Thursday, June 26, 2014

And you thought beginning was hard...

Every summer I take a respite from coaching and consulting and go back to camp. Well, not camp, really: it's Discover the World of Communications, a summer program at American University. Sarah Menke-Fish, visionary Professor of Communications, created this program for driven, directed high school students 15 years ago. And I have been lucky to be a part of the DWC family for nine years now.

The past two weeks I have been working with DWCers in my Speaking for Impact class. They are smart kids, from some of the area's best schools, so it isn't Intro to Public Speaking. Most have made many speeches, and know they will make more in the careers they hope to have. However, I am struck by how often I need to point out that their speeches don't really have endings. And that's not just generational; many of my older clients have difficulty ending their speeches and presentations as well. (A good example of "what not to do" can be found at the end of Ellen DeGeneres' funny yet poignant 2009 Tulane commencement speech. But be warned: she is a comedian with impeccable timing. A less gifted person would never get by with a conclusion that concludes the conclusion.)

Just as you need a "hook" to engage the listeners, to get them interested in your topic or to pique their curiosity about how you will handle your subject matter, you also need a "coda" at the end to wrap everything up. Common methods for doing this include referring to the story you used in your hook, answering the pointed question you asked in the beginning, or citing the intriguing quotation you opened with. Other "codas" can be structured using rhetorical devices. I had a student this week end her "Don't Text While Driving" speech with a wonderful use of repetition: three sentences that started with "Be the one who...." It's a classic technique, but it works.

Ending your speech definitively may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many speakers sputter to a close, as if they have run out of steam (or time). They don't end with a strong finish and that is too bad. Your closing is another opportunity to make your point. Even if you have lost your listeners somewhere along the way, your message will be remembered if it is reinforced by the last words your audience hears. Make them count! 

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