Closing Your Presentation for Recall and Retention

Below are what I often call the worst three closings to a presentation. Surprisingly, I hear them often, even from highly experienced speakers!

 “I guess we are out of time.”

“Well, I guess that is about all I have.”

“Well, if there are no more questions…”

Similar to flying an airplane, the most critical parts of a presentation are the takeoff and landing. In presentations, the first minute or two is when you have hopefully connected yourself and your topic to the needs and interest of the audience, and when they have decided whether or not to listen to you. The last minute or two is when you “land” your message. Will the audience remember what you said? Will they take action? Or will they just be glad it is over and file out of the room in relief? With a little bit of thought and planning, you can make your presentation’s closing so much better.

Don’t ever wing this part of your presentation!  

We work extremely hard on the opening, the message, and the content of our presentations. For some reason, we think the closing will take care of itself. The truth is, we are often “out of steam” by the time we get to the end. Relieved that it went well. Happy to be finished. Out of time perhaps. But we have one more task to complete; delivering the “final thoughts” the audience will carry away.

The serial position effect, a term coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus, suggests that recall accuracy varies as a function of an item's position. When asked to recall a list of items in any order, people tend to begin with the end of the list, recalling those items they heard last or most recently; hence, the recency effect. Among earlier list items, the first few items are recalled more frequently than the middle items -- the primacy effect. This seems to suggest that the beginning and the ending of your presentation are most likely to be remembered.

Be sure to carefully plan the closing of your presentation, and rehearse it thoroughly.

When planning the content of your presentation, we suggest you analyze the situation and create a Targeted Message, a one-sentence overview or position statement about your presentation. This exercise helps you to distill all the facts and data into a meaningful message. You begin with this message, so the audience knows where you are going, and what may be expected of them. You tie all your content to this message, so that extraneous content can be safely left out. This discipline creates a more cohesive presentation. (For more information on this process, contact me for information on the Targeted Message Model. I'll be glad to send it to you.) 

If you have done this work in planning your presentation, it is relatively easy to end your presentation quickly and firmly, simply by restating your Targeted Message. For example, if your message has been, “the new software we are about to launch will help us to document and complete projects more effectively” it should be a straightforward task to tie this to the end of your presentation by stating something like, “Now that you have seen the new software and how it works, we will move to implementation of this new software to document and complete our projects more effectively.” In this case you end where you began, which creates closure and better retention due to the recency effect noted above. In addition, note that it suggests benefits to the audience.

If you have not created a Targeted Message, think about what you want your audience to think, feel, remember or do about the content you have just presented them with. Write out a one-sentence statement that reflects these thoughts. This can be your ending. (Consider whether it could also be the beginning of your presentation, the “tell them what you are going to tell them”.)

Creating a similar opening and closing creates a “bookend” effect that signals closure. It drives home your most important point or message. And it takes good advantage of primacy and recency effects to aid retention, and to ensure what is remembered is what is most important. Maybe best of all, since it is familiar to you, it will be just as easy to end with your crafted message as it would be to use one of the weak catch phrases this article started with.  And, ending your presentation with a clear, compelling message will be so much more effective.