Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Have you planned your dismount? Olympic competitors have 90 seconds to demonstrate excellence on the balance beam. Perfection is not necessary to win, but a mistake in the dismount can be fatal to your chances. Even though it is just one element, it is the final thought flowing through the minds of the judges.
Just like presenting successfully, where getting off to a great start sets the stage for success, finishing well is critical. How many times have you been in the audience of a pretty good presentation that simply ended: it was not finished. The presenter woodenly summarized the twelve key findings and said something like, “I hope you will be able to use these ideas…blah, blah, blah.”
Your preparation for the final 90 seconds needs to be of the same intensity as that of the gymnast. Leave nothing to chance. Drive home the emotional connection you have worked so hard to create. People don’t want to hear you restate what you’ve said before. No matter how important each point might be, it bores them, almost insults them that you feel they need to hear the same thing again. Instead of leaving them with rising energy and a feeling of connection with you, most summaries suck the energy out of them. They leave glad that you are done, not wishing you could hang around and give them a little more.
After hearing a complex and thoughtful presentation, the audience needs recharging, a renewal of the energy that comes only from making your conclusion something that relates to them in a new and fresh way. Like Beethoven or Spielberg, save your very best for last.
Steven Covey said it well, “begin with the end in mind.” The way you finish your presentation (your symphony, your movie) will have an outsized impact on whether or not you achieve your purpose.
That is why we teach people that presentations are something like constructing a building. You have to be the architect and understand clearly why you are building something before you can create the structure. Therefore, the key is to begin the creation of your presentation by thinking of meaningful ways to provide the audience at the end with whatever it takes to achieve your purpose.
The creative effort you put into finishing well will be worth the cost. Facts, figures, charts, and logic are important, but they alone don’t help people see their world differently. They don’t change behavior. Helping people grasp new ideas and decide to change their views comes about when our message connects the heart and the mind. As you build your relationship with the audience, you look into their eyes, see their soul, and help them relate to something in a new and meaningful way.