The vast majority of people finish their presentations with either a summary of their main points or a Question & Answer session. While both these activities have their merits and should usually be included as part of a presentation, they are not the right way to finish a business presentation.
Before I reveal what is being missed, let us look at why we give presentations in the first place.
Three types of Presentation
In my simplistic view of the world there are only three different types of presentation: presentations designed to entertain, knowledge transfer presentations designed to inform and influencing presentations. Every presentation must fall into one of these categories. These types are not mutually exclusive. For instance, to effectively inform people in a presentation it also has to be entertaining. To influence people you often have to inform them about the situation and the options available. However, every presentation must have a dominant purpose which is to entertain, inform or influence.
The purpose of an entertaining presentation is purely to entertain your audience, e.g. an after dinner speech, or a best manís speech. The objective of this type of presentation is to entertain, make the audience laugh and smile. The best way to end is to leave the audience on a high and tell them your name, just like a stand up comedian would do. That way if they enjoyed the presentation they know who to ask for when they want to re-book you or buy your Christmas DVD.
Informative presentations tell people about something but leave it up to them to decide how they will use this new information. These presentations are designed to transfer knowledge from the presenter to his audience. In this case the best ending is a summary of what you have been talking about. In this style of presentation it is quite likely that you will have a question & answer session at the end of the presentation. In this case you can summarise before the Q&A session, but I would always recommend re-stating the summary at the very end after the Q&A.
The purpose of this type of presentation is to make your audience do something or think something differently from that which they would have done prior to the presentation. Maybe it is a sales presentation, maybe it is a motivational presentation, or it may be an internal review meeting.
In my view, the vast majority of business presentations are " Influencing Presentations" . They are trying to sell something, it may be a product, a service, a solution or maybe just an idea, or a new way of thinking or working but they are inevitably about instilling some change in the audience.
Clear Measurable Objective
For an influencing presentation to stand a chance of working, you need to set out a clear measurable and timely objective. An objective which states what you want your audience to do (or think) after your presentation has finished.
People who are giving a sales presentation may think their objective is to sell their product, service or solution. That is fine if you have a very short sales cycle. For instance if you are on a market stall selling one of those invaluable kitchen devices that chops, slices, dices, peels and cores all manner of fruit and vegetables. You do your pitch and then ask, " Who wants one? Only £5 each" , hand out the boxes and collect in the money. You will know very quickly if you have given a good presentation, your van will be empty and your wallet will be full.
For this type of presentation having an objective of selling the product is an ideal objective but for most corporate sales the sales cycle can be 3 months or longer. In which case having an objective of making the sale is pointless as by the time the decision to buy is made, you will have forgotten all about the presentation and will never know if it was really successful. In corporate sales presentations you are better to have an objective of getting to the next step in the sales cycle, what ever that step may be. By setting that as your objective, your presentation will change subtly to focus on achieving that next step. And you will soon know if the presentation was a success or failure.
When giving a presentation at a conference, again you need to think carefully about your objective. Typically companies give presentations at industry conferences because they want to create an interest in what they are doing, to show off a bit or to make people think in a manner which is conducive to the speakers overall strategy. How will you know if you have succeeded? Good scores on the conference feedback form may be one way. But if you want to generate interest in your ideas and your company, another way may be to have an objective linked to the number of questions you get asked or the number of people who come up to you after the speech to ask questions. If this is your measure of success it will do no harm to have a " call to action" that tells people what to do. For instance you could end the presentation by saying " I hope you have found this interesting if you would like to know more or have questions about how it might apply to your personal situation, I will be down at the back of the room for the next 20 minutes, please come and have a chat with me."
To get people do something you have to tell them what it is they should do. You canít just hint at it, you are always best telling them straight, so that there is no ambiguity and it is clear exactly what they should do. This is why a " call to action" is very important.
Call to Action
By having a " call to action" at the end of your presentation you can make it very clear what the audience should do next. Summarizing the main benefits or having a question and answer session after your call to action dilutes that call. Remember the laws of recency. People, who do not finish their business presentations with a " call to action" that tells their audience exactly what to do next, are missing a trick. They have spent all their time and effort getting their audience all revved up, but not told them where to go.
Tell them, tell them, tell them.
As I mentioned earlier, there is an old saying in presentation circles, " tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them" . In the section on openings I suggested that rather than tell them what you are going to talk about, you should do it in such a way that makes them want to listen.
While the sentiment is good for a knowledge transfer presentation, if you are trying to influence people, it ignores the need for a call to action. I think a better phrase would be; " Tell them why they should listen, Tell them, Tell them what to do next" .
After all, the objective of an influencing presentation is to get people to do something. So when you are creating the presentation the place to start is with the statement that tells people what to do, which is the last thing you are going to say. Then work backwards from there to where your audience is currently, in order to justify the call to action and make people willing to take the action. This defines the route your presentation has to take. Taking your audience from their initial state through the tipping point to where you want them to be when you issue your call to action, confident in the belief that they will be ready to take that step.
Start with a bang to grab their attention, then depending on the type of presentation it is end with:
A Thank You Ė Entertaining
Questions & Answers, a Summary and a Thank You Ė Informative
A Summary, Questions & Answers (if needed) and a Call to Action - Influencing
In business, most presentations should be designed to instil action on the part of the audience, forget the call to action and you may as well forget about the whole presentation.