Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

The Big Finish, or how to end a speech with oomph.

Finish line on red running trackWe know that the audience’s attention is highest at the start of a speech, so you need to get their attention then, and keep it. Here is where you use surprising facts, rhetorical questions, unexpected information  (‘Hey Ma – wait’ll you hear THIS!’) an anecdote, joke, or story to jolt them into being attentive.

But what about the other end of the speech?  How do you close in a way that makes them feel galvanised, reinforces your message and makes you memorable?  Not by shuffling and sheepishly looking around before saying “thanks, any questions?”  The end of your speech should be a forceful, powerful moment, and your audience should  feel a sense of resolution and satisfaction.

It’s standard practice to finish a speech with a ‘call to action’.  Give the audience something to do.  But a  ‘call to action’ covers a lot of possibilities. Your closing needs to be appropriate for your situation and subject.  You don’t want to sound awkward or blunt, and you do want to maximise your impact and use this opportunity to get what you want.  You need to get the balance right.

Choosing a close that works  requires a high level of skill and finesse, not to mention practice.  So, the first step is  to narrow it down a bit. Do you want them to think about something?  Sign up to something? Commit to a goal? Join a group? Vote or rally for something? Donate to something? When you’re clear about this you can consider which specific approach works best.

There are many options, and quite a few checklists available on this subject. I’ve cherry picked from  a  range of online resources and am passing on the suggestions I think you’ll find most helpful.

Toastmasters (and others, including  Six Minutes 10 ways to end your speech with a bang) offer these closes:

1. The Title. Use the title of your speech as your closing words. Last words linger, crystallizing your thoughts, galvanizing your message and mobilizing your audience. This is also known as the Bookend close.   Refer back to your opening or title and say, “We have arrived, now, where we began. ” Then reiterate the message you want your audience to remember. This will achieve symmetry and has a nicely balanced feel to it. 

2. The Challenge. If you were concluding a speech on the importance of taking action, you could say something inclusive like: “Let’s turn from spectators into participants….We have too much to do to sit on the sidelines…”

3. The Invitation. … Rather like the challenge, you invite your audience to undertake something with you. We’ve heard what we have to do. We’ve seen what we need to do. Now is the time to do it and together we can. Do it!”

4. The Quotation. Find a famous quotation, or movie or book reference that everyone will know  and use it like a lever to lift the close of your speech….

5. The Repetitive Close. Find a phrase and structure it in a repetitive format that strikes the cadence of a drummer, building to a climax like this: “And so what we have been saying is that life is an adventure, dare it. A duty, perform it. An opportunity, take it. A journey, complete it. A promise, fulfill it. A puzzle, solve it. A goal, achieve it.”

6. The Suggestive Close. “Before I take questions, let me conclude with this point….”

7. The Benediction. “May all go well with you….”

8. The Congratulatory Close. “I salute all of you and everyone in your organization, and I look forward to your continued success….”

9. The Proverbial Close. Find a popular phrase and twist it to fit your message : “May the transformational force be with you.”

Mr Media offers this:

10. Direct Call to Action:  While not appropriate for every address, there is no clearer call to action than a direct call to action, such as:

”In order to guarantee that we save ______ tomorrow, we need to _____ today. If every person in this room leaves and immediately _____, I can guarantee that will result in ______ next year!”

11. Call-to-Question: It is often very effective to end with a rhetorical question that captures the message and leaves the audience thinking – especially one that directly ties in a call to action:

“What choice will you make when you leave here today? Will you ____, or will you go about your normal routine?”

12. Contrast: One of my favorites; this one is even more effective when tied directly to the closing call to action:

“We can have____, or we can have ______. The choice is ours, and is based entirely on the decision we each individually make today. _____ or _____. ( I know I’m choosing _____.)”


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