Brian McCarthy

The most important sections of your presentation are the beginning and ending. The beginning is when you will grab the attention of the audience and hopefully persuade them you are worth listening to for the next 20 minutes, and the ending will be where you summarise your main points and key message in such a way that it will be easier for them to remember and take home.

In this post I would like to talk about the five best practices for ending your talk confidently and with impact.

1. Repeat something from the opening.

When you begin your closing section (your summary or conclusions), it’s a good idea to repeat or link to an idea from the opening of your talk.  One great way to do this is to begin your talk with the first half of a relevant personal story and end your talk with the second half. Or, if you talk about a problem in a specific context at the beginning, refer back to that context at the beginning of your closing. Or, if you open with an impactful picture, show that image again at the end. Doing this will signal to the audience that you are coming to the end of your talk. It completes the circle – you end up back where you started. This is the classic structure of a story that recounts a journey – the hero usually ends up back he started at the end of the movie. Doing this will give a sense of harmony and completeness to your talk.

2. Show how each of your main points support your overall argument.

At the beginning of your talk, it’s important to map out the main ideas you will talk about. An audience that doesn’t know the stages of the journey you are about to take them on will be less at ease than one that knows what lies ahead. At the end of your talk take them back over what you’ve spoken about but don’t just list the different ideas you developed, show how they are related and how they support your main argument.

3. Don’t show a Thank-You slide.

I see so many presenters that show a slide that says “Thank you!” at the end of their talk. Some even include smiley faces or happy photos to make the slide more visual. Others finish with a slide that says “Questions?”. Neither of these slides is a good idea and neither helps the audience in any way (every slide you show should help the audience understand what you are saying). “Thank you” should come from your mouth with a smile and with eye contact, putting it on a slide cheapens the sentiment and looks naff. When my wife gives me a birthday present I don’t make her a powerpoint to say thank you! The last slide you show, the one that should stay up until every last audience member has left the room, is your summary slide. A summary slide shows all the main points you have made, along with your main argument and your call to action. It should also show your name and contact details. This slide is the only slide you use that can contain a lot of text, you’ll probably need to use bullet points to separate the text (this is the only slide you use that should have bullet-points!). Having all this information visible during the questions and answer (Q&A) session will help the audience think of questions to ask you. It will be interesting reading for them while you are answering questions they’re not interested in. And many people will take photos of this slide with their phone to take home as a summary of your talk and to have your contact details.

4. I know you’re tired, but finish with energy and enthusiasm.

It’s only natural that you’ll feel tired when you get to the end of your talk. The adrenaline that was racing through your body at the beginning has now worn off, your voice is tired and you’d love to sit down and have a beer. But you’re only half way there. Now comes the Q&A session, probably the most important element of a presentation, as it is this part that differentiates your talk from a video of you talking (you can’t ask questions to a video). Its crucial that the audience feels that you are enthusiastic and open for questions. What happens if no one has any questions? First of all, some people surely do want to ask you something, but no one wants to be the first to ask a question. You might need to break the ice and get the ball rolling. A good way to do this is for you yourself to ask a question to the audience. Make it an open, non-threatening question. Ask the most confident looking person in the room for their opinion, or get them to discuss the question with the person sitting beside them (this gives them a chance to rehearse their answer before speaking in front of everyone and also gives people a chance to network).

5. Your presentation doesn’t end with questions and answers.

When the Q&A session is over, stand up, get their attention and close the presentation. This isn’t always possible to do (e.g. At academic conferences where Q&A sometimes happens after every three presentations) but if you can, do it. In your closing give your main argument again, your call to action and deal with any doubts or criticisms that out in the Q&A. So, a closing is more or less a condensed version of your conclusions and an improvised summary of the Q&A. It’s important that the audience goes home with an image of you confidently presenting your main argument, and not with a memory of a Q&A that may or may not have gone well or may have been dominated by someone other than you.