Seven Great Ways To Close A Speech (Part Two)

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part series that will teach you seven ways to end your next presentation. You can see part one here and part three here.

If you read part one of this series yesterday, you know that far too many speakers limp to the finish line with a lame closing, such as “Ummm….thanks,” or “That’s all I have.”

Today, you’ll learn three more great ways to close a speech: the callback, making it personal, and the rhetorical question.

Close Three: Use a Callback

A “callback” is a term most commonly used in stand-up comedy. Writer and comic Patrick Bromley defines a callback as “a reference a comedian makes to an earlier joke in a set. Callbacks are usually made in a different context and remind the audience of an earlier joke, creating multiple layers and building more than one laugh from a single joke.”

Callbacks work similarly in a speech, but usually without the jokes. That may sound similar to a bookend (it is), but the main difference is that a callback can refer to anything in the body of your speech, not just the opening.

For example, within the first hour of our public speaking workshops, I make the point that introducing too much information overloads an audience, particularly since memory studies show that people forget much of what they’ve learned shortly after learning it. One study, in which people were shown 20 photographs consecutively and were then asked to name the ones they remembered found that they only remembered an average of five photos.
I occasionally end the workshops hours later with a callback, saying:

“Earlier today, you learned that immediately after seeing twenty photographs, people remembered an average of only five. Therefore, I know that you’re probably going to forget many of the different tips and techniques you learned today. So even if you forget everything else from today’s session, I’d like to conclude by reminding you of the three most important things you should remember before every presentation you ever give. They are…”

Close Four: Make It Personal

Many speakers discuss their own personal connection to the speech topic throughout their talks. But if you haven’t touched on your personal ties to the topic throughout your presentation, doing so at the close often helps forge a deeper audience connection.

For example, imagine you’re a political candidate speaking to a group of senior citizens about the government’s prescription drug benefit. You may have spoken about the importance of the program, inadequacies with the current drug benefit, and the improvements you’d like to make. But you can end your talk with a more personal touch:

“My mother just turned 82, and her health is starting to decline. She was diagnosed recently with congestive heart failure, and her doctors prescribed three new medications for her. As you can imagine, those drugs are pretty important.
I wanted to help her figure out which drug plan covered all of her medications, which I thought was going to be an easy task. Well, imagine my shock when I sat down at the computer at 10 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t finish figuring it all out until after dark?
Folks, let me assure you that I know how to use a computer. And it took me ten hours to get through all of the options. There’s no way my mother could have chosen the right plan on her own. She was almost in tears by the end of the day. And she’s just one of millions of seniors just like you who are spending hours, days, or even weeks in sheer frustration because of the government’s inability to make this easy for you. I know how important medications are to you, and I will fight to make finding the right drug plan easier for you.”

Close Five: Ask a Rhetorical Question

You can ask a rhetorical question at any point throughout your speech, but asking one at the end is particularly powerful, since members of the audience will leave your talk with your question still lingering in their minds.

One of the most famous rhetorical questions in political history came during a 1980 presidential debate between challenger Ronald Reagan, and the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter. Governor Reagan scored a knockout blow by finishing the debate with a series of rhetorical questions, the first of which became his most famous:

“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?” And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

Please tune in for part three of this series tomorrow. In the meantime, click here for Matt Eventoff’s five suggested closings. And click here for eight great ways to open a speech.

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