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Successful Presentations: The Last Word

Our presentation skills trainers are often asked a very simple question:

“What’s the most important part of an effective presentation?”

I’m increasingly of the opinion that it’s the last words you say.

The ‘Call to Action’ in your presentation can either inspire your audience to do something – or leave them completely in the dark.

Getting it right can be the difference between success and failure – and can help improve your presentation skills dramatically.

Here’s why…

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Call to Action - Opera

I attended the opera for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

The play – ‘Carmen’, a French tragedy set in the south of Spain – was stunning.

Glasgow’s Theatre Royal was the perfect venue – and when the orchestra starting playing the Habenera, an awestruck audience listened in marvel.

As soon as the music finished, however, a mild sense of panic stretched from one side of our row to the other.

Should I clap?

Does one clap at an opera?

Apparently the answer to that question is no – and let’s just say I found out the hard way.

I assumed it was just me – and held my head in shame, bowing to the superior lived experience of the rest of the audience, who stayed calm, knowledgeable, silent.

It was only at the interval that I realised it wasn’t just me that had clapped – three people behind me had done the same, only to receive tuts and rolled eyes from those around them.

The problem was that four of us – and probably more – didn’t know what to do when the music stopped.

So why is this relevant to you?

When giving presentations, you want to make it absolutely clear to your audience what you want to them to do at the end.

There are three distinct ways to do this:

1) Give an instruction

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Instruction - Opera

For example:

“Now we’ve heard where the company is moving, I’d like you to split into groups of five to consider how you can implement that within your team – and select one representative to come up to the stage when you’re ready to present your findings”.

“That’s lunch. Please make your way to the cafeteria and be back here for 2pm”.

“That’s all from me. If you believe you could benefit from my help further, please seek me out over coffee and I’d be delighted to talk”.

Giving an instruction is the clearest Call to Action you can make to end your presentation.

People love clarity.

Simply showing them the way reduces confusion and uncertainty.

It can be daunting to give a large group of people a single task.

So be committed. Be clear on your instruction and follow that through.

Show your audience what to do.

2) Ask an open question

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Call to Action - Question 2

For example:

“Thanks for listening. Who would like to ask me a question?”

“So now you’ve heard me speak I’d like to ask you a question – would anybody like to share any concerns based on what they’ve heard?”

“What do you believe is the one thing that’s most important to you as a business-owner?”

Asking a question is daunting, as you’re unsure of exactly what’s going to come back.

Maybe you’ll get ten hands in the air.

Maybe you’ll get none.

However, it’s the most engaging of all the Calls to Action – and of all the presentation techniques tips I’ve seen, ranks among the highest if done well.

Prior to announcing its 2014 Commonwealth Games Bid, Glasgow City Council’s Communications Team pulled off a masterstroke in asking the open question to its audience.

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Call to Action - Glasgow 2014

It gathered the local, regional and national press into one room, gave a presentation on the proposed bid and asked the open question:

“So what are your objections to this? What do you believe could go wrong?”

Over the course of the morning, they received multiple objections:

  • It would cost too much
  • Taxpayers would be footing the bill
  • Our buses will be overcrowded
  • It’s the poor man’s Olympics
  • Glasgow’s too small

By examining each issue in detail and giving a carefully considered response, Glasgow City Council persuaded members of the press one by one that this was more than just an opportunity for Glasgow – it was what the city desperately needed.

The result?

Huge support from the press for the 2014 Commonwealth Games Bid, which in turn swayed public opinion and resulted in enormous excitement for what was a superb couple of weeks of sport in July-August 2014.

Simply through good presentation skills.

If you are worried about receiving radio silence when asking the open question, here are a couple of techniques:

  1. Plant someone in the audience to ask you a question – and have the answer ready;
  2. Have a question of your own up your sleeve – and precede it with “a question I get asked a lot is…”

You’ll find that once the first person has asked a question, people are more confident in coming forward themselves.

So be brave – and prepare to engage.

3) Leave a message

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Call to Action - Message

A third technique I’ve seen work beautifully is to leave your audience with a clear message.

For example:

“There’s one thing I’d like you to take from today. Every time the minute hand on your watch starts a new cycle, an African child does of malnutrition”.

“By 2016, we expect we will have quadrupled the income of our business. That’s testament to every single one of you – and I’d like you to give yourselves a round of applause for what is an incredible achievement”.

“So I’ve spoken on the benefits of considering the environment in the workplace. What I’d like you all to do is to commit to one thing you’ll change in your workplace, write that down now – and follow that through”.

With your last breath…

A1 Pink Elephant Communications - Effective Presentations - Call to Action - Speaker

Your audience will most likely remember the last thing you say beyond any other.

So you must craft that line carefully, practice it regularly and stick to it meticulously.

I have heard presentations that set up with a clear Call to Action, which then becomes:

“So that’s all from me. Hopefully you’ve learned something and what I’d like you to do is just think about any ways you think we can help”.

“So I wondered if anyone had any questions – maybe not as you’re all thinking about lunch”.

“Right, that’s me. Thanks” (*walks off…*)

These will leave your audience confused and uncertain.

Instead, show them the way by closing your presentation with a firm, clear Call to Action.

That’s what makes your presentation instantly memorable.

For more presentation techniques and public speaking tips, follow our blog by clicking here.

Andrew McFarlan is director of media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

ClubTransatlântico / Foter.com / CC BYNicolas Alejandro Street Photography / Foter.com / CC BY; Kris Krug / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA; oatsy40 / Foter.com / CC BY; TEDxAix / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND; Eurecat / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

3rd November 2015 Featured in: Blog By:

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