. You don’t have to burn any incense and you definitely don’t need to sit on the floor. All you need to do is to take 10 minutes out a day to step back, to familiarize yourself with the present moment so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm, and clarity in your life. Thank you very much.”
Make a call to action
A very effective way to impact your audience as you wrap up your presentation is to challenge them to take action. At the end of your presentation, prompt your audience to follow up on your words with behavior that will reinforce it in their own lives.
Here’s how Molly Lavoie, founder of March For Our Lives, a youth-led movement dedicated to promoting civic engagement to eliminate gun violence, used a call to action in the closing segment of her TED Talk on why young people should be politically active:
“People ask me, “Why do you care so much about politics?” At the end of the day, it’s because I care about people. I care about the planet. I care about my future. It doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer or campaign. It can be as simple as the next time you hear somebody putting somebody down or the next time there’s a bill that comes out that you really want to support, do it. Go for it. Create artwork and solidarity for it. Have a conversation. All forms of activism are valid and all of these little things add up to progress. No progress has ever been made in complacency. Thank you.”
More strategies that will help you end strong
Here is a look at some additional effective techniques that presenters often use to reinforce their message as they conclude:
Use a quote. Sometimes you just can’t find the right words to make the point you want to make, something that will stir your audience. So, why not use someone else’s words? It’s simple enough to find such a quote. Google it. Just type in “Inspirational quotes about X” and you’ll be flooded with options.
Here’s how climate advocate, Al Gore, used a quote in the closing segment of his TED Talk “This is the moment to take on the climate crisis”:
“You know, Voltaire once said, ‘If you can convince people of absurdities, you can convince them to commit atrocities.’ We are seeing that…on a global basis by the reckless indifference to the future of humanity. What will we say to the next generations when they look back and say, ‘You had a chance to do this’? We have the means!...”
Ask a rhetorical question. Asking a rhetorical question can keep your audience thinking about your presentation long after it’s over. Something to “chew” on.
Entrepreneur Ric Elias, who survived the crash of Flight 1549, gives a great example by ending his TED talk “Three things I learned while my plane crashed” with four very powerful and poignant rhetorical questions:
“I was given the gift of a miracle of not dying that day. I was given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. I challenge you guys that are flying today: Imagine the same thing happens on your plane. How would you change? What would you get done today that you’ve been waiting to get done because you thought you’d be here forever? How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them? And, more than anything, are you being the best parents you can? Thank you.”
Tell an inspirational story. People love stories. If you can connect emotionally with your audience through a compelling story, you’ll go a long way toward making sure the audience retains your key points and is moved to action.
Here’s how author and journalist, Celeste Headlee, closed her TED talk “10 ways to have a better conversation”:
“I grew up with a very famous grandfather and there was a kind of ritual in my home. People would come over to talk to my grandparents. After they would leave, my mother would come over to us and say, ‘Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America.’ ‘He was the major of Sacramento.’ ‘She won the Pulitzer Prize.’ ‘He’s a Russian ballet dancer.’ So, I grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them. And honestly, I think it’s what makes me a better host. I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can. I keep my mind open and I’m already prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed. You do the same thing. Go out. Talk to people. Listen to people and most importantly, be prepared to be amazed. Thanks.”
Use body language. I’ve seen too many people who have just buried their noses in their notes and then just turn and walk away. At best, it’s unprofessional. At worst, it’s just rude.
Ending a presentation using your body is surprisingly similar to how I recommend you start a presentation. Begin with good eye contact and a smile—maybe a little head nod. Connect with your audience – human to human. Make the “exclamation point” of ending resonate physically.
Take a pause. Let silence bring the attention back into the room. Silence creates tension and expectation. It’s a powerful tool to connect with your audience.
I often recommend that, if possible, move from behind the lectern and make your final statement unencumbered. The movement will signal you are wrapping up and make it easier for you to exit.
And don’t forget to say thank you. Common courtesies should not be forgotten. Saying “thank you” at the end of your presentation provides an opportunity to express your gratitude for your audience’s time and attention. It also provides finality so there’s no misunderstanding that you are done with your presentation. Let the applause begin
One more thing…a recommendation of what NOT to end with
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re already familiar that I’m not a fan of ending a presentation with “Are there any questions?” or an open Question and Answer (Q&A) session. They often run long and not everyone wants to sit through it. What’s more, the Q&A session isn’t something you can control as easily as the body of your presentation. People can ask off-topic questions or dive into a tangent that doesn’t reinforce your main theme.
Not having questions at the end of a presentation means you can stay in control of the mood, what people take away from your presentation, and the timing. It’s important that the audience goes home remembering the key points of the speech, not with a memory of a Q&A that may divert attention from your main objective. (But you may ask… “what if I want people to ask questions?” My advice? Integrate them within your presentation. Don’t save them to the end. Want more details? Check out: Avoid These Presentation Mistakes).
How to end your presentation with skill
It’s amazing how many presentations simply fizzle out. That’s too bad because if the ending isn’t memorable, you’ve missed an opportunity to influence your audience. Summarize your main points. Use phrases to signal the ending is coming, and then reinforce the main points of your message through a call to action, questions, quote,s or an inspirational story. Take time to connect with your audience with good eye contact, a smile, a pause, and a courteous farewell. Remember – what you say last is what your audience will remember first.
Want more tips? See: How to calm your nerves before a presentation.
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Marie Tjernlund is the Co-founder and President of NobleEdge Consulting, a leadership development company. As an accomplished executive coach, certified Conflict Dynamics Profile® facilitator, and a professional performer, Marie brings her positive energy and enthusiasm to clients around the world. You can contact her at Marie@NobleEdgeConsulting.com.