Absolutely! In fact, the opening and closing sentences are the two most important parts of any speech or presentation.
Every speech is an opportunity influence people’s behaviors, beliefs, or actions. That’s an incredible opportunity and a deep responsibility to make your speech matter. One of the ways to do that is through writing a powerful closing.
Before you write your closing, it’s important to identify the emotion of your speech. How do you want people to feel after your speech: Inspired? Outraged? Excited? Your speech should build toward that feeling and your closing sentences should be the culmination of that feeling.
Before you write your closing, it’s also important to identify the goal of your speech. What do you want people to do as a result of hearing you speak: Vote for you? Hire your company? Join your company? Identifying this in advance helps you write a closing that reinforces the goal of the speech.
Here are some options for ending your speech:
- Close with an inspirational quotation. Find a short quote that captures the feeling you want the audience to have. Set it up with a transitional sentence that introduces the quote and its relevance to the audience, something like, “The author Marianne Williamson said it best when she wrote…”
- Include a call to action. Once you identify what you want people to do as a result of your speech, conclude with a clear call to action that specifically tells the audience how they can get involved. Make sure it’s a reasonable request as opposed to something too unrealistic. For instance, asking the audience to introduce you to potential investors is an easier “ask” than asking them to become investors themselves. If you truly know your audience, you will know what “call to action” is important. Be sure to mention how this call to action benefits the audience, not just you.
- Tell a story. If you’ve just delivered a presentation that’s an overview of a subject with facts and figures, make it personal by telling a story that helps the audience visualize the subject on a more human level. For instance, “Finally, let me show you an example of this work in action…” [Tip: This technique works really well as a speech opener as well, though you will frame it differently]
- Describe the impact of what happens if the audience does what you ask. If your speech is about changing people’s actions, then paint a picture of a positive future to help them visualize the outcome. For instance, “By working together, we can all live in a world where…”
- Transition to Q+A. After ending with a concluding sentence, pause and then confidently ask if there are any questions in the audience. That transition from speech closing to Q+A is very important to maintain your authority in the room. Don’t end with, “So, yeah” and then look questioningly at the audience. Practice that transition with confidence and purpose.
- Match the opening sentence. Ideally, the opening and closing sentences should relate to one another in meaning and intensity. As you write your closing sentence, re-read the opening sentence and see how you can refer back to it or build on it. You might need to re-write the opening sentence to match the conclusion. In fact, I often write the two sentences at the same time to make sure they match.
Should I thank the audience?
Toastmasters International often advises its members against saying “thank you” to the audience, but in my experience I think it can be appropriate when said authentically. However, the words “thank you” should not replace your closing; they should be said after the meaningful, momentum-building closing we discussed above. If you do thank the audience, pause after your final sentence, then look the audience members in the eye and say “thank you.”
A few other tips:
- Memorize your final sentence. This helps you make direct eye contact with the audience which really drives home your message. Don’t end your speech by staring down at your paper or staring at your feet and mumbling something unintelligible.
- Speak slowly when you conclude. Many people feel rushed to finish their speech so they wind up rushing their conclusion. That can leave the audience confused as to whether or not the speech is over. Speak the final sentence slowly, with confidence and meaning.
Jon, thanks for requesting this topic! I’m sure other readers had similar questions. By using the above methods, you insure that your speech builds to a powerful conclusion that moves your audience to take action. That creates a truly dynamic closing.