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Have you ever noticed that many speakers end their presentation the same way a car runs out of gas? As their last bit of fuel is used up, they sputter to an abrupt stop as though they just got tired of thinking.
No matter how good your presentation is, a lackluster ending will significantly detract from your ability to influence others. The conclusion of your speech is your last chance to hammer home the importance of your message. It's a lasting impression that listeners take away of you and, by extension, your company.
So how can you make listeners sit up and take notice as you bring your presentation to an end? One common way is to summarize your key points. Although some listeners are likely to tune out a summary because they've just heard what you said, provide a very brief recap, if it's warranted, but don't stop there.
What will make your speech stand out is to end it with a focused statement, one that really grabs your listeners in unexpected ways: It can surprise, inspire or entertain them; it can touch them emotionally or engage them intellectually. We're talking about a punchy ending, akin to a tagline—something well-thought out and powerful that's likely to be remembered.
Here are some ideas to help you create an effective final statement:
1. A surprising fact. During his speech at Global Entrepreneurship Week, venture capitalist Kevin O'Leary outlined what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. But instead of ending with a rehash of what he just said, he chose to share a surprising fact to motivate his listeners to go where the money is. "Did you know," he said, "that there are more billion-dollar cap companies outside North America than in it for the first time ever? ... We have aging societies, and everywhere else is on fire. If I were you guys, I would get on a plane and go to Brazil." 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.
2. A list of rolling credits. There are times when it's appropriate to thank people publicly for helping you prepare a dazzling presentation at an important event. You can do this in a way that adds pizzazz to your conclusion by using the PowerPoint's Credits feature. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do this. This is so unusual that it's bound to be noticed and remembered.
3. A cartoon. Psychologist Barry Schwartz ends his TED presentation on The Paradox of Choice with a New York Post 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 ... The absence of some metaphorical fishbowl is a recipe for misery and, I suspect, disaster." This is a brilliant ending that combines many elements to engage the audience: a visual, some humor and a metaphor. Consider ending your presentation sometime with a relevant cartoon to elucidate your message.
4. A provocative question. Ending with a question, or a rhetorical question, is a surefire way to gain attention because questions stimulate our neocortex. As author Dorothy Leeds explains, "Our old brain runs by instinct. That’s the part that animals have. They don’t ask questions. The purpose of our 'new brain' is to override and challenge our old brain, and we do that by asking questions." The minute you ask a question, listeners are generally drawn to ponder an answer. It's even more engaging when the question is provocative, or when it touches potentially sensitive areas of our lives.
Entrepreneur and CEO Ric Elias ends his talk on "3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed" with a series of life questions, with the most provocative one at the very end: "And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?" You can also ask a question and answer it. For example, "Can we afford to bail out the banks? Can we afford not to?" or "What is personal in this digital era? Nothing. Your life is on full display."
5. A sound bite. 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." And here's an example from author Steven Johnson, in his presentation "Where Good Ideas Come From." In speaking about how innovation happens, Johnson ends with, "Chance favors the connected mind."
Think about how you can distill your message down to a crisp, memorable statement. After you've crafted the statement, ask yourself: Is it tweet-worthy? Above all, 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.
6. The rule of three. The rule of three is one of the most memorable patterns. Think "location, location, location"; "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"; or three-word slogans, such as "Just Do It." Here are a few examples of how speakers do it. Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of TrendHunter.com, ends his speech on innovation with three key benefits: "By leveraging viral trends and methodical innovation, you can generate ideas, harness creativity and ultimately exploit chaos." Dianna Cohen, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, ends her talk on plastic pollution with a three-pronged declaration: In using alternatives to single-use plastics, Cohen says, "We can save our oceans, save our planets, save ourselves." Alan Siegel, a brand identity consultant, also uses the rule of three to end his speech on simplifying legal language: "How are we going to change the world?" he asks. "Make clarity, transparency and simplicity a national priority."
7. An unusual quote. A relatively easy way to powerfully 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 cliche. Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, quotes Einstein to sum up his thinking on the real value of money: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." If you use a worn-out quote, consider adding a twist to it, as Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design, does in her talk on designing change. She mentions Gandhi's quote: "You have to be the change that you want to see in the world" and adds this twist: "But the part that was missing for me was getting the courage to be the change that you want to see in the world. I hope that we can all engage in that concept." This is a smart way to personalize a quotation and make it resonate with others.
To access fresh quotes, consider searching current personalities rather than historical figures. For example, a quote on optimism can come from financier George Soros: “The worse a situation becomes, the less it takes to turn it around, and the bigger the upside.” A quote on marketing can come from a contemporary businessperson: "Your culture is your brand," says Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. You can also research quotes for the specific industry your clients belong to so the quote has a personal impact: Here's a sampling: automotive, aviation, real estate, branding, social media marketing, and finance & business, to name a few.
8. A touch of humility. In a world where everyone flashes their achievements and opinions, those with an understated approach shine. Supermodel Cameron Russell ends her talk on TED saying, "If there is a takeaway to this talk, I hope it's that we all feel more comfortable acknowledging the power of image in our perceived successes and our perceived failures." Contrast this with a bolder, "As I have proven to you, image plays a powerful role in our perceived successes and our perceived failures." When you make a compelling case in your presentation, there is value sometimes in contrasting this with a touch of humility at the end.
9. 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 clock to add pizzazz to your last statement. Here is how you can insert a countdown timer in PowerPoint.
10. A powerful visual. In The Power of Video, Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, says that a huge chunk of our brain power is devoted to processing visual images. "It's how we communicate, it's how we share information," Kaku says. "It's by images, pictures, videos that we understand the universe." Make use of this power by ending your presentation with a riveting visual that ties to your take-home message. Here's an example from architecture and design firm NBBJ's chief marketing officer, Tim Leberecht. In the final moments of his talk on ways to usefully lose control of your brand, he displays a photo of the Mona Lisa and says, "A smile is a door that is half open and half closed ... companies can give employees and customers more control or less. They can worry about how openness is good for them and what needs to stay closed, or they can simply smile and remain open to all possibilities." The image becomes a visual metaphor that makes the message stick.
11. A return to your opening. A standard piece of advice on closing is to return to your opening. For example, refer to whatever hook you used in starting your presentation. This can be a wrap-up of a story you started or an answer to a question you posed. It can also be a reaffirmation of your presentation title or the title of the conference at which you're speaking. You can't go wrong with a book-end closure.
12. One more thing. Steve Jobs was known to end his presentations with "one more thing." Author Chris Higgins assembled clips of every Steve Jobs "one more thing" endings. You can use the same tactic to add richness to your presentation as you wrap up. It's the additional cherry on the sundae. Pick it with care.