15 Ways to Close a Speech or Presentation
As the open of your speech sets the stage, your close seals the deal. It is your last chance to restate a key idea, make a final impression, inspire the audience, move a group to action, or change a person’s perspective. A tall order, yes, but it’s far from impossible. Here, we offer you 15 ways to close a speech.
That’s not the end of it, however. Those final words are so important, it often takes not one but two closes to make a singular impression. We’ll cover those, aptly enough, at the end of this post.
First, we promised those closes. You’ve worked hard not to deliver an ordinary talk, so let’s make your exit a memorable one.
15 Ways to Close Your Talk
As your open drew in your audience, your close is a powerful reminder of why they stuck around in the first place. These presentation closes highlight many different approaches that work for our clients in our public speaking classes. What they are not are recipes for quick escapes. Save the “thank you for your time,” “feel free to email or call me with questions,” and “that’s all I have for today” for another day. Your close is what you want them to remember, so make sure it’s something they can’t forget.
1. The Summary Close – Let’s talk turkey. This close is about the most straightforward, direct, and unequivocal one in the list. It also could be called the “recap” close. If you opt to close a speech with a summary, you want to be clear with your biggest idea and convey to the audience that it is what you want them to remember. That doesn’t mean, however, the summary close is never engaging.
For example, you’re a doctor who is encouraging an audience to adopt lifestyle changes that can lead to longevity. You could end your talk by saying:
“In conclusion, while genetics plays an important role in our lifespans, there are decisions you can make that can improve your chances for a longer and more productive life. There are three letters I want you to remember, “i”, “a,” and “n.” Why? They come at the end of three important words: octogenarian, nonagenarian, and centenarian. If you plan to be active in your 80s, 90s, and 100s, you better start eating better, getting more exercise, eliminating unnecessary stress, and scheduling those routine screenings. A thriving future is in your hands.”
2. The Illustrative Close – The artistry in this close comes from your ability to appropriate a first- or third-person anecdote, case study, or fable; an apocryphal (fictional but plausible) tale; or another storytelling device to serve as an illustration of the main points you made during your talk. Quick tip: Many talks begin and end in this manner.
Example No. 1: You are a senior vice president of a nonprofit that provides health and humanitarian care to locations around the world. You are talking to a group of would-be donors about the significance of their contributions. You decide to end your speech with a personal experience.
“I’ve spent the past 20 minutes encouraging you to dig into those pockets to help make the world a better place for others. I want to tell you one more story. It’s about a personal decision I made some 10 years ago after visiting a coffee shop. I plunked down my two dollars, grabbed my coffee, and headed out the door. During my five-minute walk back to my office, my one minute walk up the stairs, and the four minutes I spent catching up on email, I had finished it. In 10 minutes, I had managed to spend and consume the amount of money that the world’s poorest people live on in a day. Could I give up that coffee to help others? You bet I could, and I did. Since then, no matter what else I donate each year, it always contains $520, what I call my “coffee fund.” Simple measures not only add up but have the power to change lives.”
Example No. 2: You are a guidance counselor who is speaking to a group of students who are applying to college. Throughout your talk, you impress upon them the importance of planning and setting deadlines. You could end your speech by referencing Aesop’s fable The Ants and the Grasshopper.
“I want to tell you all a story, and perhaps it is one you remember. Long ago, a grasshopper decided to spend his summer making music and otherwise lazing about. In contrast, a group of ants busily set aside food for the winter. The grasshopper thought he would be fine if he waited to the last minute. He wasn’t, nor will you be if you put off the tasks that need to be done today. Applying for college is an intense and important process that can’t be rushed at the end.”
