Delivering a powerful finish to a presentation is just as important as how you open. You must make a strong connection right from the start to hook your audience with a provocative statement that previews the big idea that will follow in your talk. But you must also have a strong close to help your message resonate with the audience and increase the chances that they will take actions in your favor. One way to make certain your ending connects and delivers a compelling Call to Action is to make it sticky.
People are pretty good at remembering the beginnings and endings of presentations; the middle may be a little fuzzy. That phenomenon is due to the principles of primacy and recency. We tend to remember mostly the first part of something (primacy) and the most recent or last topic (recency). That’s why it is important to end with a bang that will linger in their minds and hearts and bring about the change you seek.
Sustaining a connection throughout–especially with an online presentation—is challenging. If you bookend the juicy middle with a strong beginning and a sticky end, you will increase your chances of success.
Sticky messages resonate because they are more impactful and memorable. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007), by Chip and Dan Heath, is considered one of the top 100 business books of all time for a good reason.
The Heath Brothers found that the ideas that stick best have six traits in common. They fall under the SUCCESs acronym: Simplicity, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories. These elements can be distributed throughout your presentation but are especially relevant to your closing statements. The stickier your closing message and delivery, the more your ideas will be remembered and acted upon. They are summarized here:
Simplicity, say the Heath Brothers, is about prioritizing, not about dumbing down. Remove the nonessential details to highlight the core of your message and give your ending maximum impact.
To get attention, create an “aha” moment where you make a big reveal or answer a question you posed earlier. Build curiosity, anticipation, and an element of surprise. “Before your message can stick, your audience has to want it.”
The ending is your last chance to make your ideas clear and concise. Many presentations fail because there is a glut of confusing information. Illustrate your main theme or key takeaway with crisp language and captivating graphics.
Back up your ideas with facts and human-scale statistics displayed in the proper context and in terms that people can visualize. Gain credibility by showing respect for your audience. Finish on time, show up looking professional and use language that is friendly, open, and natural.
People care about people, not numbers or mere information. Make your messages emotional and your audience will care more. Those feelings will inspire them to act. Close your talk with a particular example, a story, or anecdote to illustrate your core point. People remember better what arouses their emotions.
Stories drive action through simulations (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it). Consider using a story that illustrates the problem you have been talking about and then shows a concrete solution. Some of the best presenters open and close with a story because ideas wrapped in story are easier to remember and repeat.
The brilliant Garr Reynolds, a leading global authority on presentation design and delivery, recommends closing by taking the talk back to the beginning. “…bring a harmonious close to your presentation by simply going back to your original point,” he writes in The Naked Presenter. “If you started with a provocative story, you could go back to that story to show once again how the moral of the story supports your message.”
Reynolds urges presenters to keep the energy high at the end and to get physically closer to the audience while making eye contact with as many individuals as possible. These techniques could be simulated in virtual meetings to end your talk on a powerful note.
Remember that the best presentations bring about change. Be clear, direct, and specific. Tell your audience exactly what you want them to do or think next.
At the end of one of my workshops on presentation excellence, I may say to my audience something like: “Write down three things you will do immediately to improve your next presentation using the skills you learned today.”
Close on a positive and upbeat note that gives your audience encouragement and inspiration to keep learning and growing as communicators on their own.