Different Ways to End a Presentation or Speech

November 06, 2017 - Sophie Thompson

The beginning and ending of your presentation are the most important. The beginning is where you grab the audience’s attention and ensure they listen to the rest of your speech. The conclusion gives you a chance to leave a lasting impression that listeners take away with them.

Studies show that when people are tasked with recalling information, they "best performance at the beginning and end". It’s therefore essential you leave an impact with your closing statement. A strong ending motivates, empowers and encourages people to take action.

The power of three

The rule of three is a simple yet powerful method of communication and we use it often in both written and verbal communication. Using information in patterns of three makes it more memorable for the audience.

Examples of the power of three being used:

  • This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning - Winston Churchill
  • Blood, sweat and tears - General Patton
  • I came, I saw, I conquered - Julius Caesar

A compelling story

Ending your presentation on a short story, especially if that story is personal or illustrates how the content presented affects others is the best way to conclude.

If you want to talk about a customer experience or successful case study, think about how you can turn it into a meaningful story which the audience will remember and even relate to. Creating empathy with your audience and tying the story back to points made throughout the presentation ensures your presentation will be well received by the audience.

A surprising fact

A surprising fact has the power to re-engage the audience's attention, which is most likely to wane by the end of a presentation. Facts with statistical numbers in them work well – you can easily search online for facts related to your speech topic. Just make use you remember the source for the fact in case you are questioned about it.

A running clock

Marketing and advertising executive Dietmar Dahmen ends his Create Your Own Change talk with a running clock to accompany his last statement. "Users rule," he says, "so stop waiting and start doing. And you have to do that now because time is running out."

If you're delivering a time-sensitive message, where you want to urge your listeners to move quickly, you can have a background slide with a running timer to add emphasis to your last statement.

Example of a running timer or clock for ending a presentation

Acknowledging people or companies

There are times when it's appropriate to thank people publicly for helping you – such as

  • Presenting a research paper and want to thank people involved in the project
  • Presenting data or information obtained from a company or a person
  • When someone helped you build the presentation if it’s a particularly complex one

You can even use the PowerPoint credits feature for additional ‘wow’ factor.

A short, memorable sentence

A sound bite is an attention magnet. It cuts to the core of your central message and is one of the most memorable takeaways for today's Twitter-sized attention spans. Consider Steve Jobs' famous last line at his commencement address at Stanford University: "Stay hungry, stay foolish."

Think about how you can distil your message down to a crisp, memorable statement. Does it represent your authentic voice? Does it accurately condense what your core message is about? Listeners, especially business audiences, have a radar that quickly spots an effort to impress rather than to genuinely communicate an important message.

An interesting quote

A relatively easy way to end your speech is by using a quote. For this to be effective, however, the quote needs to be one that has not been heard so often that it has become cliché.

To access fresh quotes, consider searching current personalities rather than historical figures. For example, a quote on failing from J.K. Rowling: "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default."

You need to figure out what resonates with your audience, and choose a quote that fits the presentation theme. If you’re up to it, you can round off the quote with your own thoughts as well.

A visual image

Make use of this power by ending your presentation with a riveting visual that ties to your take-home message. Leave this slide on when you finish your presentation to give the audience something to look at and think about for the next few minutes.

Use a summary slide instead of a ‘thank you’ slide

‘Thank You’ slides don’t really help the audience. You should be verbally saying ‘Thank you’, with a smile and with positive eye contact, putting it on a slide removes the sentiment.

Instead of a ‘Thank You’ slide, you can use a summary slide showing all the key points you have made along with your call to action. It can also show your name and contact details.

This slide is the only slide you use that can contain a lot of text, use bullet points to separate the text. Having all this information visible during the Q&A session will also help the audience think of questions to ask you. They may also choose to take photos of this slide with their phone to take home as a summary of your talk and to have your contact details.

Example summary slide for a presentaiton or speech

Repeat something from the opening

Closing a presentation with a look back at the opening message is a popular technique. It's a great way to round off your message, whilst simultaneously summing up the entire speech and creating a feeling of familiarity for the audience. Comedians do this well when they tie an earlier joke to a later one.

