When you give a presentation, how does the audience know you're done? If you're half-heartedly saying, "any questions?" as a means to signal that you're done speaking, then you're missing the opportunity to finish strong.
Here are techniques for ending your presentation strongly so the audience knows you're done:
USE CLEAR ORGANIZATION
Like your writing, your presentation should have an introduction, body (with your supporting points), and then the conclusion. The easiest way to organize your material is to have a certain number of points, like three tips or four steps, so the audience can follow along and know how many more points you have to present.
SET THE AUDIENCE'S EXPECTATIONS
Be clear and deliberate about what you're doing and tell the audience. For example, in your introduction, you could say, "For the next 30 minutes, I'll share with you the five reasons we should replace our current paper-based process with the new electronic process. Please hold your questions and I'll be happy to answer them near the end of the presentation and then I'll finish with one action step you can take to get comfortable with the new process."
AVOID ABRUPT ENDINGS
Don't just suddenly stop speaking; instead give the audience cues that the end is near, such as "in conclusion" or "my final point this morning is..." (And avoid giving "false" cues, like saying "in conclusion," and then going on for another ten minutes.)
USE WORDS & BODY LANGUAGE TO SHOW THAT YOU'RE DONE
Pause before your final sentence and make it strong and declarative. End with a powerful conclusion such as a call to action or a strong reiteration of your message and its importance to the audience. Even if you end with a rhetorical question, ask it deliberately. Use a strong voice that's loud enough to be heard, make eye contact, stand confidently and smile. When you finish speaking, hold the eye contact and your posture for a few seconds.
EXAMPLES OF CONCLUSION SENTENCES
· "As I've demonstrated today, the three year projection for the business is bright and we expect to continue our excellent performance."
· "As we've discussed today, there are 5 steps to the process of preparing and delivering an effective presentation. Following these steps will help you be a more powerful and effective presenter."
Speak to the meeting organizer well before your presentation to understand what comes next and who you should transition to after you finish speaking.
If at all possible, avoid taking questions at the very end of your presentation – doing so shifts the energy away from you and can also result in a negative conclusion, especially if you get an off-base or hostile question which you have to reply to defensively. You also have lost the benefit of a strong close if the questions just trail off into silence and you have to say, "…ok, no more questions?"
Decide with the meeting organizer before your presentation whether you will have time for questions. If so, take questions near the end of your presentation instead of at the end. In order to do this, you'll need a mini-conclusion before you take questions so you can summarize your points and transition to the questions. Then after you're finished answering questions, transition back to your presentation for a final conclusion, which allows you to have the final say and leave the audience with a strong restatement of your message.
So your presentation outline would look something like:
o Point 1
o Point 2
o Point 3
· Questions and answers
· Transition back to presentation
(Thanks to professional speaker and consulting guru, Alan Weiss, www.summitconsultinggroup.com who first introduced me to the idea of not ending a presentation with the question-and-answer format.)
SAY "THANK YOU" IF YOU WANT AND IF IT'S APPROPRIATE
Some people and organizations are very strict about whether presenters should end by thanking the audience. I think either way is fine, as long as it makes sense for that audience and your choice is deliberate. A feeble, half-whispered "thank you…" that trails off uncertainly at the end is not effective.
The next time you're preparing a presentation, also prepare and practice how you will conclude. Ending your presentation strongly will improve the effectiveness of your presentation and clearly signal to the audience that you're done.