What does it mean to close with your key message?
Well, a client who’s speaking in Budapest next week asked me how she should walk off the stage. She wanted to know if, following her Q&A, she should:
- Say goodbye?
- Just smile and exit?
What I told her is that any of these three options are reasonable choices — but only if you close with your key message first!
Close with Your Key Message to End Any Speech
If you’re familiar with the Instant Speech format (which can help you with many types of public speaking!), you know that something called your KEY MESSAGE is at the heart of your speech.
A good key message is:
- The most important thing you have to say on your topic;
- The point your audience is most likely to remember; and
- An idea that — if they take nothing else away — means that you’ve successfully reached your audience.
That makes your key message immensely powerful… and that’s why experienced speakers deliver their key messages near the beginning and near the end of their speeches.
In other words, they close with their key message. For example:
…and so I hope you’ll all agree that getting a gun permit should be very much like getting a driver’s license (that’s the key message, with a hat tip to Sara Benincasa).
And I hope that each of you will go out, spread this idea, and work to make it America’s new normal.
With a powerful and direct close like this, your audience is psyched. You’ve just paid off your speech, repeated your big idea, and fired them up to take immediate action.
Energy in the room is running high.
And now, here comes Q&A.
If You Don’t End with Your Key Message, What’s the Last Thing Your Audience Will Hear from You?
If you’ve ever been to a talk that was followed by Q&A, you probably noticed how quickly things can become unorganized, unfocused, even a little Fellini-esque. That nice, focused energy you’ve worked hard to create can be dissipated in a million ways that include (but aren’t limited to):
- A lame transition;
- Shuffling of people, furniture, and microphones;
- Other speakers joining you onstage; and
- The difficulty of hearing, managing, and responding to a range of questions in real time, under less than ideal circumstances.
In spite of these frequent technical snafus, Q&A can be fascinating, which is why it still exists. But how does it usually end?
Someone says, “We have time for one more question.”
That question is asked and answered, the energy in the room dribbles away, and everyone goes home.
A strong closing statement (your Key Message) that wraps up the evening and reminds your audience of what the point has been, and what they should be thinking about when they leave.
That’s OK, though — because you can supply that missing ingredient.
You’ve Already Closed with Your Key Message? Great, Do It Again!
Many speakers find it difficult to repeat themselves.
And when it comes to repeating a key message and close that you stated 10 or 20 or 30 minutes ago, you may feel that repeating yourself would be just too silly.
Here are three reasons why it’s not only necessary but imperative that you repeat your key message and close following Q&A:
- Unlike you, your audience has not been studying your ideas for the past few weeks or months. If you say your close again, it will only be the second time your audience has heard it — ever!
- Unlike you, your audience is easily distracted from the importance of the speech you just gave, and Q&A (to say nothing of the end-of-event-dribble-down-effect) is a powerful distraction. If you want them to remember the point, you must repeat it.
- Unlike you, your audience doesn’t mind repetition if it reminds them of what matters. This is why a symphony usually ends with its main idea (“theme”) served up as a BIG FINISH; why ads play over and over and over (and over!) on TV; and why little kids ask the same question so many times. Without repetition, it’s really hard to remember something!
So don’t worry if you’ve already delivered an elegant close, complete with your key message and what you’d like the audience to do.
Immediately following Q&A… deliver it again!
Kiss, Bow, or Wave Hands? That’s Up to You!
To get back to my client’s question, she was asking whether a “goodbye” gesture would be appropriate as she was leaving the stage (hopefully following her second close, after Q&A!).
The answer is yes, and the gesture can be anything that feels sincere, given your style and your audience’s.
The title of a book on cross-cultural communications, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, pretty much sums up your options. You can blow kisses (child star Shirley Temple), wave (Bill Clinton, Queen Victoria), throw both your hands in the air (Bob Marley), or just smile and walk off.
I usually clap back at the audience, or rest my palms together in a gesture called “namaste,” which suggests gratitude and humility. But that’s in my comfort zone (and I might not do it in Texas). You should do whatever is in yours.
Bottom line, it doesn’t matter what gesture you make to indicate “goodbye.”
What matters is that you remember to close your speech with a strong, proactive statement of the point you want your audience to remember.
And if your speech is followed by Q&A… do it twice!