Climbing Everest in Stilettoes
Why endings are important and how to create a killer ending to your presentation
It had been a riveting read. A young woman had taken control of her own destiny and sought revenge to gain her rightful inheritance. And the 741 page book had been quite a saga.
We saw a skilful strategist at work, how the leading lady, Magdalen, could disguise herself as a young servant and an old woman to get closer to her prize and how time after time of being foiled, she picked herself up and got on with it.
Not bad for a female lead in a novel written in 1862 by Wilkie Collins, contemporary and close friend of Charles Dickens.
And then, on page 697, it happened.
I stopped reading. I sighed heavily.
My husband was reading beside me.
“What is it?”
“I can’t believe what I think he’s about to do” I said.
At this point, Magdalen was a bit of a mess physically and mentally. So, it was crunch time in many respects when “Kirke’s tall figure darkened the door.”
Kirke, a man she’d never spoken to before.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, a bold book on women’s independence went totally gaga and on the second last page (42 pages later, no less, 42 pages) “she called him husband.”
It was clear that although it might have been possible to have a feisty, female protagonist in a novel in the 1860s, the concept of being an editor and a woman had not been entertained.
If it had, Mr Collins would’ve left his publishing house with ringing in his ears from the shrieks of horror and hilarity from his editor.
“You want to do what with the ending?”
As an audience I felt like I’d been cheated in a BIG way.
I was not happy.
Did Wilkie get bored of his heroine’s spark? Was he way overdue on deadlines for a completed manuscript? Perhaps he’d done a number of focus groups with buttoned up, genteel ladies who wanted Magdalen to be more simpering than strident?
Begin with the End in Mind
They matter big time.
Just stopping or chucking in a random ending isn’t on. It cheats the characters, it cheats the story and worst of all it cheats the audience.
And whether it’s a novel or a speech made to investors, or potential clients, making sure an audience feels satisfied is important.
They’ve invested their time in listening to a story and so making sure the ending fits and draws things to a tidy and fitting conclusion is critical.
That special feeling you get when you finish a truly great book? That’s the same feeling you want an audience to have once you’ve wrapped up a talk.
You want them to sit basking in your words – not muttering expletives to their husband about how truly awful the ending was.
So, how do you do this? Well, there’s one thing you need to do before you even start planning your talk.
Have a Conclusion
It’s fundamental to remember to have a conclusion.
You might be reading this thinking it’s a daft thing to say but you’d be amazed. So often when we talk in front of a group there’s a giant compulsion to cram the entire knowledge the world has amassed on the subject into your timeframe.
I find this to be a particularly female problem and that women feel more pressure to deliver the perfect talk (I blame magazines, personally, who spout that if you’re not absolutely perfect you’re not damn well trying hard enough).
And to a lot of women delivering a perfect talk means covering everything that’s currently known about a topic and adding in a few of their own thoughts.
This is like trying to climb Everest in stilettoes.
And the result of trying to cram, cram, cram in information is that the conclusion doesn’t happen.
The talk just. Ends.
The words stop and the talk falls off a cliff.
The speaker might announce, “And that’s it.”
There’s a brief pause as it sinks in that the talk has just ended rather than been concluded and the result is a sustained silence, a confused audience and applause with as much enthusiasm as Birkenstock lovers at a Manolo Blahnik show.
Don’t do this.
Prepare an end. Make the time and take the time to think about it.
Read over your talk a few times and review it.
What are the important bits? Highlight them. Then gather all your highlighted sections together.
This is the distilled core of your talk. Your talk in miniature.
Use this to create a conclusion that flows naturally from these main points.
Here are three language techniques you can use to add flair to your conclusion.
Quotations work wonders. They say a lot in a few words, they’re often witty and so make people laugh or they can be profound and make people think.
And making your audience laugh or think are both pretty good ways to end a presentation.
Also, a quotation that resonates with your audience’s needs and the message of your talk adds polish to your last few words. So, find a quotation that aligns with and compliments your message and weave that in to your conclusion.
Leaving your audience with a question to ponder is a powerful parting gift. It lets you encourage them to continue thinking about your talk long after it’s over and this, in short, is what you’re after, for them to remember your talk.
Can you ask a question the answer to which will benefit your audience? If so, even better as they’ll leave the talk and consciously and unconsciously be musing over that question.
Result? You’ll connect with them at a deeper level and your talk will stay with them for longer.
If you’re enthusiastic about public speaking, you’ll love this one. This technique ensures that your talk will finish with a flourish. It involves you metaphorically springing something out of a hat to create a surprise.
It could be a contrasting viewpoint, a startling fact that makes the audience sit up and take notice or a striking visual image.
Doing this raises the energy and elevates the end of your talk. This is ideal if you’re the last speaker before coffee or if you’re speaking right before lunch, as you can be sure that your audience will be chatting about the controversy you left them with as they’re standing in line waiting for a refreshment.
And so whether your story is in a novel, a presentation or an article, as L. Frank Baum says, the creator of one of the most magical stories ever, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime” (The Marvelous Land of Oz).
The next time you’ve a presentation, ask yourself which of these methods you’ll use to create a killer conclusion to connect with your audience.
It’s worth the effort and the time to craft a conclusion.
And making them feel a little better than this is always a good thing.
(The Official Grumpy Cat, 18 April, 2017).