“In closing, I would like to leave you with this final thought . . .” Those words are music to an audience’s ears. Speakers often delude themselves into thinking that audiences lean in at the close of a presentation because they can sense that it is about to end with a time-saving, money-making or life-changing call-to-action. But it might surprise you to learn that, in fact, audience members will tell you that they are excited at the close because they know your presentation is almost over. There can and should be more to it than giving them the opportunity to escape and, like most things in life, there is a wrong and a right way to close a presentation. Let’s start by examining the wrong way and then we’ll end with the right way.
Closing is a critical part of your presentation. If your speech was Thanksgiving dinner, the closing would be the turkey. For this reason, you should know exactly what you’re going to say. If you begin the creative speech-writing process at the end as opposed to the beginning (which I highly recommend), it’s not uncommon to write the close before you write the opening.
As I tell my coaching clients, winging it is for planes and chickens, not speakers.
Your close is your last opportunity to inspire, challenge or make an impression on your audience. Considering that your audience’s attention will naturally wane near the end of your presentation, the last thing you can afford is an anticlimactic ending. A very intelligent speaker once said that you should approach your close like a concert; start with the second-best song and close with everyone’s favorite.
Let’s look at three of the top-flop closes so that you will never repeat them.
Can of worms:
By definition, the word “close” means to bring to an end. Some presenters are so full of ideas that they can’t resist ending their presentation with a new one. Be cautious not to opening a brand-new can of worms at the end of your presentation. It’s the equivalent of ending a phone call by saying hello.
Question and answer:
One of the ways professional speakers sniff out the rookies is when they use the Q & A close. Generally, Q & A elevates a presentation because of audience interaction and the fact that you learn what’s important to them through their questions. However, it makes no sense to build an entire presentation and surrender the most pivotal moment of it to the quality of your audience’s questions. Learn and adopt the phrase, “I have time for one more question before I close.”
The crash landing close occurs when the speaker just stops talking, which is usually evidenced by the puzzled and confused looks on the audiences’ faces. Following a crash landing, your audience is not even sure if they should applaud (Awkward!). This is the equivalent of making a sales pitch and not asking for the business.
Done properly, the lead-up to your close should build anticipation, like the feeling you get when you’ve endured a long flight and you finally hear “‘bong bong’ . . . flight attendants, please prepare the cabin. We’ve been cleared to land.”
Here are three closing options that should follow that feeling of excited anticipation.
This close is great when you have ongoing contact with your audience after your presentation. It allows you to plant a seed with the question and subsequently cultivate it in smaller groups or one-to-one encounters. For example, my friend, Charles Dunn, delivers an amazing leadership speech where he closes with the question, “would you follow you?”
Imagine giving a speech about the power of purging the things in your life that no longer serve you and you close by saying, “And never forget what Paulo Coelho said, It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters . . . it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”
Story is the magic elixir in communications. The perfect story at the end of a presentation is like pouring strawberry glaze on a perfectly blended cheesecake. I sometimes close presentations with a technique known as bookending. That simply means that you connect your opening and closing stories like bookends. For example, I open some presentations with a story about how I flopped in the Easter play as a kid and end with a story about winning a speaking competition at a National Speaker’s Association conference.
“In closing, I would like to leave you with this final thought…”
Dez Thornton is a communications coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.