In Conclusion: When To End a Speech

Christopher Witt —  April 14, 2014

Maybe the most important thing to know about ending or concluding a speech (see “How to End a Speech”) is knowing when to end it.

Ending a SpeechI was once on a plane preparing to land in San Diego Airport, considered by some to be one of the country’s most dangerous due to its downtown location. It was late at night and foggy. Everyone just wanted to land and deplane.

We fastened our seat belts. We raised our tray tables and seats to their original, upright positions. And the plane made its descent.

At the last minute the plane pulled up, and the pilot announced that due to the fog we were unable to land. He circled the airport again, hoping that the fog would part enough for him to bring us in.

The pilot repeated the process — circling the airport, coming in for a landing, pulling up, and starting over again — two more times before landing.

I often have the same experience while listening to inexperienced speakers.

They’ve clearly said everything they needed to say. They’ve exhausted the subject as well as the audience. And they’ve given every indication that they’re ending. But they don’t stop. They keep talking. You can almost hear the audience groan.

Here are three iron-clad rules for knowing when to end a speech.

1. When Your Time Is Up

Never, never, never go over the time you’ve been assigned. It’s rude to your audience, to the meeting planner, and to whoever is following you.

You don’t have to use all the time you’re given. As a matter of fact, the audience will love you all the more when you finish early.

(Ask yourself, when’s the last time you wanted a speaker to speak longer?)

The audience is very aware of how long you’re supposed to speak, and by the time you’ve reached your time limit they’ve reached the end of their patience.

2. When You’ve Said What Needs to Be Said

Notice I said “what needs to be said,” not “everything that could be said.” 

Your job as a speaker is to present one idea as clearly and powerfully as possible, with just the right amount of explanation, detail, illustration, emotion, and rhetorical flourish. The “right amount” is, most frequently, the least amount that is necessary.

3. Before You Introduce Any New Material

Introducing new material at the end of your speech is almost as bad as exceeding your assigned time. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it.

4. When You’ve Said “In Conclusion” or “Finally”

Once you’ve given your audience the cue that you’re about to finish, you have 30 seconds to a minute to stop speaking. No more. When the audience hears those words (and words like them), they prepare themselves for a safe landing. And they’ll groan inwardly if you pull up and circle the airport one more time.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s advice still rings true: “Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.”

photo courtesy of Steve Jurveston

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

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