15 grand finales for your next presentation

Sure, a socko-boffo opening for your talk grabs your audience’s attention, but if your final words fail to motivate them to take the desired action, all that sizzle turns to fizzle. Try these tactics.

In wrapping up your speech, what would you like to achieve?

Do you want audience members to get involved in your advocacy efforts? Reconsider previously held views? Have a more complete or nuanced understanding of your topic?

Here are 15 memorable ways to end a speech on a high note:

1. The summary close

This close, which recaps your main points, can ensure that the audience leaves with clarity on your biggest ideas. Because this isn’t the most creative option, it can be improved by combining it with another type of closer.

2. The illustrative close

You can end by using a first- or third-person anecdote, case study or fable; an apocryphal (fictional but plausible) tale; or another storytelling device that illustrates the main points you made during your talk. Many talks begin and end in this manner.

3. The personal close

Many speakers discuss their personal tie to the speech topic well before the close, but if you don’t highlight your own ties to the topic sooner, doing so at the end can reinforce that connection.

4. The bookend close

One client began his talk by discussing “The Carrington Event”—a large solar flare observed in 1859 that resulted in a pre-sunrise red sky and telegraph systems worldwide shutting down. He concluded by discussing the catastrophic consequences of such an event occurring today (such as the Eastern Seaboard States losing power for a year).

5. The surprise close

Mark Bezos, an executive with a nonprofit group who is also a volunteer firefighter, delivers one of my favorite TED Talks. He shares the story of one house fire, during which he watched other firefighters work valiantly to extinguish the flames while he was given a seemingly unimportant assignment. His startling ending makes clear that his work that night mattered—drawing an audible reaction from the audience.

6. The definition close

Ending a talk with a dictionary definition can be dull, but adding a twist to a well-known term brings this closing to life. Author Simon Sinek redefined the term leadership as needing only one thing: followers. Generations ago, Ronald Reagan redefined familiar economic terms to attack his 1980 opponent, incumbent President Jimmy Carter: “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

7. The metaphor close

A metaphor is a comparison of one action or object to a symbolically similar but literally different action or object. A technology executive marketing a product that protects personal electronic devices from malicious viruses might say: “We are the rainforest of personal technology. Just as rainforests keep the planet healthy by releasing oxygen and storing carbon, we keep your sensitive information safe by keeping the good stuff you want—and capturing the bad stuff you don’t.”

8. The forward-looking close

In this close, you paint a picture of what the world could look like at some point in the future. You might share your vision of what will be different if your recommendations are adopted, or you could discuss where you see trends heading.

9. The backward-looking close

Some audiences—such as those who are discouraged or have become complacent—might need a reminder of just how far they’ve come. You can take a backward glance to where they were, say, five years ago and then detail their accomplishments since then.

10. The opposing vision close

In this close, you’ll present two competing visions: one that paints a picture of what would happen if the audience (or society at large) adopts your recommended action and another if it doesn’t. This can encourage the audience to prevent the negative option from occurring or, more positively, to demonstrate that something better is achievable.

11. The provocative close

Some speakers have license to be more provocative than others. As examples, a boss might give her staff a wakeup call by telling them the old ways of doing business aren’t going to cut it anymore, and a presenter speaking to a skeptical group might candidly concede that he disagrees with the audience in several areas—but that they agree wholeheartedly on the one he discussed during his talk.

12. The PowerPoint close

Flashing something unexpected on the screen can make for a memorable close. As examples: a photo that is seemingly unrelated to your speech topic and that requires your explanation, a humorous comic that makes a profound point, or a line graph showing two potential outcomes—one if the audience gets involved and another if they don’t.

13. The personal pledge close

After giving a lofty speech and asking your audience to get involved, some audience members might wonder, “Well, what are you doing to help?” This close expressly articulates the promise you, your community or your organization is making with regard to the cause.

14. The takeaway close

For some of my public speaking talks, I close by asking the audience to reflect upon the two or three things they heard me say that resonated with them the most. To make sure those takeaway points stick with them, I ask them to write them down—after which I encourage them to look at whatever they’ve written every time they prepare for a future presentation.

15. The next steps close

This close articulates a sequence and timeline of the next steps required to make a decision or achieve a goal.

Brad Phillips is president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He is author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, (where a version of this article originally appeared) and two books: “The Media Training Bible” and “101 Ways to Open a Speech.”


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