3. The Surprise Close – Some of the best movie endings of all time were wicked twists, surprising conclusions, and outright shockers. Why are they so memorable? First, they are unexpected. It turns out our brains are more active when we experience something we didn’t anticipate. Second, we expected a different conclusion. When a pattern is broken, we become particularly attuned to what comes next. When you close a speech with a surprise ending, you are signaling to your audience to listen up. Here are some ways to do that:
- Your talk is about how positive thinking gives you the power to overcome overwhelming obstacles. Your talk has been about a woman who “beat the odds.” At the end, you reveal that person is you.
- You lead a school building committee, and you are giving a presentation about the renovation plans for an 80-year-old school. You want to persuade the community to back the plan. As you end your speech, you concede that speaking about the design is a lot less effective than seeing it. You could close with this:
“We all know seeing is believing. So, while I do not have an actual building to show you, I want to take you on a virtual tour of our new middle school. You are the first to see this. (You reveal a screen and project a short video.) This plan provides for the students’ futures and doesn’t keep them stuck in the past.
4. The Metaphor Close – When it comes to the ways you close a speech, you may feel that you are drowning in options, but if you take a careful look at your topic and what you want to convey, you will find it’s as easy as pie. We bet that’s music to your ears. Welcome to the metaphor close. We just gave you three. Metaphors are figures of speech that make an indirect comparison between two things that are symbolically similar but literally different. You are not literally drowning in options, but it sure can feel that way.
Here’s a way to employ this close: You are a spokesperson for a technology company that is releasing a new residential surveillance product. You outlined its merits throughout your talk and have arrived at the end. Here, we show you two closes, one without and one with a metaphor.
Example No. 1 (Without)
“Our proprietary technology makes our product stand out. By installing our surveillance system, you have – at your fingertips – one of the industry’s strongest lines of defense against would-be thieves, intruders, and other unwanted visitors.”
Example No. 2 (With)
“When you install our surveillance system, it is as if you have dozens of lookouts guarding your home.”
5. The Forward-Looking Close – Calling all dreamers and visionaries: Paint a picture of what the world might look like in the future. This speech close is a good option if you are talking about recommendations to adopt or future trends that could have a bearing on your topic. It’s important to create a vivid and vibrant picture to help the audience better visualize what it is you hope to accomplish. Say you are a financial advisor talking to a group 15 years away from retirement. During your talk, you have shared a portfolio of products and your firm’s approach to investment. Your close could be this:
“I have shared with you some tips and techniques that will help you to grow your money so you have it when you need it most. We have talked about your bottom line, market variability, and the strategies that go into investing. But, I want to leave you with a different picture. When you pay attention to your investments today, your tomorrows will be spent poolside, hiking mountains, traveling the globe, learning a new skill, or finally attaining what you have always dreamed of doing. You will no longer be working for your money. Your money will be working for you.”
6. The Backward-Looking Close – We move away from the future and reach into the past. Some audiences, including those who are discouraged or complacent, may need to be reminded of how far they have come. Say you are the manager of a sales team that has spent the past two years working full tilt to hit revenue goals. During your speech, you outlined an ambitious approach to the coming year that some audience members believe is unattainable. Your close, then, encourages them to move forward with confidence, given their past successes. You could offer this:
“I know how hard you all worked these past two years to increase revenue and create a more thriving and vibrant environment. You may not think it, but I can hear your silent groans of frustration. Yes, we do have an ambitious path before us. However, I have no doubts that you are all up to the task. In the past two years, you have taken a company with $500,000 a year in sales to one that clears $1 million. The expressions of doubt and concern that face me now were the same I saw two years ago. But guess what? During these past two years, whatever challenges we faced were met and managed quickly – and that is entirely due to your work ethic. I know we can do this. I know we will do this.”
7. The Next Steps Close – You probably have several to-do lists in your life. There are those that cover daily needs; others focus on short-term goals. There’s likely one lurking out there for long-term dreams, too. Although the timeframe may be different, each list has its own set of tasks that must be met to ensure that things get done. You can close a speech with a similar list. In this case, you want to lay out the sequence and timeline of steps needed to make a decision or achieve a goal.
