How to add a powerful end to your public speech in a few easy steps
My first ever public speech was pretty much a disaster!
I had a fantastic story and had assumed that would be enough to satisfy my audience’s thirst for knowledge. At the time, I knew nothing of the intricacies such as intros and, one of the two key stages of any presentation, the best way to close a public speech. A good closing will keep your listeners thinking and talking about the stories you tell for days, weeks, months, or even years after hearing you speak (hopefully the latter as you want to people to come back, over and over again).
So, with that in mind, let’s get to the end. To the end of your speech, that is.
Here are a few tips you can use to smash your speech ending out of the park!
Consider your speech opening
I’ve written a guide that walks you through the process of how to open a public speech, and I recommend you read it. The tips in that post are my own personal experiences learned over the past 7 years.
So, what do I mean by “consider your speech opening”? This: when you close your speech you should always make a reference to the opening.
First, don’t panic! Public speaking is a skill that can be learned
Let’s take a brief interlude…
When you first set off to craft a career in public speaking did you ever imagine there would be so much to learn? No, nor me. I’ve already talked about how I overcame my fear of public speaking, this a useful post if you’re dealing with stage fright, imposter syndrome, etc, but with every success, I came to realise there was another step to climb on the rise to success.
Ways to close your speech
“Speeches without a powerful closing are like a…” (Me! I made that up.) There are any number of ways to finish your speech and give your listeners the ending they want, but, for me, the four most effective are:
Ask a question
But what kind of question should you be asking? It has to be related to the topic on which you’re speaking, but that doesn’t mean it has to agree with the story you tell. Let me explain that last point.
For a moment, let’s imagine what some people call a ‘climate change denier’ and you’ve given a presentation on the several known mass extinctions and how natural shifts in Earth’s climate have decimated animal species. As you move ever closer to the end of your speech, you start to seed the idea that change, and the corresponding loss of animal life, are inevitable. Your closing argument, the question you use to end your talk, is this: “Will a 3% reduction in emissions really make a difference when our planet is approaching a natural temperature high that’s repeated approximately every 200,000 years? What good will this do humanity?”
There are so many possible questions you can use to end your speech – but the key takeaway is whatever question you ask it needs to get your audience to carry out an action after they’ve listened to you speak.
Note: don’t confuse this with audience questions, which are part of a Q&A presentation in which the tale end of your speech is dedicated to you answering questions.
Borrow a quotation
“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” I did some hunting around the web and this quote by Brazilian lyricist, Paulo Coehlo felt perfect. People love quotes; there are millions of internet searches per day for the word ‘quotations’, but why?
Quotes have a way of bringing people together; they act as a rallying point when we’re looking for ways to explain thoughts and actions, and to share our belief systems.
So how do you end a speech with a quote? In exactly the same way you would when using a question – find a famous quote, or invent one, that supports or summarises your presentation. That’s all you need to do.
Show a short video
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed more and more speakers using video to end their speeches, and this approach makes sense. Visual aids are a powerful tool for enhancing your story and can be used anywhere during your presentation (we’ll talk more about other places, and the visual format, in an upcoming post) and what better way than as a mechanism to conclude on?
When you start to think about how to finish your speech you do need to consider what type of video you want to use to support your message. It should:
be relevant to your story;
be short and to the point;
have good quality audio and visuals as you want to end your presentation on a high, not leaving your audience puzzled or confused after watching a poor quality video.
Use the power of a story
My favourite way to end a speech is to tell a story. In fact, I love telling stories all the way through my public speaking engagements and I recommend all public speakers learn how to use this powerful tool.
How do you use a story to end a speech? Well, you could take one of many approaches. Here are a few I use:
The summary (a short overview of the main points of your speech): rather than close your presentation with a line by line summary, turn it into a short story. The duration is up to you, but the general rule of thumb is I use is to create a summary story that is about 10% of the overall length of my speech.
As a recap (more in-depth than a summary): when you use a recap at the end of your speech you give yourself much more space to tell a bigger story in a way that captivates your audience and, at the presentation end, encourages them to carry out an action.
Telling a short story that stands alone and supports your message. This is a more advanced tool and one that’s very effective. When you close with what seems like an off-topic tale you jar your audience – they’re confused as to where you’re taking them – then close the circle by linking this standalone story to your presentation for a satisfying ending.
