What the grand finale is to a musician at a concert, the conclusion is to a speaker on stage. Leading speakers end their speeches like rockstars —on a high note, vocally and intellectually. Just as a comedian should leave ‘em laughing, the speaker should leave ‘em thinking. Last moments matter.
Your mission with the speech closing is to:
- Reinforce a key message
- Crystallise the audience’s thoughts
- Provide a clear next steps
In this blog post I outline five powerful ways to close any speech or presentation. First some context.
What Usually Happens?
How often do you encounter a speech or presentation that ends with a slide reading ‘Any Questions?’ or ‘Thank You’? And then nothing happens. Everyone quietly claps, or just nods, and leaves the auditorium or conference room. It’s hard to imagine a less engaging finish to a speech, aside from simply walking off stage in silence.
The Correct Way to Close a Speech
How can you end your speech as confidently as you opened it? Here are 5 of the best ways:
1) Bookend the Opening
Let’s consider for a moment the 3 part speech outline that is traditional in speeches – the opening, body and conclusion – tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em; tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.
In my previous post about opening a speech I made a number of suggestions, for example making a startling statement, telling a personal anecdote or asking a question.
For closing the speech, it can be effective to make reference to the opening segment – that same statement, anecdote or question – to reiterate the message you want your audience to remember. This will achieve prefect symmetry in your speech and give you extra brownie points for using a clear structure and organisation.
Here’s an example of this technique, which I came across at Ragan’s PR daily:
Let’s say you open a speech to a group of part-time volunteers who are working to reduce the number of injuries suffered in house fires as follows:
I’m only going to speak to you for one hour this morning. During our hour together, someone, somewhere in America, is going to be badly injured in a house fire. By the time you begin lunch this afternoon, someone, somewhere in America, will die in a house fire. By dinner, another person will die. By the time you go to sleep, another person will die. As you sleep tonight, two more people will die.
I’m here today because I want to prevent that from happening. And I’m going to need your help.
You could then end the speech in the following way:
We’ve been together nearly an hour. That means that someone, somewhere in America, was just badly injured in a house fire. And we’re an hour closer to lunch, which means someone is about to perish in a house fire.
Your work matters. Because of your passion, you’re going to prevent someone from getting hurt. You’re going to spare a family from having to mourn a husband, a wife, a sister, a brother, or a child. And next year, when we meet again, I hope that because of your work, I’m unable to open my speech with the same tragic statistics that I used at the beginning of today’s session.
2) Callback a Story
Next up is the ‘callback’, a term which will be familiar to those in stand-up comedy (hello to any comedians reading this!). The American comic Patrick Bromley defines a callback as “a reference a comedian makes to an earlier joke in a set”. Callbacks in a speech work in a similar way.
You’re probably thinking that a callback is the same as a bookend. You’re almost right! The main difference is that a callback can refer to anything in the body of your speech, not just the opening. The technique of using call backs in speeches involves referring back to a story you told earlier, where some element of the story has not yet been fully divulged. The callback allows you to complete the story and close it around your key message.
3) Emphasise the Title
Sticking with comedy for a moment, just as comedians aim to ‘leave ’em laughing’, as a speaker you should aim to ‘leave ’em thinking.’ And you can do this effectively by giving your speech a provocative title. A clever title ensures that the audience captures your message memorably.
So how can you bring the title into your conclusion? By reiterating the title in your conclusion, you can empower your audience to think more deeply about what they’ve just heard. As Peter Jeff famously said:
Last words crystallise your thoughts, galvanise your message, and mobilise your audience
4) Ask a Question
You can ask a rhetorical question at any point throughout your speech, but asking one at the end is particularly powerful, since members of the audience will leave your talk with the question still lingering in their minds. An effective way of achieving this outcome is to end with a question related the the theme, that broadens the discussion and gets people thinking.
5) Make a Call to Action
In my own view, the best way to end a speech is to provide the audience with a call to action i.e. challenge them to apply what you have told them in the speech. After all, the audience has been sitting passively for the entire presentation. Now it’s time to get them involved. The call to action must be related to what you’ve been talking about, it should be specific, and it should be relatively simple.
For example you could ask your audience to turn to a person near them and pledge that they’ll start the gym plan you’ve been discussing or commit to volunteering for the charitable cause you’ve talked about.
Over to You
An effective closing can make all the difference between being forgotten or being remembered as a speaker. The ultimate goal is to leave the audience thinking what you want them to be thinking, feeling what you want them to be feeling, and doing what you want them to be doing. Give it a go!
In case you missed it, you can read about 5 ways to open any speech here.