I’ve talked before about one of the best ways to start your presentation, so here’s the other bookend – the close of a presentation.
Let’s talk about questions and let’s talk about applause. Your audience expects one of these at the end of your presentation and you might hope for the other. So I’m going to split this (sorry, but very long!) blog into two parts to handle both of those things. And just ‘cos I’m lazy, I’ll do it in the wrong order.
Getting applause at the end of your presentation
Presentations are often business affairs. And as such, it’s unusual to get an exit round. What’s an exit round? It’s an actors’ term for applause that happens when the actor leaves the stage – not because the audience is glad to see the back of him (or her) but rather as an appreciation of great acting. My most unlikely one was a while ago after a five hour presentation to PhD students at Imperial College in London and got an exit round.
Yay me! Although after five hours it could just have been relief it the presentation was over!
So how did I get apparently spontaneous applause in a presentation about the difference between parametric and non-parametric inferential statistics? (I’m bored even writing it out!) God only knows how that happened…
Moral question alert! You need to be able to sleep at night, so think this through before you start to ‘manipulate’ an audience!
It’s not just luck. And it’s certainly not random. I know how it happened. In fact I almost orchestrated it. That’s a pretty dodgy bit of ethics there, so why did I do it? Because the way administration is organised for these students, bookings for me are predicated on good feedback. So far so good. The problem is that the client (who does the bookings) simply does not know best what the audience (who actually attended the presentations) wanted or needed.
My job was to do two things therefore:
- give the audience what the needed; and
- finish the presentation in such a way that they thought it was great, so that I got rebooked. (To go more into this sort of thinking, check out the three levels of impact in your presentation and this
confessional, sorry, autobiographical post about how I made a rocking conference presentation with a standing ovation built in.)
Getting a round of applause at the end is a great way to do the second one. They key question here is how can you do it?
Well on this occasion I used a ‘signoff’. A signoff is simply the antidote to a strapline – an excellent example would be the way Dave Allen finished his sessions with “And may your God go with you”. You need to get your own, of course, and you need to make sure that it’s congruent with the mood of your audience and the circumstances but for what it’s worth, my ‘default’ signoff is this.
“Thank you for coming… thank you for staying – and thank you for staying awake!”
but I’ve used others in different circumstances… even something as simple as just “Safe journey home, everyone”.
Why does a signoff work?
Assuming you’ve delivered a good presentation, the ‘trick’ is to build up the energy towards the end, getting the audience gradually more energised – the signoff simply acts as a trigger for that energy to be released.
If you’ve ever been to a theatre you’ll know how a standing ovation works – there’s a critical moment in the applause when all it takes is one person to stand up, to give the signal to everyone else who was on the edge that it’s okay to stand up and lots of other people follow along.
Nothing can guarantee a round of applause (the presenter’s equivalent of the standing ovation) but giving a clear ‘tipping point’ moment can allow any energy to be focussed at that moment. If there’s enough energy, having it focussed tips the audience over the edge and into applause. Not having a tipping point moment can mean that the energy never quite gets past that threshold because it’s too dissipated.
What makes a good signoff?
The key elements of a good signoff (other than appropriateness – see above) are that
- it should be absolutely final and leave no room for doubt. There’s no room for uncertainty here. Your audience must be absolutely clear that if they are going to applaud this is when they do it
- it should have a pattern – it might be because it rhymes or alliterates, but something that leads to the end with a pattern of some kind means the audience can see the end coming and respond appropriately (because no one likes not know what they’re supposed to do)
- it should be long enough to signal that it is the end of the presentation but not a word longer. It can’t work if it’s waffly.
Side Note: it’s possible that the theatre you were in had people in the audience payed to lead the applause. I’ve heard all the rumours but in years and years of touring I’ve never known it happen. That doesn’t mean it never does of course – it might just mean I was too wrapped upon doing my own job at the end of the show! 🙂
So here’s the important question…`
What’s a good signoff for your presentation? Take into account the three rules above, but also:
- the formality of your audience
- what your presentation was intending to do
- the venue.
That last one always gets forgotten about. What works well on a stage in front of the whole 250 people of your company won’t work when you’re sat down in a cold meeting room in front of only 25 of the senior leadership team.
Oh – and it should be positive (obviously). My slightly downbeat “thank you for staying awake” suits my sarcastic style and it typically something I use after longer presentations or presentations on a Friday afternoon!
So what about questions at the end of your presentation?
I often tell clients that finishing with “Any questions” is a bad idea. It means the presentation peters out rather than finishes properly. Going out with a bang is better than going out with a whimper.
Let’s be honest, when you open up for questions, you can get one of two types of situation:
- no questions, which is embarrassing for everyone, including the audience; or
- questions until there are not more questions left.
I’m going to deal here with the second option, because just keeping going runs the energy out of the room just like pouring a bucket of water onto the sand of a beech. You start off with a lot but it all just drains away in the end.
The best way to handle it is to keep the energy high by stopping the questions before you run out of them. Obviously you can’t just decide to cut in at some random point because that annoys anyone in the audience who’s still got an unanswered question. That means the best option is to finish your presentation with the highest energy you think is appropriate and then put a limit on the number of questions before you start taking them.
Say something like “Okay, I’ve got time for only three questions before we need to move on. You can find me over a coffee later if you want, of course, but only three for now. Who’d like to go first?”
That way, when it gets to the end of of question three, you can wrap things up, (leaving your audience wanting more!) or graciously and magnanimously, offer to take “just one more” question if you feel you really need to.
There’s one more thing to do before you use your signoff to really wrap your presentation up.
Run your questions with a black slide or some other careful device, so that you don’t spill the beans, and then finish by coming back to your powerpoint with some summary slide. At a push you can use more than one but I don’t find it often necessary.
Pop on a single sentence of The Big Thing from your prevention and (or better, or!) a call to action.
… and then wrap it up with your signature signoff!
Is there an easier way?
Yes of course! You can do the rubbish everyone else does! 😉
Okay more seriously all I’m really asking for is that you think about how to end your presentation rather than just let it fade away.
What do you think? Do you have any cool ways to end a presentation?