You have a big presentation to make to your client, your funders, or your boss. You've spent hours developing a deck that's concise, crisp, and visually stunning. You've practiced the delivery so that you speak with clarity, calm, and confidence. You've tested to make sure your tech is glitch-free, proofread the printed materials, and developed an opening statement that's sure to capture the hearts and minds of your listeners.
You got this...
Until the end.
If you're planning to wrap up your presentation with a half-hearted call for "any questions?" followed by a "thank you" and a quick exit, then you haven't planned your whole presentation.
In fact, you're missing out on a critical opportunity to reinforce your key message, offer a final appeal to gate keepers or decision makers, and make yourself and your pitch memorable.
The principle of recency states that people remember most what they learned most recently. In other words, your audience is likely going to recall how you ended your presentation more than they will remember how you started, or even much of the content in the middle. And if they're going to remember the end, you need a finish that's bigger than "any questions?"
Too many people end their presentations with a call for questions, which is a mistake. Why? Because it leaves the audience in charge of your ending, when, in fact, you want to be the one who decides the last words the audience hears. Think about it--what if the last question someone asks is irrelevant or hostile or bizarre? What if there are no questions at all? Is that what you want your audience to be thinking about when they make their decisions about whether to invest in your offering, move your agenda forward, or advance your career?
I bet not.
Here's one more possibility to consider: What if the question that someone asks is so helpful and insightful that it actually changes your planned conclusion?
So, you may be asking yourself, "If I don't end with Q&A, how do I end?" (Great question!)
If you're not planning to take questions throughout your presentation, here are the final four steps you need to end your presentation memorably (in a good way):
1. Recap your main points
After you've covered your content, sum it up for the audience so that they remember what you've just told them. (Remember the old saying, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them"? This is the "tell them what you told them" part.) No matter how compelling you were, you still need to assume that people's attention spans are short. A quick review of your main points will help your listeners lock in what they've learned.
2. Invite questions (and mean it!)
While you may wish you could avoid this section at all costs, you need to give people an opportunity to clarify anything they didn't understand, seek additional information, and even challenge your proposal. You might even find that an audience member's question brings up a novel idea or thoughtful approach you hadn't considered, leading you to draw an updated conclusion.
3. Share your conclusion
Don't get complex or fancy. It can be a simple restatement of your objective, with a few observations thrown in that you collected during the Q&A. Or, if the Q&A didn't yield any new insights, you can skip the observations. The point is to remind your audience of the key message you want to reinforce. (This is also a useful technique if you're dealing with a hostile audience, because the person who summarizes the discussion, no matter how tense the discussion may have become, stays in control by having the last word.)
4. Close memorably and meaningfully
Perhaps no section of a presentation is as important as the closing, since that's the last thing your audience will hear. And because it's so critical, your closing must be prepared and practiced. What are you preparing and practicing? A powerful quotation from a business leader, a relevant song lyric or movie line, a rousing call to action, a concise story, a rhetorical question, or (for bonus points) a link back to your opening statement.
You never get a second chance to make a last--and lasting--impression. Make sure that your presentations end positively, memorably, and with you in the driver's seat.