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In Closing

An exclamation point or question mark changes the way an entire sentence is viewed. So should the closing remarks of a speech. They should raise the audience opinion of the speaker and the talk. The words ‘In Closing” set an audience at ease and raise expectations. Even those who have been nodding off during your talk will become alert.

Bill tried ending speeches with explicit ads for the book. One ending noted that Bill’s book raises public awareness of national cyber vulnerabilities and thus its purchase does a valuable public service. One ad read, “If you don’t buy this book, the terrorists win.” Both of those techniques worked, but some audience members were offended by the overt marketing pitch. So Bill shifted to more traditional closings, which he believes have led to better talks and better sales. He sees two aspects of a closing: say the right stuff and say the stuff right.

Say The Right Stuff

Closing remarks have to rise above the mundane and strike a more philosophical theme. They also should evoke a reaction. Humor works, as long as it has a higher purpose, although you should already have made liberal use of humor in your talk.

The best closing is one that evokes emotion. Here’s a sample closing that’s raw and powerful and builds on Bill’s personal experience of September 11. Two sold-out book signings followed the talk, along with invitations for other speeches.

Here’s another sample closing Bill crafted for a senior military audience in Tampa. Bill used a historical context and appealed both to patriotism and to empathy for those stationed in Iraq. He chose understated words for the ending, so as not to be too heavy handed, and instead elicited an emotional response by the forceful way he spoke the words. The closing pulled about a dozen people to their feet in a standing ovation.

Here’s a third sample closing Bill prepared for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The closing blended a tribute to the university’s recently departed founder with provocative thoughts about cybersecurity in the future. The closing was very well received.

Okay, so you’ve researched the venue and your audience and drafted your closing remarks. The hard part is over, right?

Sorry, no. First you must have someone whose judgment you trust review the remarks and identify anything that might strike a sour note or be over-the-top, since there’s a real danger you’ll have overreached in grasping for emotion or humor or inspiration.

Having done that, you now know what you want to say. Next you have to figure out how to say it.

Say The Stuff Right

Saying the stuff right first involves translating the closing into words that can be spoken. The best way to do this is by speaking them aloud, since words created by fingers tend not to be as primitive and emotional as spoken words. Sentences that sound formal or stiff must be made more conversational if they’re to evoke feelings.

Once you’ve done that, you have the right text and it’s crafted in a form that can be spoken. You’ve reached the hard part — memorizing the closing. If you’ve been reading the rest of your remarks from a script, it’s especially important for you to look up from the page and speak your closing as though it were extemporaneous. Almost everyone in the crowd will believe the words are your own, that you’re making them up as you go, and that they come from your heart. If you’ve been standing at a lectern, you should step away so that nothing is between you and the crowd. A lapel mike helps.

So how to you do memorization? In Bill’s experience, there are five levels. If you’re going to take the trouble to memorize at all, you should go all the way. Here are the levels:

Basic. Remember everything you’d planned to say. Learn your remarks one sentence at a time, speaking each sentence aloud, until you can get through the entire closing without forgetting any material.

Clean. Speak the remarks smoothly, without pausing to dredge your memory. Once you’ve achieved basic memorization, you need to go through the whole thing a few more times to eliminate awkward pauses.

Crisp. Articulate crisply, without becoming tongue-tied. You’ll make refinements to your text as you further craft the words and train your speaking engine in the same way you practice a tune on an instrument.

Polished. Add texture and pacing. You’ve eliminated awkward pauses, so it’s time to insert intentional ones. Also, slow yourself down and decide where to increase and decrease your volume.

Performed. Take your ending to another level. You’re an actor giving an understated performance. Experiment with ways to give your words more punch. For example, in Bill’s book pitch, he quotes his protagonist, “‘Laws or lives,’ he says, ‘take your pick…’ ‘I know what’s legal,’ he says, ‘tell me what’s moral.’” Those words should drip with the same moral outrage that the protagonist feels. So should your ending pack emotional punch. Bill’s had a number of people compliment the passion of his talks. If Bill can find passion in cybersecurity, you can find it in your topic.

The final two words of your closing should be, “thank you.” This is actually a code phrase for, “please applaud now.” This is something the audience needs to be told, or sometimes they won’t applaud. That’s embarrassing for all involved. Think of the words “thank you” as doing your audience a favor.

If you’re doing a book signing after the talk, be sure to get to the signing table promptly, or you will lose potential buyers and maybe even your whole signing. People are going to swarm around you after the talk to ask questions; you can answer the questions as you lead the swarm of questioners to the book table. That way, you don’t keep buyers waiting and you might even add a few more buyers

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Updated: 19-Oct-2005