Connect with Your Audience

Close with Impact


presentation skills closingWould you have the nerve to perform an actual dance routine as the first dance at your wedding?  Seems like a bold move to me.

I was quite surprised at a friend’s wedding that he and the bride performed a dance routine for their first dance.  He didn’t seem the dancing type. He’s a CEO with a pretty conservative organization.  When I asked, he told me he got the nerve to do it because his dance instructor said

“Focus on the beginning and end.  
Get those right and all the mistakes in between won’t matter.”

Turns out this is good advice for more than dance routines. It’s just as true for your presentation.

The importance of the beginning and the end is based in science – since 1925 we’ve known about the primacy and latency effects. Even then it was not a new discovery. Ebbinghaus published the first studies on this phenomenon in the 1880s.  In summary,

We remember best that which comes first,

second best that which comes last, and
least that which comes just past the middle.


Your audience will most likely remember the beginning and end of your presentation.  And yet, those are the two big areas neglected in presentations.  

How can we close our presentations so that our goals are met?  So that your audience remembers you and your message, and takes the action you’re hoping for?

There are tons of techniques for closing.  We’ll discuss just one here:


A Provocative Question


Ending with a question, or a rhetorical question, is a sure-fire way to gain attention because questions stimulate our neocortex. As author Dorothy Leeds explains, “Our old brain runs by instinct. That’s the part that animals have. They don’t ask questions. The purpose of our ‘new brain’ is to override and challenge our old brain, and we do that by asking questions.”
The minute you ask a question, listeners are generally drawn to ponder an answer.  It’s even more engaging when the questions is provocative; or when it touches potentially sensitive areas of our lives.  

A truly provocative question will challenge traditions, customs, habits, and ideologies.
The most probing questions might generate embarrassment, anger, and resentment.

On the more positive side,
creative questions
will foster empathy, fresh understanding of a problem,
and commitment to action.

But don’t immediately abandon the idea of challenging.  You don’t want your audience embarrassed or angry.  But making them think is invaluable.One of my very favourite bits of feedback was from someone who’d listened to me give a speech wrapping up their business meeting.  I had ended by giving them a challenge.  To think.  My ending question was, what do you think about?  Do you think?  It had been prefaced with concepts around the power of our brain when we use it, so the question was a challenge but not offensive.  The person who gave me the feedback I liked came up to me and said, ‘My drive home is going to be completely different.  I’m not going to turn on the radio and put my brain on coast.  I’m going to think.’

Here’s an example that of provocative questions done with effect.

Entrepreneur and CEO Ric Elias had a front-row seat on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009. What went through his mind as the doomed plane went down? Here he is describing it in a TED Talk

He ends with a series of life questions, with the most provocative one at the very end:   “And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?”

I challenge you guys that are flying today, imagine the same thing happens on your plane –and please don’t –but imagine, and how would you change?

What would you get done that you’re waiting to get done because you think you’ll be here forever?

How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them?

And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can? 

The Scariest Provocative Question


If you’re feeling very brave, and for some reason it seems to require bravery, us this provocative question:

“What do you think?”

And then be quiet. 

The quiet is the scary part.  End your whole presentation this way; or end segments of it as you present various points and benefits.

Silence is powerful.  Even more powerful is what’s happening inside your audience’s head.  This scary provocative question plus silence might be just the combination to pull out those valuable thoughts.


Question for You, Reader

Have you ever:

  • Asked a provocative question?  How did it go?
  • Asked the audience what they think; and then let them answer?  How did that go?


Your comments are really helpful, and usually really interesting.  Thanks!

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