by Steve Adubato, PhD

Have you ever heard someone give a presentation and asked yourself what his point was? The closing of any presentation is an opportunity to put an exclamation point on your main message. It’s also a chance to provide direction or communicate a clear call to action. However, too often presenters deliver weak, rambling and frankly confusing concluding comments that leave their audience wanting more.

The way you end your presentation is as important as how you begin. Yet, many presenters finish simply because their time limit is up or they have nothing more to say. It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider these questions.

Q—Why are concluding comments in a presentation so critical to the audience’s reaction?

A—Many audience members really only begin paying attention to a presentation once they hear the words, “In conclusion…” or “Finally…” We have been trained and socialized to believe that when communicating either verbally or in writing the most important part of any presentation is the conclusion. It’s where things become crystallized and where you summarize your main points. It is a great opportunity to leave a lasting impression. It’s how they will remember you, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Q—Why do so many presenters offer weak concluding comments?

A—Most professionals have never really been coached or trained to understand what a presentation is all about. Too many believe that it is simply an opportunity to offer information or facts as opposed to a chance to move, motivate and inspire others. If you see a presentation as an opportunity to lead, it will become clearer how critical your final comments are. A presentation is not simply a pile of information that you dump on others, but if you see it that way, you will incorrectly assume that your concluding comments offer just additional information.

Another reason is that many presenters don’t know how to manage their time when speaking. They may have prepared a strong conclusion, but because their presentation runs too long, they don’t offer it. They fumble and say something like; “I have a lot more to say, but I know I’ve run out of time, so I am going to end here.” Obviously, this leaves a terrible impression on your audience.

Q—What are some concrete ways to conclude a presentation?

A—One of the best approaches is to offer a clear call to action; “What we need to do by the end of the month is increase sales by ten percent and here’s how we are going go it.” This approach offers your audience direction and focus. It leaves no doubt about your expectations and how you will measure success. You could also ask a question that allows your audience to do some important thinking; “Do we want to take direction A or should we go direction B? The choice is yours, but we must decide today.”

Some presenters offer quotations from famous or influential people. This approach is fine as long as the quote is clearly connected to the main message of the presentation. If not, they are simply words that your audience doesn’t know what to do with. Regardless of how you close your presentation, the key to success is to know exactly where you’re going and how you are going to get there.

Finally (your cue to pay attention) every presenter must ask, “What exactly do I want my audience to do when I’m finished?” When you answer that question, it will help you prepare a powerful conclusion to a persuasive presentation.