17July 2023

Public Speaking Tips for Ending a Presentation

The two most impactful moments of a speech are the beginning and the ending.
The opening moments are how you capture your audience’s attention and the last moments are how you ‘arm’ them to face the world or prepare them with the right message or thought process to take with them as they leave the room.
The last words the audience hears are likely to be the words that stay with them most, and just as it is important to prepare your opening moments, it is vital to have a clear idea of how to end your speech.
Two fairly weak endings that are commonly heard at presentations are words along the lines of:
‘Thank you for listening.’
‘That is all I have to say on the subject.  Are there any questions?’
Are they such bad endings?
Not disastrous, but not very good either.
When a speaker finishes with:
‘Thank you for listening.’
to me that is an indication that they have not taken the time to work on an arresting powerful message to leave with their audience.
It is like the journey has come to an end, not because we have reached our destination, but rather because we have run out of fuel.  We have not arrived anywhere specific, so the audience does not automatically recognise that the speech is over.  The speaker is looking at the audience.  The audience is looking back at the speaker.  It is only by breaking the suspense with the words:
‘Thank you for listening.’
that the audience realises the speech is over and they can start applauding.

If we realise that the last words spoken are likely to be the words that the audience most clearly remembers, then to finish with:
‘Thank you for listening.’
only allows the audience to leave with the impression that the speaker was ‘nice and polite.’
Whereas, surely if you have a message of:
‘Take action.  Save the planet!’
‘Always believe in yourself.’
‘Never surrender!’
- that is the message that you want them to retain.
And those are the words you want reverberating around the audience’s heads as they file out of the room.

‘Thank you for listening.’
at best dilutes the impact of those final words; at worst kills the impact entirely.
Imagine and impassioned, powerful speech ending with the call to action in an upward vocal crescendo, accompanied by an emphatic physical gesture:
‘Take action.  Save the planet!’
and then following on with the words:
‘Thank you for listening.’
You can sense how all the power and all the intensity is being lost.
For those of you who still feel it is only right and decent to thank the audience for being there, by all means, you can still do it, but do it as you are coming to the conclusion, just before you state your final message.
So for example:
…‘I’d like to thank you all for being here and for your kind attention, but as you leave the room I want you to remember.  We all need to…. Take action.  Save the planet!’

‘That is all I have to say on the subject.  Are there any questions?’
suggests a lack of clear purpose to a presentation.
Similarly, if you feel the need to take questions as part of the presentation, build that into the structure of the presentation rather than ending the speech and then almost like an afterthought:
‘Any questions?’
because now you have lost control of the room and the meeting may end with a question that could not be satisfactorily answered and your audience file out dampened or confused.
So schedule questions and once you have answered the last question, finish with the key message:
…‘I hope that has answered some of your questions,….but as you leave the room I want you to remember.  We all need to…. Take action.  Save the planet!’

I am about to offer you some specific suggestions of how you can convincingly end a presentation.
 If you imagine the words you have just been reading make up the body of my own presentation to you and my message to you is:
‘As your audience leaves the room, be sure that the last words they hear connect directly to your message.’
I am now going to list some possible types of ending for you, which in a speech might be like me opening up a question and answer session.  Therefore you will notice that once I have finished this section I will end the presentation by going back to my message so that those will be the last words you ‘hear’ (in this case ‘read’)
‘As your audience leaves the room, make sure that the last words they hear connect directly to your message.’

10 ways to finish a presentation

  1. Summarise the key points

If the presentation does not necessarily lend itself to a big impassioned call to action, you may
simply want to take the last few moments to recap on your key points.  You may have a series of actions or ideas that you want your audience to take on board (Try to keep it down to no more than three).  Think of it as the equivalent to a summary of the main points broadcast at the end of a news hour.

  1. Call to action

As outlined above, this is typically the most valuable ending.  Establish the purpose of the presentation and end with those keywords ringing in the audience’s ears.  This usually takes a little bit of organisation to make sure you stop at the right moment with the correct words.
If your presentation is about the importance of being on time for meetings, it would be very easy (and a bit lazy) to end with:
‘Never be late, because you may disrupt the flow of the meeting!’
but the key message is not, ‘disrupt the flow of the meeting’, it is ‘Never be late!’
Therefore they should be the last words.
‘You do not want to disrupt the flow of the meeting, so my message to you is:
Never be late!’

  1. A memorable quote

This could be a suitable quote from a famous or admired source.  It is a neat way to finish, because it also adds credibility to your previous words, because – to use the words of Isaac Newton – which of course is a memorable quote in itself, you will be ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and now your message is no longer just your own opinion, it is being back up by an impeccable source.  If I am delivering a speech urging us all to do more for our country and our fellow man, I could finish with JF Kennedy’s words:
‘ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.’
You may or may not be convinced by my argument, but if I have JF Kennedy on my side, that is going to add weight!

  1. Popular saying

This does not have to be attributed to a person who lends credibility to your argument, it might simply be a phrase that is in common currency:
‘I urge you to keep trying.   Never give up.  Because as the saying goes:
Quitters never win.  Winners never quit!’
(You might notice that I have reversed the order in that phrase from how it is usually expressed because the resonating message I want my audience to walk away with is:
‘Winners never quit!’

  1. Popular song

A cultural reference, if well chosen, can add credibility or resonance.
If I end with:
‘because in the end…everybody has a hungry heart.’
That will work well with a generation who knows and likes Bruce Springsteen and because it is a song lyric it will embed itself even more effectively in the audience’s mind because as they leave, they will be singing it to themselves.  But of course, if my audience is saying ‘Bruce who..?’ – even though it is still a good line, it will not have the same resonance.
And dare I even say it – unthinkable of course – but if a large portion of my audience hates Bruce Springsteen, the reference might evoke a negative association and even take away from the message.

  1. Rhetorical Question

When in doubt, beginnings, endings, or all through the middle, you can always rely on a question to register in the audience’s mind.
‘So I leave you with this question.  Why shouldn’t we?’

  1. A story

If you have a story or a personal anecdote that encapsulates your message, you can end on an image that confirms your own credibility in relation to the topic (especially if the story happened to you); you are leaving the audience with a picture embedded in the minds and the end of a story can double up as the end of the presentation

  1. A visual aid

It might be a prop.  The medal you won that symbolises all the effort that went in.  The letter of appreciation you received; the actual boots the explorer was wearing when he climbed the mountain.

  1. A slide

You may or may not be using PowerPoint as part of your presentation, and I am sure we are now all aware that less words and more pictures is always better.  Remembering Tip #4, Popular saying:
‘a picture paints a thousand words’, you might find an image to end with that expresses your message more powerfully than any words you could use

  1. Back to the beginning

Sometimes the simplest and most effective structure ends back at the beginning.  The Lion King starts at Pride Rock and it ends at Pride Rock with the same ceremony, but a lot of time and learning has passed between the two apparently identical scenes.  So in a speech, you can plant a seed at the beginning:
‘It is said that we should ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’’
You proceed through your presentation examining that statement and offering examples of how it is true, so that you can return to it at the end:
‘…and that is why it is essential that we all learn to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves

If this article was a speech, I may now choose to thank you for your attention, but what I really want you to take away is that there are many ways to finish a speech, but whichever route you choose…(key message)…
‘As your audience leaves the room, make sure that the last words they hear connect directly to your message.’

Quote icon

Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.