The conclusion’s style should resemble that of the introduction, so that may beg the question, why the repetition? Remember, most people have relatively poor listening skills, in that they only have the capability of capturing and retaining portions of what they hear. This becomes more challenging as the length of a speech and depth of material presented increases in scope. Signaling the end cues the listeners to prepare for the concluding remarks, and so the conclusion essentially represents the last opportunity to reinforce the most important portions of the speech. This portion of the speech includes 1) the central idea, 2) restating the main points, and 3) leaving the audience with a memorable statement or clincher.
Restate The Central Idea
In many cases, immediately after signaling the end of the speech, speakers can flow straight into restating the central idea, and many speakers restate it word-for-word or verbatim. However, if this “feels” too repetitive and raises concerns about the audience sharing the same feeling, paraphrase it with slightly different verbiage. Show care by not changing the meaning of the central idea. Be direct and clear so that the audience knows, without a doubt, the primary idea of the speech.
Following a restatement of the central idea, the conclusion should deliver a recap of the main points. This serves as the “Tell them what you told them” portion of the presentation. Again, even though it may feel repetitive to preview the three points from the introduction, detail those points in the body of the speech, and recap the main points yet again in the conclusion, remember that this repetition works for the listeners’ benefit. The recap drives home the most important points one last time, so make it count. Present this summary of the main points clearly, yet briefly, and never include new information at this point. Review the example below of an effective recap of main points, based on the prior example (main points identified for reference):
“We now know that 1) public speaking helps us with our confidence when talking to groups, 2) interpersonal communication helps us with our daily interactions, and 3) intercultural communication helps us learn how to interact with people from different backgrounds than ourselves.”
Following this brief recap of the main ideas, the speaker needs to find a way to close out the speech. Ideally, the remaining few statements should reinforce the central idea, as well as provide some form of verbal punctuation, letting the audience know beyond any doubt that the speech has concluded. Provide closure for the audience by leaving them with a feeling of completion and not confusion. A clincher acts similar to an attention getter but occurs at the end of the speech instead of the beginning. This last statement could very well be the last thing the audience remembers about the message, so make it count!
Speakers can employ a variety of methods to craft an effective clincher:
Use a Quotation
Find a great and powerful quote to illustrate the topic that also reinforces the central idea. For example, in the prior speech example, the speaker could end it as follows:
“I would like to close today with the words of composer John Powell, who said, ‘Communication works for those who work at it.’”
Use a Narrative
Speakers often begin their introductions with a story that illustrates one of their points or the central idea. When using this technique, consider utilizing a story split, which introduces the story in the beginning of the speech but then saves the dramatic ending for the conclusion.
For example, using the previous example, pretend the speaker started the speech talking about a student who walked into the first day of his speech class, nervous and feeling sick to his stomach because of extreme anxiety. Such a story helps students in the audience relate with the character in the story, especially the extreme nerves the student experienced. Then, in the conclusion the story could end as follows:
“Remember the deathly afraid student from my story in the beginning of this speech? I’m proud to tell you all that I was the student in this story. Today, I teach public speaking, for I learned how important it is to connect the passion behind my message to the power of the human voice. You all hold that power and potential in you today.”
Reference the Introduction
In addition to story splits, speakers can try other methods to bring the speech around full circle to whatever concept was introduced within the introduction. If the speech started with a quote, consider bringing the audience back to the wisdom from that quote, or even consider sharing another quote from the same person. If the speech begin with a startling fact or statistic, how can the conclusion bring the audience’s attention back to the significance of that fact? Referencing the introduction helps put the entire message into a nice, neat package for the audience to remember.