Do you ever think of how you’ll end your presentation . . . with a carefully prepared presentation conclusion?
Do you carefully craft your conclusion so that your audience is left with the most powerful points you were trying to make? Do you practice that presentation conclusion?
Do you ensure that your ending is concise, pithy, and especially powerful? And if it’s not, have you ever wondered how the audience views you when you continue talking with nothing more to say? A friendly audience quickly becomes a hostile army.
Don’t Forget to Prepare Your Presentation Conclusion
This phenomenon has lurked with us for hundreds of years, since the first school of public speaking was founded in the 5th Century B.C. by Corax. J. Berg Esenwein sagely observed more than a century ago that:
“Few speakers discern that length does not indicate depth. Better stop before you are done than to go on after you have finished. Only makers of short speeches are invited to speak again.”
Grenville Kleiser, another presentation master notes the disparity between how we give the presentation conclusion only a nod when we should be lavishing on it a manic focus guaranteed to drive our main point to the hearts of our listeners . . .
It is the most vital part of a speech, the supreme moment when the speaker is to drive his message home and make his most lasting impression. This calls for the very best that is in a man. . . . it should be short, simple, and earnest. [T]he temptation to make the closing appeal too long should be carefully avoided. Whether the speech be memorized throughout or not, the speaker should know specifically the thought, if not the phraseology, with which he intends to end his address.”
I criticize public speaking adages as shortcut substitutes for learning how to be an exceptional presenter, but one pithy public speaking saying goes like this: “Check your tie, check your fly, say your piece and say goodbye.” Strangely enough, it’s the “goodbye” part that can be difficult for some people, young and old, male and female.
In fact, it’s common to see young speakers spiral out of control on the downside of a fine presentation.
The presentation conclusion trips them up.
Presentation Conclusions That Spiral Down
I have seen great student presentations founder at the last minute, because no one had thought it through all the way to the end. No one had thought to prepare or to practice how they would end the presentation. So it ended with a whimper instead of a powerful recapitulation of the main point.
Why is this important?
1) The conclusion is the last impression you leave your audience as you call them to action.
2) If not planned, your conclusion can and most likely will expand into another speech, and few things turn off an audience more.
3) This potentially powerful part of your show becomes, instead, a debilitating albatross that subtracts value.
Despite all of this, the ending remains a neglected aspect of the presentation. Its chief pathology is the speaker’s inability to stop. Here, I l let several of the great presentation masters speak to an issue that has plagued speakers for centuries. William Hoffman said in 1935 that:
“It is well to have an ending in mind. What the speaker says last is remembered first by the audience. When he has hinted that he is about to conclude, he will spoil everything if he continues to plod along looking for a place to stop. The audience is already in the mood to leave and is impatient with this failure to wind up the business promptly. Annoyance is the only response to ‘one more thing,’ ‘as I said before,’ ‘I urge you once again,’ ‘I forgot to say,’ and the other pathetic delays of the speaker who is through but does not know it.”
From 2100 years ago, Quintilian tells us this about the conclusion:
“The repetition and summing up is intended both to refresh the memory of the judge, to set the whole cause at once before his view, and to enforce such arguments anybody as had produced an insufficient effect in detail. In this part of our speech, what we repeat ought to be repeated as briefly as possible, and we must, as is intimated by the Greek term, run over only the principal heads; for, if we dwell upon them, the result will be, not a recapitulation, but a sort of second speech.”
Just as important, do not flee the stage prematurely. Do not run off-stage as you deliver your last lines.
Do not destroy your conclusion in a flurry of movement, losing the last sentence in a turn of the head and a rush to leave the stage. Make your Most Important Point . . . and let your conclusion sink in.
For more on delivering a powerful presentation conclusion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.