Win over your audience with a well-planned, effective opening and closing to your speech

By Maria Guida
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The opening and closing of your presentation are the most important moments you have in front of your audience. They have the power to make or break your presentation. Your opening and closing moments establish and reinforce your credibility and your engagement with your listeners.

Here are some tips for creating openings and closings that will help enhance your image as an expert.

Open with a bang

First impressions are lasting, so the opening of your presentation is very important. The first 15 to 25 seconds should stimulate your listeners, introduce your main point and arouse the audience’s interest. A great opening will get your adrenaline flowing and should promote friendliness, respect and rapport.

You should immediately establish eye contact with your audience. To facilitate this, memorize your opening sentences; this will give you maximum freedom to connect with your audience as early as possible through your eyes and facial expressions.

Here are three other techniques to help you open your presentation with power and pizzazz:

  1. The glide-in

The glide-in establishes the relationship between you and your audience and can be done in one of three ways:

  • A long focal or initial pause
  • A full and friendly spontaneous greeting
  • Parry and thrust: Refer to the occasion, audience, the presentation site or the topic to connect the introduction to the body of the talk
  1. The grabber

The grabber creates interest and can be done in a combination of ways:

  • A narrative or brief anecdote: It can be a personal story. Visualize it before you speak, and recount it as if you were experiencing it again. It can be someone else’s story. (Make sure that it relates to your topic and relate it as if it were a factual news report.)
  • A startling statement or question: This must be related to your purpose. Example: “Did you know that most executives who hire business coaches can anticipate coaching to last from six months to a year?”
  • A rhetorical question: This should illustrate a common problem that your presentation will help solve.
  • A quotation or reference to a well-known source: This helps you gain credibility. Example: “Most speakers are nervous before a presentation. Lawrence Olivier reported severe stage fright before each performance.”

The grabber should fit your audience’s style. If you tell a story, make sure that it is well rehearsed and you are doing it effectively. Beware of humor or telling jokes. They are usually quite risky; if they fall flat, you will lose rapport and possibly alienate the audience.

  1. The billboard: 

The billboard sets the stage for the presentation, because it readies the audience cognitively and psychologically for what is to come. Give a clear and brief overview of the points of your presentation, followed by a commanding phrase. Example: “Let me show you how each of these points will help you close more sales.” You should always involve your audience immediately. Ask participatory questions (possibly opinion questions directed toward various audience members). Ask questions you know they can answer, so that no audience member will lose face, and plan how you will handle answers that surprise you.

Start with the end in mind

The closing section of your presentation should be persuasive and lead the audience to a strong and positive action to take. The closing is so important that you should plan it before you plan the beginning and the body of the presentation. When you know your final goal, you are in a position to plan the way to get there.

Close with clarity, purpose and confidence. Keep it brief and related to your purpose. Know what you want the audience to think about when they leave, and say this convincingly and concisely.

Because the final moments of the presentation are so important, you should memorize the final few sentences. These words should be memorable and reinforce your image as a true professional.

You should have a Q&A session in each presentation (without announcing it at the beginning). This, however, is not your closing! Your closing should come after the Q & A, so that you can control what the audience thinks about right before they leave the room.

Some effective ways to conclude your talk

Before choosing your strategy, consider the nature of your content and the profile of your listeners. Some closings will be a better fit for certain topics and certain audiences.

  • Make a direct appeal: Give a simple, straight-forward directive for your listeners to DO something, so that this is fresh in their minds as they leave.
  • Summarize: Restate your main ideas, using new words. Be succinct.
  • Look to the future: Make a prediction or give a statement about the future. You might offer a thought-provoking statement. Visualize for the audience the benefits of your recommendations.
  • Refer to your introduction: Tie your proposed solution directly to the problem as you stated it at the beginning of the presentation.
  • Ask a rhetorical question: Be sure that the body of your presentation makes the answer to this question completely clear to your listeners. This question should stimulate their thinking.

Build your closing around something that the audience can relate to, such as a real-world situation. As you rehearse, think about ways to increase your use of gestures to give your points extra power. Use as much vocal variety as possible; vary your pace and pitch. Most importantly, be sure to let your ideas land: take time to pause, especially when an unexpected pause would add clarity and power to your delivery.

The final seconds of your presentation carry weight. Make your final (memorized) sentence dramatic. Stand still (center stage, whenever possible), maintain eye contact, receive your applause with poise, and say “thank you.”

If you follow these guidelines for your opening and closing, they will enhance your credibility, help you influence listeners to take the actions you recommend, and make your presentations truly memorable.

Maria Guida works with leaders who want to develop power speaking skills to be more persuasive, productive and profitable. With her experience as an actor on Broadway, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones and Kevin Kline), she works with executives to enhance their leadership presence and credibility and help them speak with passion, persuasion and pizzazz. Maria’s clients include executives at American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson. (Maria can be reached at maria@successfulspeakerinc.com or at 718-884-2282. Please visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com)