The moment of truth has arrived.
You had them at the open. The audience was clearly focused, nodding as you delivered your message. Eyes locked as you wove through a carefully crafted medley of stories, anecdotes and analogies, all supporting your message. The majority of your audience agrees with your remarks.
The time has come to conclude, at which point you exclaim: "In conclusion, I appreciate your time. Thank you!"
And then nothing happens.
Everyone quietly claps, or just nods, and leaves the auditorium or conference room.
What can you do to prevent such a muted response? Here are five effective techniques for closing a speech or presentation:
1. Direct Call to Action. A speech or presentation without a clear call to action is a speech or presentation that probably isn't worth giving. While it's not appropriate for every address, there is no clearer call to action than a direct one, such as:
"In order to guarantee that we save ______ tomorrow, we need to _____ today. If every person in this room leaves and immediately _____, I can guarantee that will result in ______ next year!"
2. (Very) short story or anecdote. Show, don't tell. Use a brief story or anecdote to drive a message. I once had a Major League Baseball player as a client, and he effectively told the following (abridged) story to end a presentation about teamwork:
"So, coach entered the locker room after a pretty tough game in which a number of us had standout performances, and the result was … a big loss. One of our players went four for four. Coach called him by his last name, Smith, asked him to come up front, and then asked him to stand with the back of his uniform facing the rest of the players. Then he asked a kid who had just been called up from the minors, Jones, to do the same thing. He then said, 'Smith, Jones I want you to turn around.' When they did, he pointed to the front of the uniform and reminded us all: 'You play for the name on the front of the jersey (the team) not the name on the back (your own).'"
3. Call-to-Question. It is often effective to end with a rhetorical question that captures the message and leaves the audience thinking—especially one that directly ties in a call to action:
"What choice will you make when you leave here today? Will you ____, or will you go about your normal routine?"
4. Contrast. One of my favorites; this one is even more effective when tied directly to the closing call to action:
"We can have____, or we can have ______. The choice is ours, and is based entirely on the decision we each individually make today. _____ or _____. ( I know I'm choosing _____.)"
5. Quote. Short, appropriate, powerful quotes are effective as openers, and short, appropriate, powerful quotes are effective for closing. With a plethora of resources available to get quotes in an instant, it is now possible to come up with a quality opening, or ending anywhere.
Matt Eventoff of Princeton Public Speaking tweets at @Matt_Eventoff. A version of this story first appeared on the Mr. Media Training blog.