Throughout my career, I’ve seen hundreds of speakers end their presentations in exactly the same way.
They click to their last slide, deliver the information on the screen, and limp to the finish line by mumbling something such as:
1. “So feel free to call me with any questions you might have.”
2. “That’s the end of my presentation.”
3. “Thank you for listening.”
4. “Do you have any questions?”
5. “Ummm … thanks.”
A speech’s close is one of its most important parts, but it may also be the most neglected. The close is your final opportunity to accomplish your goal, whether it’s to inspire the audience, drive an action, inform a community, break the status quo, or change an opinion.
Here are five great ways to close a speech, each with an example.
(Note that you may want to also include a call-to-action in your close, which I’ve written about here.)
Close No. 1: Deliver a summary.
You may have heard the old public speaking adage that advises speakers to use a three-step approach: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”
You don’t need to follow that rigid rule for every presentation. But you’ll probably use something similar to it the majority of the time, particularly in the “summary” close.
In the summary close, you’ll finish your talk with a synopsis that reminds the audience of your goal and your most important points. For example, let’s say you’re an advocate for children’s safety that is trying to increase the percentage of parents who use child safety seats for their kids. You might end your talk by saying something such as:
“In conclusion, we’ve made significant strides in protecting children. Our education campaign significantly helped increase the number of parents who use child safety seats for their children. And our work with the state legislature resulted in laws that now allow police to ticket and fine parents who don’t.
“As a result of our work, the biggest issue is no longer making sure that parents install safety seats. Rather, it’s making sure that they do so correctly. One recent study found that as many as 90 percent of all safety seats are installed improperly, which increases the odds that a child will be unnecessarily hurt or killed in an auto accident.
“Therefore, I’m recommending a new campaign that shifts our focus from installing safety seats to installing safety seats correctly. This new campaign would encourage parents to use a state- approved installer instead of trying to install the seat themselves. I believe this is the logical next step in our efforts to protect kids in our state, and that this strategy shift will yield tremendous results.”
Close No. 2: Bookend your beginning.
Just as matching bookends are often used at beginning and end of a row of books, matching speech bookends use the same opening and closing device at the beginning and end of a presentation.
For instance, let’s say that this is how you opened a speech to a group of part-time volunteers who are working to reduce the number of injuries suffered in house fires:
“I’m only going to speak to you for one hour this morning. During our hour together, someone, somewhere in America, is going to be badly injured in a house fire. By the time you begin lunch this afternoon, someone, somewhere in America, will die in a house fire. By dinner, another person will die. By the time you go to sleep, another person will die. As you sleep tonight, two more people will die.”
“I’m here today because I want to prevent that from happening. And I’m going to need your help.”
You could “bookend” your talk by ending with the following close:
“We’ve been together nearly an hour. That means that someone, somewhere in America, was just badly injured in a house fire. And we’re an hour closer to lunch, which means someone is about to perish in a house fire.
“Your work matters. Because of your passion, you’re going to prevent someone from getting hurt. You’re going to spare a family from having to mourn a husband, a wife, a sister, a brother, or a child. And next year, when we meet again, I hope that because of your work, I’m unable to open my speech with the same tragic statistics that I used at the beginning of today’s session.”
Close No. 3: Use a callback.
A “callback” is a term most commonly used in stand-up comedy. Writer and comic Patrick Bromley defines a callback as “a reference a comedian makes to an earlier joke in a set.”
He continues: “Callbacks are usually made in a different context and remind the audience of an earlier joke, creating multiple layers and building more than one laugh from a single joke.”
Callbacks work similarly in a speech, but usually without the jokes. That may sound similar to a bookend (it is), but the main difference is that a callback can refer to anything in the body of your speech, not just the opening.
For example, within the first hour of our public speaking workshops, I make the point that introducing too much information overloads an audience, particularly since memory studies show that people forget much of what they’ve learned shortly after learning it. One study, in which people were shown 20 photographs consecutively and were then asked to name the ones they remembered, found that they only remembered an average of five photos.
I occasionally end the workshops hours later with a callback, saying:
“Earlier today, you learned that immediately after seeing twenty photographs, people remembered an average of only five. Therefore, I know that you’re probably going to forget many of the different tips and techniques you learned today. So even if you forget everything else from today’s session, I’d like to conclude by reminding you of the three most important things you should remember before every presentation you ever give. They are…”
Close No. 4: Make it personal.
Many speakers discuss their personal connection to the speech topic throughout their talks. But if you haven’t touched on your personal ties to the topic throughout your presentation, doing so at the close often helps forge a deeper audience connection.
Imagine you’re a political candidate speaking to a group of senior citizens about the government’s prescription drug benefit. You may have spoken about the importance of the program, inadequacies with the current drug benefit, and the improvements you’d like to make. But you can end your talk with a more personal touch:
“My mother just turned 82, and her health is starting to decline. She was diagnosed recently with congestive heart failure, and her doctors prescribed three new medications for her. As you can imagine, those drugs are pretty important.
“I wanted to help her figure out which drug plan covered all of her medications, which I thought was going to be an easy task. Well, imagine my shock when I sat down at the computer at 10 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t finish figuring it all out until after dark?
“Folks, let me assure you that I know how to use a computer. And it took me 10 hours to get through all of the options. There’s no way my mother could have chosen the right plan on her own. She was almost in tears by the end of the day. And she’s just one of millions of seniors just like you who are spending hours, days, or even weeks in sheer frustration because of the government’s inability to make this easy for you. I know how important medications are to you, and I will fight to make finding the right drug plan easier for you.”
Close No. 5: Ask a rhetorical question.
You can ask a rhetorical question at any point throughout your speech, but asking one at the end is particularly powerful, since members of the audience will leave your talk with your question still lingering in their minds.
One of the most famous rhetorical questions in political history came during a 1980 presidential debate between challenger Ronald Reagan, and the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter. Gov. Reagan scored a knockout blow by finishing the debate with a series of rhetorical questions, the first of which became his most famous:
“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?
“And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”
This post first appeared on PR Daily in 2012.
Brad Phillips is the president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @MrMediaTraining.