How to End a Speech
Learn how to effectively signal the end of your speech without asking, “Are there any questions?”
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This week our topic comes directly from reader Radzuan Sofeea:
"What exactly is the meaning of a residual message in public speaking? Can you give examples of residual messages that can be easily understood by all?"
Should You End a Speech by Asking for Questions?
I cringe every time I hear a speaker end with an unimpressive “Thank you” or “Are there any questions?” I think many speakers say these things because they’ve finished speaking and then suddenly realize that their audience hasn’t realized they’re done! So, in desperation, they blurt out one of these phrases, hopeful that those words will clue them in.
Unfortunately, that’s the worst possible way to end a talk! It just sort of fizzles out, instead of ending with a clear bang!
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that some of you are saying, but Lisa, what’s wrong with asking if there are any questions? To be clear, it’s not the phrase that I object to, it’s when and how the phrase is used. If it is used as the ONLY signal that the talk had ended, then that’s a problem.
End a Speech with a Strong Summary
All good presenters use rhetorical signals to indicate that a presentation has come to an end. The first and most obvious signal is the conclusion. When the speaker reviews the main ideas in summary form, of course, this is an indication that the presentation is coming to an end.
However, to be an effective signal, the conclusion needs to be proportional to the entire talk--about 10-15% of the entire talk. So if your talk is 15 minutes, then your conclusion should be about 2 minutes. For a 40-minute talk it should be about 4 minutes.
If the conclusion is missing or is too short, which are very common mistakes, then the conclusion is not effective. Always include enough time to fully summarize your main points. Remember, repetition is important for comprehension and recall, so be absolutely sure you repeat your important points in the form of a solid conclusion.
End a Speech with a Closing Statement
Many presenters end directly after the conclusion, which is OK. However, excellent presenters use one additional final signal to indicate the speech is complete. Excellent communicators follow a solid summary with a very short final closing statement. For an informative speech, the closing statement is sometimes referred to as a “residual message.” If it’s a persuasive speech, then the closing statement is referred to as the “call to action.” Let me talk about each of them separately.
What Is A Residual Message?
So, again, for an informative talk, the closing statement is called a residual message. That is a final, brief, broad statement that sums up THE main message you want your audience to remember. It usually hints to the broader speech theme. In essence, it’s the main “takeaway”. Some people say, it’s what you want your audience to remember after it has forgotten everything else in your speech. I like to think of it as the key idea that you want your audience to take away with them.
A residual message needs to be short, efficient, and memorable. A well-done “closing” will have your audience automatically clapping BEFORE you utter “Thank-you, are there any questions?”
Examples of Residual Messages
So let’s say, for example, your presentation was a fifteen-minute informative presentation in which you conveyed important facts about blood donation. Your residual message could be, “When you give blood, you give the gift of life” or perhaps “Blood donation. It’s about life,” or perhaps “Will you be a blood donor? All it costs is a little love.”
Notice how the residual message is very, very, short--typically 10-30 seconds (and a minute, maximum, for long presentations). It should be very similar to, but always shorter than, your initial opening attention getter. Similar to an effective opening attention getter, the final residual message is usually a quote, a question, an example, a generalization, a surprising statement, an analogy or comparison.
Use a Tieback
Usually your opening attention getter and closing statement are related in some way. I refer to it as a “tieback,” which is a public speaking term I made up based on the comedic technique called a “callback. ” A callback is when a joke refers to one previously told in the set. Callbacks are usually used at or near the end of a set to create the biggest laugh and help the audience to feel a sense of familiarity—both with the topic and the comedian.
In the same way, a strong tieback will instill that same sense of familiarity as well as a sense of closure at the end of a speech. My idea is to tie back your residual message to something you’ve mentioned previously in the speech. In fact, you’re already familiar with this technique, since I use it in most of my articles.
For example, you may remember, last week, I mentioned the musicality of a few business names I saw on billboards, and at the end of the article, I referred to those business names again. I also referred to the reader, Gabriele, and his crazy idea at the beginning and also at the end. In both of cases I was hinting at the theme of the article, which was musicality.
What Is a Call To Action?
For a persuasive talk, the closing statement is referred to as a call to action. As with a residual message, the idea is that the last words out of your mouth will be the most memorable, so you want them to count. Especially when you are trying to persuade someone to take action, the most important words should be the specific action you want your audience to take. That is, you should end by telling your audience what it is exactly that you want them to do.
So, let’s say this time your speech was intended to be a persuasive speech about blood donation. Your call to action could be a very mild, general request urging you audience to consider blood donation. “Please consider giving blood, you could safe a life,” Or it could range all they way to a very aggressive, directive command, “Please choose an appointment time on the calendar I’m passing around. Thanks for your gift of life.” Again, with a persuasive speech the call to action tells your audience what it is that you want them to do as a result of hearing your speech.
Ultimately, it’s important to end all your presentations with a brief but solid summary of the main points. Then follow this with a strong closing statement-- either a residual message, for an informative talk, or call to action, for a persuasive talk. Your closing statement should act as a very clear signal to your audience that you have ended your presentation, and it should also remind the audience of the overall theme and main message you want the audience to takeaway. If you have finished with a strong conclusion and a strong closer, then, and only then, is it OK to ask, “Are there any questions?”
This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business. Are there any questions?
Next week I’ll be talking about diplomacy. So, this week I’ve been re-listening to Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you’ve never read or listened to this book you should, and if you have, then you already know it would be great to be able re-listen whenever you need a refresher on how to deal with people. This book is one I recommend for everyone.
Speech image from Shutterstock