How to end well

Picture this. You’re at the last meeting of Q4 before everyone breaks for the holidays. It’s still 2020, so of course it’s over Zoom. It’s hard to gauge your audience’s interest because you’re sharing your screen and staring into your webcam with a smile that in other years would border on maniacal. 

As you near the end of your presentation, you have one more chance to land your point to your remote colleagues. It’s time to end well.

Whether you’re in person or remote, a strong ending is one of the most powerful tools in your communications arsenal.

So, how can you make sure you land your final point when your audience’s energy is at its nadir? Let’s look at three examples - in order of increasing difficulty.

Repeat, repeat, repeat (and call to action)

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to close how you started. There is an old adage for the structure of a speech (sometimes misattributed to Aristotle) that is tried but true advice.

Tell them what you are going to tell them

Tell them

Tell them what you told them 

This can be an effective formula for simply conveying information. But more often, you need your audience to take some form of action with the information you’ve just provided. Without creating momentum, you risk a “So what?” reaction.

A call to action can be simple and direct. You can suggest your audience talk about this with their teams in planning or lean more towards inspiration around a common mission or purpose. Either way, make sure to consider what you want your audience to do and push them in that direction.

Start (and end) with the personal 

If you are comfortable getting personal, and your presentation subject allows you to do this in an authentic way, then ending your session with a personal anecdote (that relates to the topic) is a solid way to elicit empathy from your audience and leave a lasting impression. 

Need an example? If you’re launching or describing a product or feature that solves a real problem you’ve had - explain how you faced the problem in your life and how the solution worked for you. This lets your audience picture themselves in the same position. Often the strongest founding stories of companies are built on such personal examples.

A denouement

Resolution is an incredibly powerful tool in eliciting a reaction from your audience. Humans are primed for seeking harmony. That’s why the catchiest songs start and end on the tonic note of a song’s key and why archetypal stories have a definitive ending (whether good or bad).

To end your talk with a resolution, you have to introduce some form of tension in the beginning of your narrative.

You can make a bold claim at the beginning and promise you’ll close with an explanation. Try beginning with a rhetorical question and provide an answer at the end. Does the setting allow for humour? Make a call back to the memorable joke you inserted in your opening act.

This technique requires practice and foresight. But when it’s employed effectively, resolving tension that you have purposefully introduced makes for a delightful ending.

Whatever technique you choose to employ, make sure you don’t end your presentation or speech with a case study. Case studies work well to provide context and give relatable examples in your middle act, but are weak endings.

Wishing you all a peaceful, restorative, and safe holiday break and new year.