This piece is produced by Jeff Porro, speechwriter at Porro Associates LLC. www.porrollc.com
Almost every top executive discovers that one of his or her most important and challenging roles is to give speeches and presentations that will move key audiences –employees, customers, investors, and even the business press—to take action.
What too many business leaders don’t realize is that, when it comes to motivating an audience, the ending is the most important part of an engaging presentation. Why? Because all of us tend to remember the last thing we hear a speaker say. A weak ending, therefore, usually means your presentation won’t have much impact, even if the beginning and middle are well done.
Unfortunately, I hear far too many executives finish up their remarks to an audience by saying something like this:
“Well, that’s about all I have to say, and I see my time is about up.”
“So now I’ll answer any questions.”
No listener is going to be moved by that kind of an ending.
To engage and motivate your audience, instead of making their eyes glaze over, here are some much better ways to finish strong.
1. Start with the end at the beginning. When you prepare any kind of speech or talk, start by asking, what result do I want from my audience? What do I want them to do after they hear me? Then look at the way you plan to end the speech, and make sure those final words help achieve that result. This may sound obvious, but far too many executive speeches I’ve heard seem to end not on a high point, but instead just slump to a close when time runs out.
2. Bookend. One of the classic and most effective ways to end a speech is to circle back to the beginning of the presentation at the end. For example, if you start by talking about a problem or challenge facing your organization, return to that challenge at the end – ideally by proposing a solution. If you start by mentioning a company anniversary or milestone, refer to it again as you close your remarks.
3. Do something out of the ordinary. Look for something exciting or dramatic that you can use at the end. You don’t have to go overboard, but you can search out an unusual quote (I found one from daredevil Evel Knievel that I used for one client), or bring in a little known event in history, describe a case of strange bed fellows, etc. The key is to find something that makes the audience sit up and take notice. One warning: remember that using humor in any part of a speech can be risky, and especially in endings. So be very careful with it. More specifically, I advise strongly against finishing with a joke.
4. T.A.P. (Talk About People). Try to end your speech with the human touch. To illustrate the larger point you’re making, find an evocative story or vignette that involves an actual human being doing something. The more specific you can be the better. (“Dr. Jane Williams got interested in cyber security research because of something that happened to her mother…”)
5. Do take questions, but don’t end with them. A Q&A session following your remarks can be an effective way to connect with an audience. The problem is that you can’t control the questions. Therefore, you won’t have much say in which are the last words the audience hears at your presentation. As one of my presentation coaching friends has said, “That last question can lead your whole speech down a rat hole.” Instead, set aside a limited time for Q&A, and then re-assert control. Step to the podium one last time and deliver your final, final remarks.
6. And most importantly, show you know your audience. To engage any audience, and especially the ones that are vital to your organization’s success, you must demonstrate that you understand their concerns. Never use a generic ending. Always finish with a few sentences that make it clear you are know what worries, puzzles, or excites the specific group of people who are listening to you.