3 Ways to Successfully Close a Presentation Including One Scary Way

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3 Ways to Successfully Close a Presentation Including One Scary Way

presentation skills closing

Would 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. Or even less, the showboat 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 presentations.

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.  My last few articles and videos have been on how to start your presentations for success.  The closing is just as important so let’s chat about that now.

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 three here, including:

Tell a Story


The Power of Three


A Provocative Question

(To Download 9 More Ways to Close A Presentation for Success Click Here)

1.   Tell a Story

If you have read any of my recent articles or watched recent videos, you may think I’m obsessed with stories.  Not obsessed perhaps; but I’m definitely convinced of the power of the story.

Ending with a story brings a human element to your presentation, and can show that your topic can impact real people in real situations. This can be a personal story of your own, or you can use someone else’s which is a great way to share assets among colleagues. Make the story a logical but possibly not-anticipated result of your presentation so far.  A good story will engage your audience, highlight your main points and potentially give you a great segway to a call to action.

The story doesn’t have to be your own, but I believe it has to be either true or a parable.  Don’t make something up that you can’t discuss authentically.  You’ll hurt rather than help your presentation that way.

The Significant Objects Project

showed a mind-blowing impact on sales from the simple process of using stories to promote items.

Significant Objects, a literary and anthropological experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.

The hypothesis was that emotionally charged stories would increase the perceived value of each object and net a larger profit on each item sold than if they were sold in the more traditional way.

The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay. For item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers, were substituted. The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, for about $129.00 total, sold for nearly $8,000.00.

Stop and think about this for a minute.

If substituting stories for item descriptions had this impact on e-bay sales of cheap little items you’d expect to be of very little value to very few people,
what could you achieve with stories?

presentations trainingGlenn and Walker are now pleased to announce that a collection of 100 of the project’s finest stories has been published by Fantagraphics.

You can find it at amazon.ca:





2.   Rule of Three 

presentations trainingThree is the smallest number of things that can form a pattern.  And our minds like patterns.  We want to be able to predict what’s coming.  That might be why so many of us (want to) believe in life after death.   Think of the music from the movie Jaws.  Most of us know that music means that something scary with a lot of teeth is coming.  Predicting the attack is possibly more terrifying than the attack itself.   At least for the audience, if not an actual victim.

A pattern is easy for us to remember.  And since three is the smallest pattern, that means a grouping of three will stay with your audience more easily than other structures.  There is solid research that details how many things our minds can retain.  7 is generally considered the most.  But if we combine our desire for predictability through patterns, the fact that three is the simplest pattern, and that we can only retain a pretty small number of things in our heads, it becomes easy to understand why 3 can help us make a point in our presentations that the audience will retain.  That retention is key.

If you can leave your audience with a memorable statement, structured around the rule of three, you are significantly increasing the odds that your message will be understood and remembered.  And from there, the right Rule of 3 can get you the action you’re targeting.  That might be taking you to the next step in a sales opportunity, inspiring philanthropic action, effecting a change of heart or mind.  All helped through a powerful closing and the rule of three.  If you want something stuck in someone’s head, put it in a sequence of three.


What are ways the Rule of Three Can Work in Your Presentation?

You’ve worked hard to prepare and execute a strong persuasive presentation.  Closing with a powerful structure that is consciously and subconsciously embraced by all people can only help.  But how to do it?

Let’s consider three speech structures that employ the power of three:

  1. Hendiatris
  2. Tricolon
  3. Comic Triple


A hendiatris is a figure of speech where three successive words are used to express a central idea.

Examples of hendiatris include:

Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité“ [French motto]

Citius, Altius, Fortius” [Olympic motto]

Wine, women, and song” [Anonymous]

The real estate industry has used it for years:

Location, Location, Location

How could you use it in a presentation?  Come up with some ideas.  Maybe:

Today, Tomorrow, Beyond.        

  • If you’re talking about something that will give lasting benefit.

Shareholders, Employees, Customers  

  • Who will Benefit?


The content of these examples isn’t important – except that they focus on your audience, not you.  What is important is the grouping of them into a hendiatris.
3 words your audience can remember easily



tricolon is a series of three successive words or phrases of equal length and usually increasing power. In a strict tricolon, the elements have the same length but this condition is often put aside.

