"Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
You grabbed audience attention in the opening, you held it throughout your speech, and now you want to close. It may seem to you like a time to simply summarise, say “Thank you”, return to your seat and happily breathe a sigh of relief, right? WRONG!
No matter how vivid the words that came before, no matter how strong your arguments and points were, no matter the beautiful images you had in your slides, your conclusion is your prime time. It is what your whole speech or presentation should build up to. Don't squander it. Instead, build up to it, and make sure it is stimulating and memorable.
FIRST & LAST
In public speaking, there is something we call the Principle of Primacy and Recency, and it’s quite simple. It means that, in a speech, the audience will remember best what you say first and what you say last. In other words, your Introduction and your Conclusion are critical to a memorable speech.
But even between these two, what do people remember the more? It is what they hear last! Yes, your conclusion. Unfortunately, so few speakers devote any special thought or preparation to their ending. They just fade away from the podium, and they and their speeches are soon forgotten.
As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. That's right. Nonetheless, in public speaking, even if you started poorly, you do have a chance to end powerfully and get results. I have seen people so relieved that their assignment (or punishment?) on the podium is over that they begin to pack up their materials even before they have finished speaking! Why the hurry?
So, according to the Principle of Primacy and Recency, in order to be truly memorable, you must end as strongly as you began. Pay attention to your closing, work on it, refine it, rehearse it over again. Effective speakers save a burst of energy, excitement and concern for the end, and they make the conclusion the dessert of their presentations — something delicious, with a memorable and lasting after-taste.
So, how do you actually craft a powerful Opening and a lasting Closing? More on that to come.
Jonas Ezeanya is an executive speech coach and presentation expert based in Lagos, Nigeria. Connect with him on LinkedIn.