Most speakers spend lots of time and energy preparing the introduction of their presentations, but the same doesn’t always hold true for their conclusions. And yet, it’s those last few moments that really stick with the audience. How we end a presentation is just as important as how we begin one, and the following tips will help you make sure the ending of your next presentation gets the time and attention it deserves.
Don’t Add New Information
The conclusion is a time to review, not to add new information. At this point in the presentation, you should have already given your audience all the information they need. It will only confuse them if you add new information when you are supposed to be wrapping up. I once watched an informative presentation on night terrors. The research was grounded, the information was clear, and the speaker was engaging. However, in her conclusion, she decided to throw in a war metaphor about fighting the battle of night terrors. The war imagery came out of left field and surprised everyone. It felt “stuck on.” Now, had she used that metaphor at the beginning of her presentation and woven it throughout, it might have been effective. In this case, however, it felt misplaced and unnecessary.
Drive It Home
In his book The Semiotic Challenge, Roland Barthes explores the historical tradition of the beginnings and endings of speeches. He writes, “in the exordium [introduction], the orator must commence with prudence, reserve, proportion, in the epilogue [conclusion], he need no longer contain himself, he commits himself deeply, brings forth all the resources of the machinery of pathos [emotional appeals].” I think what Barthes is saying is that the conclusion is the place to pull out all the stops and make one last, wholehearted effort to truly move the audience. You can use a powerful story, a persuasive call to action, or a particularly salient quote. If you want to end your presentation with impact, take those last few moments to drive home what you’ve said and appeal to the emotions of your audience.
Let It Echo
It’s painfully awkward when a presenter ends her message only to be met with silence. However, if your last sentence doesn’t have end weight, it will be unclear to the audience that you are finished. This might lead you to fumble to say something like “thank you” or “do you have any questions?” to clue the audience in that you have, in fact, concluded. To avoid this uncomfortable situation, your very last sentence has to have a powerful end weight. While it’s hard to define the intangible, what I mean by “powerful end weight” is anything that carries the punctuation of the last sentence into the silence that follows. In well-written last sentences, you can almost “hear” the exclamation, question, or finality of that line as it echoes. Here are two examples of conclusions with end weight taken from the 10 most popular TEDx talks.
“And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but a real revolution.” – Shawn Anchor
“I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always 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.” – Celeste Headlee.
The next time you are preparing for a presentation, give that conclusion the time and energy it deserves. Review the most important points one final time. Wholeheartedly drive home what you’ve said and what you believe and appeal to the emotions of your audience. And write a last line with powerful end weight that echoes beyond the presentation’s end.
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