Have you ever seen a fantastic fireworks show?
If so, you not only experienced a brilliant display of light, colour, and sound against the night sky, but you also witnessed one of the most important principles of effective presentations: ending with a bang, says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”
While the opening of a presentation draws the audience in, the last thing you say is what they remember. “Your ‘grand finale’ is your final chance to make a lasting impression, reiterate your key points, tell the audience why the message is important, and ask them to respond to your recommended next steps.”
Here are the six worst types of grand finales:
Not announcing you’re wrapping up.
Audiences often feel confused when the speaker does not provide a clear road sign that the speech or presentation is coming to an end. “Therefore, before closing, you should always announce it,” Price says. “Tell the audience you’re getting ready to conclude the speech.” Not only does this announcement courteously prepare your listeners for the ending, it also heightens their attention level and makes the closing more memorable, she says.
Here are a few sample phrases to signal the ending:
“As I conclude this presentation, let me ask you a question.”
“In respect of time, allow me to wrap-up my comments.”
“I’m going to close my presentation with … “
“In conclusion … “
“In summary … “
Not offering a summary.
The average adult attention span is only five minutes, according to a study commissioned by Lloyds TBS Insurance in 2008, Price explains. “Despite the causes — fast-paced technology, task-saturated schedules, Attention Deficit Disorder, stress, or other factors — your audience needs to be reminded of your key points again, and again, especially in the closing.” So, briefly summarize what you’ve told them.
Price offers the example of a CEO who did it right: “As I conclude this presentation, let me ask you a question: How will you care for the planet? In summary, please remember the three Rs we’ve covered here today: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle … “
Not providing a call to action.
The purpose of presenting is to persuade. Your content may be informational and entertaining, but ultimately you want your listeners to respond in some way, whether in thought, word, or action. “This requires telling them what you want them to do in response to your message,” Price says. “Fill in the blank: ‘At the end of my presentation, I want my audience to __.’ Is it fund my project? Recommend my solution? Approve the budget? Comply with regulations? Agree with my position?” Pick an action verb and ask for it, she says.
Here are a few examples from famous speeches:
Susan B. Anthony’s 1873 “Is It A Crime For A Citizen Of The United States To Vote?” speech: “We ask the judges to render true and unprejudiced opinions of the law, and wherever there is room for a doubt to give its benefit on the side of liberty and equal rights to women.”
John F. Kennedy’s 1961 U.S. presidential inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
“A call to action tells the audience exactly what you want them to do, and every great persuasive speech or presentation has one,” Price says.
Leaving the audience with a ‘dud ending.’
Have you ever heard a speaker end an otherwise effective presentation with an abrupt, “Thank you,” or worse, an anti-climatic statement such as, “That’s all. Any questions?” or “I’m done”? “For the audience, it’s like a firework with a wet fuse, otherwise known as a ‘dud,'” Price explains. “Instead, after the summary, call-to-action, and tie-back, conclude with an impactful statement that encapsulates the most important idea of your message.” Many of history’s most famous quotes were the last words of a well-crafted speech, she says.
For example, in 1775, Patrick Henry convinced legislators to deliver the necessary troops to the American Revolutionary War with his final words, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
Other famous examples:
Winston Churchill: “Let men still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”
Martin Luther King: “Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
“Remember to say last what you want the audience to remember most,” Price says.
Failing to tie up loose ends.
“In the principle known as ‘Chekhov’s Gun,’ playwright Anton Chekov advises fellow writers, ‘If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there,'” Price says. “For presenters and speakers, this is known as the ‘tie-back principle.’ If in the opening you use a quote, show a photo, assert a claim, tell a story, employ a prop, or present a statistic — whatever the ‘rifle’ — be sure to ‘fire’ it in the ending.” Don’t leave it hanging there as a loose end. Refer back to its significance, solve the puzzle, or bring it to resolution.
This approach bookends your presentation and seamlessly connects the opening with the closing for a very professional finish, Price says.
Concluding with a Q&A.
The most common error presenters make is ending the presentation with a Q&A. “By all means, conduct a question and answer session at some point in the middle, and allow plenty of time for audience discussion and concerns; however, never close on it,” Price says. Allot time to end your presentation with what you want to say: a strong summary, a compelling call to action, and powerful closing statement.
Your last words will most likely be the first words your audience remembers, Price says, so craft an effective three-part closing: deliver a strong summary; present a call-to-action; and conclude with a powerful closing statement. “You’ll light up the hearts and minds of your listeners and end with a bang,” she concludes.
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