8. The Rhetorical Question Close – You don’t have to wait until the end, as rhetorical questions are effective throughout a talk. However, asking one at the conclusion of your presentation is powerful since the audience leaves with your question rattling around their minds. One of the most famous rhetorical questions came during a 1980 presidential debate between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger, Governor Ronald Reagan. In the ensuing years, Reagan’s message has become an oft-asked question during every presidential election cycle: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Here’s what he said to end that 1980 debate:
“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.”
9. The Provocative Close – Merriam-Webster defines provocative as “serving or tending to provoke, excite, or stimulate.” Of course, every presenter hopes to stimulate the minds of their audiences, but a provocative close snaps people to attention. Here are a few ways to close a speech provocatively. For instance, you are:
- Speaking before a skeptical group – you end your talk by conceding that you disagree with the audience in several areas but agree wholeheartedly on the one you just discussed in your talk.
- Delivering a wake-up call – you conclude with a forceful call to action. This is particularly effective if you have power or hold sway over the group to whom you are presenting. For example, you have just delivered a talk to employees about a new technology they are going to have to learn – no ifs, ands, or buts.
- Talking to a group that resists change – you could end with the consequences if no action is taken regarding your topic. You want to paint an “if we fail to act” vision, but it’s also important to take it easy. Too much negativity could lead to a sense of hopelessness, and hopelessness is not the greatest of motivators.
10. The PowerPoint Close – When you dispense with cluttered visual presentations and instead offer an image that draws your audience in, PowerPoint can create a memorable close. Powerful visuals encourage curiosity. Here are a few options to close a speech with a PowerPoint slide. You might project:
- A photo that is seemingly unrelated to your speech topic and requires your explanation.
- An image that is humorous, but makes a profound point.
- A line graph showing two potential outcomes – one if the audience gets involved and another if they don’t.
11. The Recommendation Close – In the long-running game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” contestants, who are dressed in outlandish costumes, are urged to, yes, make a deal for cash and prizes. They must choose a prize or gamble for another, which is often behind a curtain or some other wall or obstruction. “Let’s Make a Deal” contestants don’t know what’s behind the curtain, but your audience will. With the recommendation close, you provide your audience with the plusses and minuses of several different options – no curtains or costumes needed.
To be viewed as credible, however, you should offer honest pros and cons for each recommendation. It should not appear to the audience as if you are stacking the odds in favor of one column over the other. Just be mindful not to tip your hat, and the audience will get an unvarnished look at the options before them.
12. The Activity Close – Sometimes you can close a speech with an activity that can drive your main messages home. For instance, you could employ a group “pop quiz” to see how many of your key points landed. (Added bonus: The feedback affords one more opportunity to clarify and reiterate what you want the audience to remember.) You could also end with some of the following activities:
- You are a representative for a cosmetics company and are unveiling a new foundation. For your close, you break the audience into groups, provide samples, and ask the groups how it delivered.
- You run a government agency that is implementing a new program for requests for proposal. You are running some information sessions for contractors, consultants, and other businesses. For your close, you could lead participants through one test round of the system.
13. The Takeaway Close – Parents of young toddlers and teenagers do this every day, to mixed results, but when used to close a speech it can be entirely effective. You ask the audience to reflect on two or three things they heard you say that resonated with them the most. You might even ask them to write them down. The exercise has a twofold benefit – you get to see whether your messages stuck, and the audience is forced to recall what you said, but on their terms.
