When I work with clients, the question always comes up about how to close their speeches. Some want to get a standing ovation. Others, more idealistic, want to change the world, beginning with the audience in front of them. Still others simply want to get off the stage safely and back to the bar. So how do you end a presentation? Is there a best way to do it? Is every speech different? What’s a useful way to think about the closing of a speech?

A speech is a persuasive act. You, the speaker, are trying to persuade the audience of the rightness of your thinking, your point of view, or your cause. You’re taking the audience on a journey, then, of persuasion. The last step on this journey involves turning the speech over to that audience, then, because otherwise the audience hasn’t “got” your presentation and your point of view.

That audience has been relatively passive all this time, listening to you. Perhaps you’ve engaged the audience in various interactive moments and activities, but fundamentally, you’ve been driving and the audience has been sitting in the passenger seat.

But most people are naturally active. And if you’ve done your job right, they’re ready to give back. More than that, they’re ready to get started implementing your ideas. Audiences begin by asking ‘why’ (Why should I care? Why does this matter to me?) at the top of a speech and, if they’ve gone on the journey, end by asking ‘how’ (How do I get started? How do I implement this idea?).

So let them get started. Give them something to do. Give them an action that represents a small, easy step toward the big thing you’ve been talking about. Get them to commit, to pick a path, to choose an idea. Get them to write an idea or two down. Get them to share something with the people around them.

Turning the audience loose for about 3 minutes will create a burst of energy (all that pent-up action) that you might find alarming, but it’s a good thing. It’s the audience making your speech so – making it happen.

Of course, not every speech points to an obvious, clear action step. And some occasions simply don’t leave much room for one. But if you can come up with something that allows the audience to take all its bottled-up energy and get started, the result will greatly increase the staying power of your presentation.

I once worked with a client on a speech to be given at a religious gathering. Thousands of church administrators were present, and the topic of the day was “abundance.” The client was arguing that these church administrators already had all they needed to do wonderful work. Whatever they had, it was enough to get started. They had abundance. At the end, then, the speaker asked everyone to reach into their pockets and pocket books and grab all their loose change. On the count of three, he had everyone throw the loose change onto the floor of the auditorium. Runners came around and picked up all the change.

The result? Thousands of dollars raised in an instant, and a powerful message about abundance.

Participating in that simple action allowed the audience to take ownership of that message of abundance. With that one small step, they symbolically committed to putting that speaker’s ideas into action. And ultimately, that’s what you’re there for as a speaker – to show the audience the change it needs to make and convince it to start working on making that change today. If you craft your speech properly, by the time you’re done talking, your audience will be excited to get to work. You will have moved them from “why” to “how.” You will have persuaded them. You will have changed the world.

3 Comments

  1. Nick this is a wonderful tip. I usually work on the opening story to bring the audience into the experience and am left with a “thank you” at the end.

    Having just experienced a “buzz session” type of format this week I am going to try this “take one action” or “have one conversation” at the very end of my next plenary. Thanks!

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