Wrapping it Up – What Makes a Good Conclusion?


“Never, ever end your presentation with the answer to the last question. Always wrap it up!” – Kristin J. Arnold

Kristin Arnold is the president of the National Speaker’s Association, and the author of the fantastic Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve, and Inspire Your Audience to Action (affiliate link). Her tweet today really is great advice. It’s important to make sure that the audience has some closure at the end of a presentation. You don’t want to leave them hanging, with a sense of unresolved business.

So, how do you go about wrapping things up? What makes for a great conclusion to a presentation or speech?

Tell ‘em What You Told ‘em

The reason this is such a cliché is because it’s true. A good conclusion should start by summarizing the key take-away information from the speech. A good public speaker will ease into a summary that hits all of the most important points, and offers some perspective on how they work together to accomplish the speaker’s goals.

It’s pretty rare that “So, today we looked at x, evaluated y, and analyzed z” is going to be the sort of form that leaves your audience feeling they got their money’s worth. You need to be clever and creative with the summary. It’s possible to reveal the structure of your speech without resorting to an explicit declaration of the structure of your speech. This is where you have an opportunity to reveal the interesting threads that bind all of your points together into a whole.

Historian Joseph Nye does a great job of doing just that in the conclusion to his Ted talk on Global Power Shifts, where he discusses how we might approach power dynamics not in the traditional modes of hard and soft power, but with a new mode of smart power (the conclusion starts around 15:30).

Bring It Full-Circle

Many speakers simply finish with a sort of “That’s my message, thank you” wrap-up. It’s almost always unsatisfactory. It’s not well-polished, it’s not necessarily genuine, it’s just a little verbal “I’m Done” cue. That’s no way to wind up a speech. It’s every bit as lacking as finishing on the answer to the last question, like Kristen Arnold mentioned in her tweet.

All of the work you put into your attention-getting opening shouldn’t go to waste. In order to wrap things up in a nice, tidy fashion you need to make sure to refer back to that as you conclude. That way your audience is left with that same attention-getting image you began with. You leave them with that metaphor, and you keep their attention even after you’ve finished presenting. We like circles. They give us a sense of closure and completion. Tying your concluding lines back into your opening lines creates a circle out of your speech. You can accomplish this goal in a handful of ways:

  • Structure the sentences so that they have similar form to those in the introduction
  • Make a joke that relates to the introduction
  • Extend the metaphor you set up with your attention getter
  • Complete the story you started to tell with your introduction

All of these are good ways of tying off loose ends, and keeping your audience engaged right up until the second you step off of the stage. Too few speakers do a good job wrapping things up. This is an easy way to make your speeches stand out, and make you and your message memorable to your audience.