How should you close a speech? I recently had a query from a fellow coach who specializes in working with engineers and tech firms, and her complaint was that far too many speeches in her experience ended with a slide reading “Any Questions?” She was asking for alternative ways to end a presentation.

It would be hard to imagine a duller (and less engaging) way to finish, aside from simply walking off the stage in silence.

First of all, there’s the slide issue itself. Slide-ware like PowerPoint doesn’t help; it distracts, because it requires us to multitask. And all the research on multitasking shows that we can’t do it. We first pay attention to one thing, and then another. Moreover, the research on how our brains process visual information indicates that we don’t actually see what’s in front of us, but rather an approximation of it that our brain matches to reality based on its memory banks.

So what really happens when we’re confronted in a meeting or a presentation with a speaker and a set of slides is that we look at the speaker—because we’re inherently more interested in people than pictures—and when our attentions start to wander, then we look at the slides. Now, reading slides and looking at people occupy two different parts of our brain, and there’s a lot of inefficiency in switching back and forth. So when we’re looking at the speaker, we’re getting one set of cues. When we look at the slides, we get another set. When we switch, we lose a bit of either information stream.

So the result is two incomplete sets of information. That’s tiring and indeed annoying for us, so we get cranky and tune out.

That’s what slide-ware does. With some exceptions, it adds to our information load, overwhelming it even faster, and causing us to tune out.

Don’t do it.

Any questions?

OK, so how should you end a speech? Following are five suggestions, in order to avoid the dreaded “Any Questions” slide.

1. The simplest way to end a speech, after you’ve finished the content part, is to say, “thank you.” That has the virtue of being individually understood, unexceptional, and unambiguous.

That remains my go-to recommendation for anyone who wants a way to signal to the audience that it’s time to applaud and then head for the bar. Neat, simple, gets the job done.

2. But let’s say you want something more original and exciting. A personal favorite of mine is to end with a question suggested by the talk, something related that broadens the discussion and gets people thinking. So, for example, if you’re wrapping up a talk on the future of software, you might say, “We’ve had a great discussion today about what software will look like in near future; I’d like to close by asking you what you think software might look like 100 years from now. Are we actually heading for the Great Singularity?”

Or even, “I’d like to close by asking you whether or not you think there should be government controls on either the violence in or the length of time spent on gaming software?”

That should give them something to talk about into next week, or at least over the coffee and donuts.

3. Of course, as I’ve recommended many times, the best way to end a speech is to turn the audience loose on an action. After all, you’ve been asking the audience to sit passively for 20 or 30 or 50 minutes. Give them a chance to move, to do something. It should be related to what you’ve been talking about, it should be specific, and it should be relatively simple. Get them to turn to a neighbor and pledge to start the good health regimen you’ve been talking about with one specific food change, for example.

4. If you’re afraid of not getting any questions, then you can arrange for a friend in the audience to ask one. The “plant” is a good way to get questions started if you fear silence. But if you’ve turned the chore of asking for questions over to a slide, then that suggests either you don’t really want to engage in questions, or you’re afraid of them. If it’s the former, then get over yourself. You’ve had the floor for 45 minutes; now it’s someone else’s turn. If the latter, then you might think about sharing your fears in an authentic way: “Now, I’m a little afraid of the questions you might ask, since there are some people here in the audience who know more about the subject than I do, but if we agree to turn the answering over to anyone who is best positioned to answer the question, I’m happy with that.”

5. Finally, you might borrow an idea from the theatre and have a “talk back.” In the theatre, some groups invite the audience to give their thoughts back to the actors, the director, the stage crew, or anyone else who’s available. It’s a critique, a Q and A opportunity, a focus group, and a therapy session all rolled up into one. It’s risky, because you’re at the mercy of jerks in the audience who just want to ventilate or bloviate, but then Q and A can bring out those trolls too. If you choose this option, then it’s a big help to have someone else MC the discussion.

