Everyone would agree that the way you open your presentation is vital. You want to grab people’s attention from the word go, capture any wandering minds and have everyone focused on what you’re about to say.
But what about the ending?
This is an area that has received far less attention – and that’s a pity. No doubt most of us have sat through a presentation that just trails limply and somewhat apologetically away. This misses a great opportunity.
I would suggest that it’s worth putting as much thought into the ending of your presentation as into the beginning. Think of a great piece of music. Most of these don’t fade away but end with a bang – or at least a strong statement. You want to do the same.
Every closure should have four elements: a summary, a conclusion, thanks and a Q & A. Let’s look at those briefly.
First, a summary. This is vital; many presentations these days are complex, multi-layered, with lots to take in. It’s important to underline the key points at the end so the audience is clear about them and goes away with them fresh in their minds.
Next, the conclusion. This is like the punch-line in a good joke. It should be neat, preferably witty, thought provoking, pithy. And if you can manage all of these things, so much the better! This could be the most important message or lesson of the presentation, or the underlying theme. It could be an intriguing or disturbing idea that will keep the audience thinking as they leave – and hopefully even longer than that.
Some people like to use famous quotations here: these are usually well crafted and memorable, so in a way they help to do your job for you. But you must ensure that it’s relevant to your presentation, of course.
It’s polite to thank your audience for listening to you, especially if they are all busy people with demanding schedules. But in any case, people like to be thanked, and it puts them in a good frame of mind.
Last but not least, the Q & A session. Some presenters are happy to take questions en route, but this can have a distracting effect; it’s easy to lose the thread of where you are. Also, if the question is a really absorbing one, it’s better to explore it more fully at the end when there’s less time pressure.
So what style is best for your closure? This will depend on the objective of the presentation. Many of these are designed to instruct or inform, and in such cases the four-element closure should be fine.
If the point of the presentation is to persuade, you will want to flag up what the next step is – which should be the end of the conclusion.
If it’s a sales presentation, you’ll want to adopt a more forceful style. Your presentation will have built logically and skilfully towards an inevitable result, and the conclusion should be the final, unarguable, finish.
Done properly, your closure will be a dexterous and pleasing finale. To ensure that it is, one more thing is needed: make sure you rehearse the ending just as much as the beginning!
By David Vickery
1 February 2010