Ending with an oomph: Why your presentation needs a final flourish
Why do so many presentations start with a bang and end with a whimper?
It’s a question that’s been puzzling me for some time. Most presenters have grasped the need for a strong and compelling opening that grabs their audience’s attention. But many will throw that advantage away without a moment’s hesitation by either fading out or crashing to a halt when they’ve shown their final slide.
Both approaches undermine the brilliance of what’s gone before.
If you’ve put a lot of effort into your talk, you don’t want your audience to forget it as soon as they’re out of the room. The final thing they hear should have some oomph (technical term) because it’s going to stick with them, so rather than leaving a lingering sense of unfinished business, try wowing your audience with one of the following:
Call to action: what do you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you? If you’re from a bus company, you might challenge them to ditch the car and take the bus for a week. It’s likely that when they next see a bus, they’ll connect it to the challenge you threw out, giving your talk an extended shelf life.
Full circle: start with an anecdote that leads into your main point. If you’re trying to recruit new teachers into the profession, talk about a teacher who inspired you. You could end with a call to action by outlining how to train as a teacher. But if you want to truly motivate your listeners, consider an emotional appeal. Bring the anecdote up to date with the moment where you in turn become the inspiration to a student.
Take a poll: you might want to find out how much you audience knows about a subject or how they feel about it at the beginning and re-poll them at the end. A simple show of hands is usually best. Make sure you have a plan B if the change you were hoping for doesn’t show up!
Relevant quote: google your subject matter and you’ll almost certainly find some wise words that encapsulate your theme. Depending on your style and your theme, these could be quirky, heartfelt, funny or motivating. When I googled quotes about endings, I found ones by everyone from Nietzsche to Drake (the singer, not the 16th century explorer) which would cover quite a range of audiences!
What happens next: if you’ve outlined your research into a new green fuel, tell them your plans for the next stage and what it could mean for them if you pull it off. If you’ve telling the board about your quarterly results, give them the edited highlights of why the next quarter will be even better. A forward look engenders a sense of optimism and progress.
A great ending means your talk has a life beyond its delivery. Or as the novelist Chuck Palahniuk put it:
“The feeling is less like an ending than just another starting point.”