[This is the seventh post in our Public Speaking in the Church Series]
The ending is where many speakers get sloppy. They’ve started out with a compelling opening, they shared great content and had a solid structure…and then they end with a fizzle instead of a bang.
The end of your talk is what people will remember most, simply because our brains remember what happened last (and what was different and unexpected by the way—which is how you can make the middle of your talk awesome). So if you end with “Well, that was all I wanted to share about prayer”, that’s a wasted opportunity.
The problem is that we often write the end of our sermon or talk last—which seems logical, but it really isn’t. Once we spent long hours on prepping the talk, writing a compelling opening and coming up with a wowing body, it’s hard to muster energy and enthusiasm for the ending. However, we should devote as much time to a strong ending, than to our opening or middle.
You Can’t Wing It
One mistake speakers make is that they can wing it, that they can come up with a brilliant ending while speaking. Recently I spoke at a conference and due to circumstances, I hadn’t been able to spend as much time preparing my talk as I had hoped. Or needed. The talk went well, but I got in trouble with the ending. That’s because I hadn’t prepared it. I violated my own rule of always, always making sure I had a powerful ending and it showed. I am convinced my talk would have had way more impact had I gotten the ending right.
It’s Not a Summary
What the ending is not, is a summary. This is a big temptation for many: summarizing everything they’ve said at the end of their talk. However, there’s a big problem with this: if people didn’t hear you the first time you made your point, what makes you think they’ll hear your summary? And more importantly: the people who did listen really don’t need you to rehash it. They heard you the first time.
Plus, these summaries are more often than not ad libbed, meaning they provide fertile ground for all kinds of tangents and off-course pet topics. All this completely distracts from the key message and will dilute the impact of your talk.
Oh and by the way: closing off with a summary disguised as prayer is called cheating. You know, a prayer along the lines of: “Lord, you have heard us say this morning that….and you reminded us through your Word that…”. God knows what you said; He was there. Just saying.
The Goal of the Ending
The end of your talk is the opportunity to drive your key message, your big idea home. Or to do your call to action, in whatever form. Or if your talk had a deep emotional component, you could either reinforce that emotion, or bring the audience emotionally towards the solution and resolve.
If you picture your talk as a graph, a line that depicts the emotional intensity of your talk, or the intensity of the content, it should show a bit of a bell curve. You want to start out gradually in your opening, build towards a climax, and then find resolve. If you end on a high emotionally or in content, you will leave your listeners unresolved. If you elicit strong emotions, make sure to bring them down again as well. They keyword is resolve.
That also means that you have to subtly signal that you’re about to close off, or plain announce it. That helps listeners prepare for it, because if you come to an unexpected end they may end up feeling cheated somehow. When you signal you’re about to land, make sure to keep your promise. If you announce you’ll be closing off in a few minutes, you can’t keep on talking for ten more minutes!
Ideas for Powerful Endings
There are different ways to end your talk and the best method depends on your topic, the type of talk, and the content and emotional intensity.
You could close off with one short Bible verse or passage that drives home your point. Or repeat the passage you’ve talked about.
An application is also a strong ending, for instance asking your listeners to write down one thing they will do this week to put what they’ve heard in practice
You can close off with an ‘action’ that symbolizes your point. I use this a lot when I speak to students, for instance letting them ‘nail’ their sins to a cross, or wash their hands a s a symbol of purity, or write a thank you note to one of their parents.
You can do an altar call of some kind, if this fits your message (and your theology/church culture). Or do a time of prayer.
I love ending with a story, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise by now—I simply love stories! Make sure the story isn’t too charged emotionally and is well suited to use by itself, because having to do an explanation after the story would ruin the whole effect!
If you’ve used a repetitive phrase throughout your talk (this is an incredibly powerful technique known as a ‘refrain’—we’ll cover this in a future post), you’ll absolutely need to close off with this.
A fitting question can also be powerful, for instance if it’s geared towards application.
These are just some ideas; there are plenty more options. Play around with what fits your speaking style and personality—and your topic of course. The ending of a call to action to raise budget for a new building isn’t the same as ending a 45-minute sermon on the Beatitudes!
Whatever you come up with, make sure it reinforces your big idea, holds the audience’s attention, and is emotionally satisfying.