Issue 14 of The Art of Keynoting
A speech, particularly a keynote speech, is not unlike a play. Its parts/scenes should have different intensities, but the ending should always feel like an ending – a resolution, a call to action, a promise of something better. A keynote needs a dramatic arc, and nowhere is this more prominent than in the ending. An opening can be slow, meandering, or quirky, but the audience needs to know that the ending is an ending.
This is why I'm so often surprised by how little attention people pay to their endings. Not long ago, I was speaking at an event where the speaker before me was a young woman with a powerful story of survival and growth. She was, particularly for such a young speaker, fantastic. Her story was original, and delivered with flair. She developed it into a series of lessons, and the audience was visibly moved. She came to a powerful ending and… continued. Then she continued some more. And some more. After a while, she was waffling. The goodwill she'd won was being lost, second by second. After a while, she got to her ending, which was anodyne and a little pointless. In a very real way, she snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Had she ended 8 minutes earlier, the speech would have been awesome. Now it was just OK.
So pay attention to your endings, even more than you would to your opening. The latter sets up your speech, but even if it falls flat, you can make this up during your talk. If you flub your ending, however, this is all that people will remember. You need to bring the drama to a close, not the misery to an end…
This doesn't mean that an ending needs to be melodramatic, or a warbling crescendo. It only means that the ending needs to attain closure. It can be a quiet but clear call to action, or a punchy promise of a better tomorrow, but it needs to hit the audience in the gut.
And there, I find myself in a bit of a pickle. For this is the end of this course, and I now need to end with a bang. I'll do it like this: For those of you who've read this far, congratulations. These have been my lessons on the art of keynoting, and about becoming a great speaker.
There is a final lesson, though. Being an OK speaker and then reading this isn't enough. You have to go out and do more of it. Go speak. Go speak in front of people, and be original, be your real self, and go big. It isn't rocket science. The more you do of it, the better you get, and if you truly can be original and genuine and fearless, people will want you to do so often. In fact, they might even pay you for the privilege…
Want to read more from Alf Rehn? Check out his book Dangerous Ideas: When Provocative Thinking Is Your Most Valuable Asset.