No excuses; there are plenty of interesting ways to end a presentation. Throw away that “Any Questions” slide and get to work.

With thanks to Susan de la Vergne for the question.

 

Powerful Public Speaking Workshop with Dr. Nick Morgan - Boston - Oct 24th 2017

16 Comments

  1. Hi Nick

    Greetings from West Cork.

    Go raibh maith agat. (thank You In Irish)

    I would like to thank you for all your great posts this year , all highly informative and inspirational.

    I would like to wish you and your family a fabulous Christmas and a most prosperous new Year.

    Kind regards
    John Keating

  2. Nick, for years I struggled with this one.

    I always thought that “thank you” was the best ending. But when I started listening to comedians on the radio (SiriusXM channels), their “thank you” endings seemed like a let down. Lacked power. I’ve switched gears a bit.

    I don’t ask a question (which I think is a great idea), but end with a simple magic trick.

    I talk earlier in my speech about the connect between magic and innovation. I do a trick which truly astonishes all audience members…as I’m doing the trick (which is purely visual, it does not need any comment from me), I conclude with the most important points from the speech and then I say, “and like magic, innovation is about making the impossible possible.” And I walk off the stage. No thank you. No explanation. Nothing for them to do. There is usually a hush followed by a sea of applause that goes in waves as the audience realizes I’m done.

    It is not perfect. But it catches the audience off guard (twice, once with the magic and the other with my walking off) and it seems to leave them with something memorable. Thanks for all of your great posts!

      1. Depending on how you did your introduction, it is nice to go back to it, complete it, extend it, etc. – go full circle.

  3. Thanks Nick for packaging together 5 options for us to consider. There are times when I like to leave them with a question to ponder, other times I like to end with a story that underlines the main point.

    Keep up the great work!

    Dave

  4. You know how people talk about blog posts that are “click bait”? They’re designed to get someone to click? I get a kick out of how some keynote speakers are remarkable with “standing ovation bait”. You can see it in pacing, verbal inflection, etc. that just makes people want to stand up and cheer.

    Even using the term “standing ovation bait” seems pejorative, which isn’t exactly my intention. I think there’s something to getting people to that emotional response. It’s the climax to the story, as you teach us in Power Cues.

    It’s just that I recently saw a LinkedIn profile that said something like “Herman Finklestein, 1000+ Standing Ovations” (name changed–I apologize to any of your readers by that name!). I guess my point is that success might be better measured by how people’s lives are impacted or job performance improvement or the discussions that are spurred on after the applause dies down.

    Or maybe Herman Finklestein has it right–all the meeting planner wants is to hear applause…. 🙂

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. Hi, Andy —

      Alas, yes — all speakers would secretly love a standing ovation, and some not so secretly twist their audience’s arms to get one. Very shallow! And very understandable:-)

  5. Great article Nick! Thank you for sharing. My favorite is to leave them with a question like you mentioned in #2! P.S. I tried to tweet this article from your social media buttons below the article, but it does not include the hyperlink. I had to copy and paste the link! Merry Christmas and thanks for all the great content this year!

    1. Hi, Ryan —

      Thanks for your comment and the point about the buttons. We recently did some upgrading of the site, and the result was a great look and some issues with various plug-ins…. We’re working on it!

  6. Hello Nick

    I have listened to Emmanuel Macron ‘s recent speech in English and I was amazed when he closed his formal speech by ” Thanks” It didn’t sound proper to me in particular for a head of state shouldn’t he have said ” Thank You ” ( English is my 2nd language that’s why I ‘d like to know)
    When one commit to deliver a speech in a foreign language then one has to make sure that the written speech is correct and in keeping with the level of language . Formal or informal .
    Thank you for your enlightenment .

    1. Hi, Joelle — you’re correct. The conventional way to end a speech in English is to say “thank you.” Occasionally speech pros rebel against the convention, but then the audience is left wondering — is he/she done? It’s hard to tell without the convention. So I strongly recommend everyone speaking in English to close a speech with “thank you.”

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