Even the strongest speakers can undercut a whole presentation with three seconds of wobbly indecision at the end. Those few seconds amount to the last impression you leave with your audience—it's the last picture people will remember of you. You've spent your whole presentation building credibility for yourself and your idea, and that last impression has everything to do with how you hold yourself.
Watch your nonverbal behavior and body language. Not even a line like Patrick Henry's, "Give me liberty…!" can bail you out if you act nervous, disgusted, insincere, or hurried. Here are six essential don'ts for ending your presentation.
1. Never blackball yourself …
…with a critical grimace, a shake of the head, eyes rolled upward, a disgusted little sigh. So what if you're displeased with yourself? Don't insult your audience by letting them know you were awful; they probably thought you were pretty good. One lip curl in those last three seconds can wreck 30 minutes of credibility-building. Keep a light smile on your face, and you can grimace into the bathroom mirror later if you want.
2. Don't step backward.
If anything, take a half-step toward your listeners at the end. Stepping back is a physical retreat, and audiences subconsciously pick up on this cue. While you're at it, don't step back verbally, either. Softening your voice and trailing off toward the end obviously doesn't sound confident. Maintain your strong vocal projection, enunciation, and pitch variety. You need to end with a bang, not a whimper.
3. Don't look away.
Some speakers hark back to the last visual aid or PowerPoint slide, as if for reinforcement. Some look aside, unwilling to confront listeners dead in the eye at the last words. Murmuring "thank you" while staring off somewhere else isn't the last impression you want to leave. Maintain good eye communication throughout.
4. Don't leave your hands in a gestured position.
In our programs, we recommend using the resting ready position (arms gently at the sides) at the end to physically signal to your audience that you've finished. You must let them go visually, in addition to the closing remarks you're making. If you keep your hands up at waist level, you look as if you have something more to say. In speaking, think of yourself as the gracious host or hostess as you drop your hands with an appreciative "thank you."
5. Don't rush to collect your papers…
… Or visual aids, or displays. Stop and chat with people if the meeting is breaking up, then begin to tidy up in a calm, unhurried manner. Otherwise, you may contradict your calm, confident demeanor as a presenter. Behavioral cues are picked up by your audience throughout the entire presentation experience, even during post-presentation. If you sit down and grimace or huff and puff, listeners notice that, too.
6. Don't move on the last word.
Plant your feet and hold still for a half-beat after the you in "thank you." Think about adding some lightness and a smile with your thank-you to show your comfort and ease. You don't want to look eager to get out of there. If anything, you want to let people know you've enjoyed being with them and are sorry you have to go. Don't rush off.
Paying attention your behaviors at the end of your presentation, whether formal at the lectern or informal standing at a meeting, will project the confidence and credibility you seek. Has anyone seen some of these behaviors in action? What are your thoughts?
This post first appeared on Decker Communications.