14. The “Since I Started Speaking” Close – This close works well when talking about a health issue, a societal phenomenon, or anything that can be explained through statistics and further broken down into concrete examples. Say, for instance, you are a spokesperson for a smoking cessation program and you are talking to a group of employees about the dangers of smoking. After you have outlined how smoking leads to disease and is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, you could end with this:
“In the 60 seconds it will take me to finish my presentation, someone in the United States will have died from cigarette smoking. That happens every minute, making smoking the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The dangers are real and the dire consequences of smoking are relentless, yet it remains an unhealthy habit that too many are unable to quit. What will it take to make that change? After you leave here today, why don’t you take a minute and think of how much it costs you to smoke. Then think of what you could be doing with the money instead. Vacations? Home renovations? New bikes? A new wardrobe? Philanthropic pursuits? Find the incentive that finally gets you to stop lighting up. Quitting is difficult, but it isn’t impossible. And we’ll be here to help you, even if you fall down a few times along the way.”
15. The Relevance Close – In today’s fast-paced society, yesterday’s news ain’t what it used to be. A fresh tidbit during the morning news cycle is stale by lunchtime. Such an environment can make it hard for a presenter whose talk is historical or retrospective in nature. In this scenario, the way you close your speech should connect old ways or thoughts to contemporary norms or thinking. Perhaps, you find that your topic reflects an adage that stands the test of time. Say you are a museum curator whose latest exhibition delves into the history of work and the machines that revolutionized different industries. You have just wrapped up a presentation about the show to a group of donors. You have laid out the main points and are heading for the close. Here are some closing techniques:
You might remind the audience how the machines of yesterday were once the state-of-art technology of their day. Then, encourage them to think about what will replace current technology and how that will affect the nature of work.
Map out the historical line between an object of today with its predecessors to show how the technology of work is ever evolving.
Find an adage or quote that covers the overall theme of how technology and human industry have been and will be linked into the future.
One caveat: For most talks, speakers would want to establish such a relevance early on (i.e., what now seems old was once state of the art). However, for some talks, such as the one referenced above, the moment might have more impact and resonance if it is saved until the end.
Close a speech with a duo
The final words of any presentation are crucial to ensuring that the audience heads out the doors having listened, learned, and held fast to your key ideas. Given the close is so important, you get two opportunities to make an impression. That’s right, there’s not just one close, but two.
By employing a two-part close, the audience has a chance to ask questions, but the speaker maintains control of the floor. The first close wraps up the main portion of your presentation, after which you will open the floor to questions. The second close occurs after you answer the final question, allowing you to take back the floor one last time so your key messages are the last words.
The First Close
The first close is any of the 15 we shared.
As you move from the main body of your presentation to the close, the audience will need a cue. This can be a spoken transition or a change in your vocal or physical delivery. Phrases can help, such as, “In conclusion” or “I’d like to summarize what I said this morning.” However, there are more seamless transitions, too. Here are some you can use:
“We’ve spoken today about the very real challenges we face and a few potential solutions. Where does that leave us?”
“You might be wondering what comes next.”
You also could lower or slow your voice to signal a shift. Perhaps, you pause for a few seconds or move to the opposite side of the room. If you switch off any electronics or devices, you’ve also indicated that your time is drawing to a close.
The Second Close
This setup might seem counterintuitive to what is a more traditional approach to an audience: You speak. They listen. You stop speaking. You offer your final thoughts. They ask questions. You answer. You mumble a hasty goodbye and make your exit.
That could work, but what if that final question is a tempest in a teapot? Perhaps an audience member throws shade on your entire premise, or stumps you. Or, you become flustered, stammer your way through an answer, and contradict something you said earlier. Don’t worry. If you employ a two-tier close, you can remain on track. (You also could brush up on how to manage your Q&A.)
Your second close is a concise, short, and targeted exercise. It’s the final pitch of the final thought you want your audience to remember. Again, slow your pace or add emphasis to your final line. We’ll return to the doctor who is advocating lifestyle changes in the pursuit of a longer life. He could say:
“If I leave you with one thought today, I am confident that with the right tools, the right approach, and the right attitude, you will continue to thrive and not just survive in the decades to come. Remember those three letters: i, a, n. Go to the gym. Eat your vegetables. Become an Ian.”
Politeness counts, too. A simple “thank you” after you are through will do.