Stories are an amazing way to conclude or end your speaking gig. You’ll need to practise until they flow seamlessly from one section to the next, but the result is worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears you pour into them – the words you use, when woven into a powerful narrative, will guarantee audience attention and make the presentation memorable in a way you could never have imagined (one well-crafted tale could even the start of your public speaking career).
Make a bold statement
A statement is your standpoint. It establishes your beliefs and sets the tone for your presentation and it needs to be bold, but (hopefully) not offensive. If you have strong views on a particular topic then state them at the start of your presentation, then explain why you have these values. This is a useful way to open your speech if the type of public speech you’re giving is designed to be influential.
The best end to a talk or presentation
In my opinion, the best end to a public speech is the one that gets your audience thinking but how do you do this? Well, I’ve used all of the above methods and, to my mind, the most effective is to ask a question. Why? Because the end of your speech is not really the end; the last words your speak should be the beginning of a thought process for your audience. Let me say that again: the words you use to end a public speaking presentation should be the start of a journey for the people who listen to you.
My experiences indicate asking a question is the best way to end your speech.
Well, two reasons:
a question gets people thinking, and bouncing ideas off of each other. How many times have you been asked a question only to find yourself debating the ideas a short time later? This is exactly what you want your audience to do.
by asking a question you can also seed an idea, or prompt people to carry out an action. Ending your talk with a question that dives into a rabbit warren of ideas will be irresistible (assuming your audience like actively thinking about ideas).
Tips for learning the art of a powerful close
Over the years, I’ve spent many hours learning and honing the craft of a good close, and here are ideas to help you master this art:
Training is essential, but what form should it take? There are a number of options, all of which come at a cost whether it be in the form of time or money (you’ll probably need to invest to improve your presentation skills as effective public speaking is a skill you learn).
In no particular order, here are some suggestions to help you learn how to close your speeches:
Toastmasters membership: this is the place where I cut my teeth as a speaker. The group I belong to is supportive and the Toastmasters organisation has a number of tracks you can follow on your journey e.g. leadership, motivational, influential speaking etc. What I most like is the feedback given after I’ve given a speech – many of my peers have more years, experience, and skill, which makes their recommendations invaluable.
There is one minor negative – the Toastmasters curriculum is designed to be completed over an extended period of time. As a consequence, your journey to mastery could take several years, if not more.
Coaching: for immediate feedback and an accelerated path to becoming not only an awesome public speaker, and a person who can close a presentation like no other, nothing beats a good coach. I’ve known some coaches support new speakers from faltering first words to confident speakers in a matter of months.
So what’s the negative? Cost. A good public speaking coach, one who can help you polish your presentation into a thing of beauty and wonder, is expensive. The minimum you’ll pay for a semi-decent coaching session is around £30/$45 per hour and at the upper end of the scale where the best coaches reside you can expect to pay hundreds of pounds/dollars per hour (a US friend of mine charges $150 per hour of coaching and he classes himself as pretty “good”)you get what you pay for!
Do you really need the training to be the champion of closing a public speech? In an ideal world, you should consider some form of training, but it’s not a necessity. I know a number of public speakers who have learned the art of speaking through trial and error.
The journey to public speaking excellence can be a long one and any form of training will cost you money.
Feedback is the single, most powerful tool you can use to make not only your ending an amazing experience, but also your entire speech. If you decide not to join your local Toastmasters group, or pay for coaching, I recommend you ask friends and colleagues to assess your speech, including the end, and give feedback (before you give your presentation to the real audience).
This can seem quite daunting and I recommend you keep your group of ‘assessors’ small, selecting people who will give you a positive AND helpful critique. The AND is important – receiving feedback that isn’t accurate or fully honest will not help you develop and could lead to an early end to your speaking career. What I’m saying is this – your feedback group should be unafraid of finding, and articulating, the issues they see and hear in your speech.
Closing your speech in a way that satisfies your audience and makes them take a desired action is one of the keys to becoming a highly effective, in-demand, public speaker. When your lips stop moving, and you give a small bow, you want to hear the sound of clapping, not a cold silence.
Here’s a thought to take away: every ending is a new beginning. Every time you end your presentation you are opening yourself to a new beginner and you want it to be upbeat.
Practise your opening. Practise your story. Most of all, practise how to end your public speech or presentation.