Closing a presentation effectively can be a greater challenge than opening it.
We are all familiar with crucial importance of creating the right first impression when presenting to an audience but even the strongest speakers sometimes forget the all-important last impression. Some of the best presentations can be undermined by a few moments of indecision at the end.A great presentation should be like a brilliant firework show – most of us look forward to the grand finale so don’t let your presentation fizzle out like a damp fireworks display.
Always end with your best. Avoiding these six mistakes we commonly see will serve you well.
1. Get off the back foot
Many presenters close their presentations by stepping backwards -physically, verbally and mentally. Your very last words are the time you need to literally step forward and up.
Maintaining a strong vocal projection with the right pitch, tone and volume will leave you sounding confident and as though you meant every word you just said. Taking a small step towards your audience maintaining eye contact and leaving them with an assured smile will let them know you’ve finished.
2. “After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the dustcart”
You’ve prepared extensively and delivered compellingly then as soon as it’s all over you rush to collect all of the papers and pack up the projector and laptop. That’s the ‘dustcart’ from the old proverb.
Don’t do it; it looks bad and severely dilutes your presentation. Even though you may not realize it your behaviour right at the very end is still telling your audience a lot about you. Instead, stop and chat with people in the audience if you can and make yourself totally available and approachable.
Get the dustcart out when they’ve all left.
3. It’s painful having to wait to visit the toilet
Most business presentations today still end with the old fashioned “Thank you very much, now if there are any questions…”
The questions are asked and answered and then everyone leaves forgetting your closing remarks and just remembering the last couple of questions. The best speakers see their presentation as a conversation and welcome the opportunity to take questions at any point and not have the audience save them to the end.
Remember the last time you were on that long car journey desperate to visit the toilet but you just knew you had miles to go before you came to the next service station. Well it may seem like a strange analogy but if you’re an audience member with a burning question that you can’t ask until the end, you really can’t focus on anything else.
Stay flexible and let them ask you anything at anytime but if you really must have the formal Q&A at the end then don’t leave it at that. As you answer the last question make sure you have a compelling close so that’s the last thing they hear, not the answer to the question.
4. Close the ‘black hole’
Have you ever sat through a presentation only to find yourself asking what on earth the speaker expects you to do with all of the insights and information they have just shared with you? If you have then you’re not alone it’s happening to unsuspecting audiences every day right across the world.
I call it the ‘black hole’ of presenting where you’re left wondering what that was all about, what it has to do with you and what’s expected of you. If as a presenter you’ve failed on the first two counts then the ‘black hole’ is insurmountable, as it really doesn’t matter what you want them to do they will never do it.
Let’s assume however, you’ve made it perfectly clear what it was about and what’s in it for them, the only way you can close the ‘black hole’ is to explicitly state what you want them to do now.
– “Buy our product’/service”
– “Approve my project/budget”
– “Donate now”
– “Vote for change”
– “Give us your support by…”
– “Recommend us”
5. What time does this story end?
I remember my son’s very first day assembly at school. After 5 minutes of listening to the Head’s energy-draining speech he looked up at his mother and I and quietly asked, “What time does this story end, it’s giving me a headache.”
Even the best presentations need to include some form of clear signal that the presentation is about to come to an end. Don’t leave your audience wondering whether you’ve finished. Let them know you’re coming to the end and you can do that very simply by saying:
– “I’m going to close with … ”
– “In conclusion … ”
– “In summary … ”
6. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Most presentation closes we see today are rather lackluster and offer little in the way of impact or imagination.
The fact is though its not magic its just a choice.
We can close with the usual “ Thank you very much, are there any questions?” Or we can make a conscious and creative choice to:
– Tell a relevant but compelling story
– Share an unusual but powerful quote
– Show a stunning but thought provoking image
– Link back to your opening and your message
– Let them see the real you – a little humility goes a long way
– Use ‘The rule of three’ – “ Here are the 3 things I’d like you to remember…”
– Ask a provocative question
– Share a surprising fact
As you can see the choices to close a presentation with impact are as infinite as they are to open one. The real choice is deciding exactly how you would like your audience to feel the moment you begin speaking and the very moment you finish.
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