Doing this will signal to the audience that you are coming to the end of your talk. It completes the circle - you end up back where you started.

There are a few ways to approach this technique:

  • Set up a question at the beginning of your speech and use your ending to answer it
  • Finish a story you started, using the anecdote to demonstrate your message
  • Close with the title of the presentation – this works best with a provocative, memorable title

Link the main points to the key message

At the beginning of your talk, it’s important to map out the main ideas you will talk about. An audience that doesn’t know the stages of the journey you are about to take them on will be less at ease than one that knows what lies ahead. At the end of your talk, take them back over what you’ve spoken about but don’t just list the different ideas you developed, show how they are related and how they support your main argument.

Finish with enthusiasm

It’s only natural that you’ll feel tired when you get to the end of your talk. The adrenaline that was racing through your body at the beginning has now worn off.

It’s crucial that the audience feels that you are enthusiastic and open for questions. If you’re not enthusiastic about the presentation, why should the audience be?

Don’t end with audience questions

When the Q&A session is over, stand up, get their attention and close the presentation. In your closing give your main argument again, your call to action and deal with any doubts or criticisms that out in the Q&A.

A closing is more or less a condensed version of your conclusions and an improvised summary of the Q&A. It’s important that the audience goes home remembering the key points of the speech, not with a memory of a Q&A that may or may not have gone well or may have been dominated by someone other than you.

If possible, try and take questions throughout your presentation so they remain pertinent to the content.

Getting rid of the "questions?" slide

To start, let's talk about what you shouldn't do. You shouldn't end a presentation with a slide that asks "Questions?" Everyone does and there is nothing memorable about this approach.

Ideally, you should take questions throughout the presentation so that the question asked and the answer given is relevant to the content presented. If you choose to take questions at the end of your presentation, end instead with a strong image that relates to your presentation's content.

Worried about no audience questions?

If you’re afraid of not getting any questions, then you can arrange for a friend in the audience to ask one. The ‘plant’ is a good way to get questions started if you fear silence.

Chances are that people do want to ask questions, but no one wants to be the first to ask a question. If you don’t have a ‘plant’, you might need to get the ball rolling yourself. A good way to do this is for you to ask am open question to the audience. Ask the most confident looking person in the room for their opinion, or get the audience to discuss the question with the person sitting beside them.

A cartoon or animation

In his TED talk on The Paradox of Choice , Barry Schwartz ends his presentation with a cartoon of a fishbowl with the caption, "You can be anything you want to be - no limits." He says, "If you shatter the fishbowl, so that everything is possible, you don't have freedom, you have paralysis ... Everybody needs a fishbowl” This is a brilliant ending that combines visuals, humour and a metaphor. Consider ending your presentation with a relevant cartoon to make your message memorable.

End your presentation with a cartoon

Ask a rhetoric question

So, for example, if you’re finishing up a talk on the future of engineering, you might say, "I'd like to end by asking you the future of manufacturing, will it be completely taken over by robots in the next 30 years?"

The minute you ask a question , listeners are generally drawn into thinking about an answer. It's even more engaging when the question is provocative, or when it touches potentially sensitive areas of our lives

Thank the audience

The simplest way to end a speech, after you’ve finished delivering the content, is to say, "thank you." That has the benefit of being understood by everyone.

It's the great way for anyone to signal to the audience that it’s time to applaud and then head home.

Call your audience to action and make it clear

It's not enough to assume your message will inspire people to take action. You need to actually tell them to take action. Your call to action should be clear and specific. Your audience should be left with no doubt about what it is you're asking.

Use the last few minutes of the presentation to reinforce the call to action you seek. Examples of strong calls to actions include:

  • Retain 25% more employees with our personal development solution
  • Save your business 150% by using this framework
  • Donate today to save millions around the world

Make it clear that you've finished

Nothing is more uncomfortable than the silence of an audience working out if you've finished or not.

Your closing words should make it very clear that it's the end of the presentation. The audience should be able to read this immediately, and respond. As we mentioned previously, saying "thank you" is a good way to finish.

If the applause isn't forthcoming, stand confidently and wait. Don't fidget and certainly don't eke out a half-hearted, 'And that just about covers it. Thank you'.