Public Speaking: How to Write a Powerful Conclusion for Your Speech

The conclusion is another often overlooked part of a speech. In its most ugly form, the speaker, realizing that he or she has no more to say, simply looks at the audience with a blank stare until finally blurting out “well, that’s all I got” or “Thanks for having me.” I guess some folks take the advice of leaving your audience wanting more a little too literally.

Conventional wisdom in the realm of public speaking is that your opening statement and closing statement must be perfect. While I agree that it’s important to develop these two parts of your speech, I don’t think they are as important as others make them out to be – which is the other extreme.

Instead, consider what your goals for an effective conclusion are:

  1. To summarize the main points of your speech.
  2. To motivate the audience to take action.

Please note that “leaving the audience with a positive impression of your wit” isn’t there, nor is “win an award for best written speech conclusion.” All too often, people put too much pressure on themselves to find a way to close their speech. “Thank you” is the worst way to end a speech profess many well-intentioned but ill-informed public speaking experts (I’ve heard this dozens of times at Toastmasters clubs during speech evaluations). I don’t see the harm – it’s fine to thank the audience at the end of your talk, as long as it’s sincere. So let’s look at your real goals.

Summarizing your main points is pretty straightforward. Most speeches have three to five main points, so including each of these in your summary is important. I’ve found it helpful to state a memorable fact or two about each point to help the audience retain the things I’ve said about each point – and this critical for longer talks (30 minutes or longer). I typically do my question and answer session right before my conclusion, so I may make some impromptu references to some interesting or related points that came up during Q&A. I also provide a mini-outline of the main points of my talk as a handout for longer talks (I also use it as a marketing tool).

Now on to the great controversy: your closing statement. Your goal for the closing statement is to get the audience to take action. Depending on your speech and your goals for giving the speech, it can fall into one or more of the following actions:

  • Think a certain way about the topic you presented.
  • Purchase a product or service.
  • Volunteer or sign up to do something.
  • Promote your topic.
  • Get others excited or interested in your topic.

Again, many people make this step overly difficult. Simply asking the audience in a sincere way to take the action is as effective as a well crafted conclusion. In fact, trying too hard to provide a memorable conclusion can sometimes turn off your audience. For example, if you’re selling a product and you conclude your pitch with

So as you can see, our product has helped many people in your situation succeed. I hope you’ll give us the chance to help you succeed.

it’s quite different than

Imagine your competition as tortoises, slowly trudging along the path to success with their blinders on, completely unaware that the resources they need for success are right at their finger tips. Then you, the hare, whiz by them at the speed light and all they feel a gentle breeze – this is the advantage to buying our product.

You can see that both are equally as effective even though the latter one is more descriptive and doesn’t really buy you anything. In fact, some people may find it corny.

So in summary, your conclusion should simply sum up the main points of your talk and encourage the audience to take action. My Dale Carnegie instructor and friend, Bob Arnold, once said that your closing statement can be as simple as something that reads like a newspaper headline. So don’t fret, just close.

And again, it’s perfectly acceptable in my book to thank the audience at the end of your speech.

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2 thoughts on “Public Speaking: How to Write a Powerful Conclusion for Your Speech

  1. Lisa Braithwaite

    Nice post, James, simplifying the sometimes overwrought task of writing a conclusion.

    I completely agree with you about thanking the audience at the end, by the way. I’ve written about thanking the audience a couple of times (you might say I’m a little obsessed with the issue):

    http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2007/03/do-you-thank-your-audience.html
    http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2007/08/when-not-to-say-thank-you.html
    http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2008/02/two-minutes-of-thank-yous.html

    Take care!

    LB

  2. Pingback: Public Speaking Success: How to Give a Great Speech | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

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