You might recall from the section of this website on introductions the fact that audiences tend to put a lot of emphasis on their first and final impressions of a speaker (technically known as the primacy/recency effect). Because of this, it is very important to finish your speech with something great. If you have ever seen a stand-up comedian perform, you will find that they save their best jokes for the end of their set, for this very reason.
To end your speech with impact, you can use a lot of the devices discussed in the attention-getting section of the introductions page such as: quotations, jokes, anecdotes, audience involvement, questions, etc.
One of the best ways to conclude a speech is to tie the conclusion into the introduction. For example, you might begin your speech by telling a suspenseful story that relates to your topic, but save the end of the story for the very end of your speech. Or refer back to the same quotation. Or refer to the joke that you told. Any of these strategies will give your speech a sense of connection and closure, and will leave the audience with a great final impression.
If you are delivering a persuasive speech, you might try a slightly different ending because your goal is not just to be remembered, it’s to inspire people to take action. One way to do this is to issue a call-to-action. This means that you specifically tell your audience what actions you expect them to take related to your speech. Another way to inspire action with the conclusion of your speech is to appeal to their emotions. If you create a desired emotion within your audience, and then leave them with that emotion, they will take that emotion with them. For example: If you leave them feeling guilty about not-recycling by painting a bleak picture about the state of the Earth that their grandchildren will live in, then they might recall that emotion the next time they choose not to recycle and alter their behavior.
Leaving a strong final impression is the most important aspect of the conclusion, but their are some other necessary steps as well:
- Making a smooth transition from the body of the speech to the conclusion is crucial. To do this, use a signpost known as a concluding statement. The most common concluding statements include: “in conclusion”, “I leave you with”, “finally today”, and other similarly obvious endings.
- Just as it is important to preview a speech in the introduction, it is important to summarize the speech in the conclusion. The more the audience hears your main points, the more likely they are to remember them. By previewing, discussing, and summarizing your main points your audience will be exposed to them at least three times during your speech.
A good conclusion should be about 5-10% of the total speech length. Anything shorter that 5% means that the ending has come too abruptly. Anything more that 10%, and the audience may become restless. This brings up another point: If it sounds like a conclusion, you need to finish your speech in a reasonable amount of time. The conclusion is not the place to add new material.