Examples of tricola include:

“Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]

Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” [Advice for speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt]

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation – not because of [1] the height of our skyscrapers, or [2] the power of our military, or [3] the size of our economy.” [Barack Obama, Keynote speech to Democratic National Convention, July 2004]

Use this structure in a business presentation with three benefits you’re offering.  We all know we’re supposed to focus on the audience, not ourselves.  The customer, not our product.  So, in a case where we’re talking about a service, product, solution, we could focus on the top three things the audience wants. But do it in a group of three.

“We offer you time

We offer you success

We offer you your weekends back.”


Or maybe three products or services you offer.  At some point, you do have to talk about the purpose of your presentation.  But use the Power of Three in a Tricolon to add impact.


steve jobs 2007Think of Steve Jobs’ 2007 introduction of the iPhone.  How did he describe it?  Remember, until this point in time, we thought of these things as three separate devices.

Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.

The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. 
The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. 

So, three things: 
a widescreen iPod with touch controls; 
a revolutionary mobile phone; 
and a breakthrough Internet communications device.
An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?

Three things.  Repeated three times.  By the master of presentations.


The Comic Triple

Our minds respond well to the unexpected.  We like novelty.  The world of comedy takes this fact, combines it with the rule of three and comes up with some great lines.

The key in comedy is to make the third in the list of three unexpected.

The comic triple multiplies the effect of humour in a speech.  According to a comedic theory developed by author William Lang, there are only three parts to most comedic bits. Comedians call these three elements humour’s SAP test.

S = Setup (preparation)

A = Anticipation (triple)

P = Punch line (story payoff)

Two Examples:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.
– Jon Stewart

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
– Mark Twain

We can use humour if we feel confident.  Maybe something like:


S = Setup (preparation) 

(Reader, suppose you were an idiot)

            I understand you are currently using Company X’s Product.


A = Anticipation (triple) 

(And suppose you were a member of Congress.)

            And you need to be able to onboard your new sales reps quickly.

P = Punch line (story payoff)      

(But I repeat myself.)    

You’re doomed.

I’ve known some very funny business presenters.  Much funnier than this example, obviously.  If it works for you, humour is powerful.  Use this tried and true guideline for humour to help you make your point while making your audience laugh.

What if we take that Comic Triple basic concept, and use it not for laughs but for impact?  The third element doesn’t have to be funny.  It can take its lead from the first two elements, or statements and add the convincing but unexpected statement.

S = Setup (preparation)

You like the way your current system works.  True?

A = Anticipation (triple)

Changing to a new system is going to take some work.  And you’re already busy enough – you don’t need the added hassle of a new system.  True?

P = Punch line (story payoff)

Then we should leave.

The example above is a real-life example from a sales rep I admired a lot.  We were in a product presentation and demonstration.  The audience wouldn’t listen to ideas we had for new methods to help them.  They gave us copies of the screens they were currently using and asked us to duplicate them.  Obviously, the audience at that meeting didn’t welcome change.  So why were we there, prepared to discuss how changing to our solution would be wonderful?  In most cases, the sales team would push forward, against all odds. Not Susan.

There is more than the Power of Three using the unexpected here.  Obviously, this is a pragmatic, smart and brave salesperson.  But look at how she did it.

S:  She asked a setup question.  Got the Yes.

A:  Added anticipation.  The audience anticipated where she might be going.  Which would be to persuade them they were wrong.

P:  Delivered the punch line.  The unexpected end of the meeting.

This story ends well.  The project leader called a break, and had a quick internal meeting.  They then resumed the meeting and said the old methods did not have to duplicated and they’d like to see what we had to offer.  We were back in the game.

The Challenge

Less is more.

You do discovery, you learn a lot.  Or, often, you have a lot to say about your product, whether you know what the audience wants or not. How can you possibly distill all that knowledge into three points?!

If you truly have a lot that must be said – categorize.  Organize your presentation into groupings that will help your audience track what you’re saying and get your point.  Use the Rule of Three to Summarize the Categories, not the details. This can be much tougher than it sounds here.  So, discipline yourself to find your path to audience understanding and acceptance, by using the Rule of Three.

3.    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 question 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 combines telling a story, the power of three and provocative questions.

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.

3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed”.

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.


You can end your presentation in a way that sets you up for success.  Just:

Remember latency and primacy

Do the work to find the right ending technique.

Be brave.

What Do You Think?

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