Similar to the introduction, the conclusion has three specific elements that you will want to incorporate in order to make it as strong as possible. Given the nature of these elements and what they do, these should generally be incorporated into your conclusion in the order they are presented below.
Element 1: Signal the End
The first thing a good conclusion should do is to signal the end of a speech. You may be thinking that telling an audience that you’re about to stop speaking is a “no brainer,” but many speakers really don’t prepare their audience for the end. When a speaker just suddenly stops speaking, the audience is left confused and disappointed. Instead, you want to make sure that audiences are left knowledgeable and satisfied with your speech. In a way, it gives them time to begin mentally organizing and cataloging all the points you have made for further consideration later.
Generally, the easiest way to signal that it is the end of your speech is to begin your conclusion with the words, “In conclusion.” Similarly, “In summary” or “To conclude” work just as well. While these may seem very blunt ways of communicating the end of your speech to the audience, you want it to be extremely clear to everyone that you are wrapping things up. Certainly, you can choose to employ more elegant, interesting, or creative language here, but you then run the risk of the audience not catching on to the fact that your speech is ending.
On the other hand, saying “In conclusion” (and definitely saying it more than once) can have an unintended negative effect. The audience may figure you are finished and turn you off, sort of like how we get up and leave during the credits in a movie. Therefore, you can also go straight to the summary, which is Element 2.
Element 2: Restate Main Points
In the introduction of a speech you delivered a preview of your main points; now in the conclusion, you will deliver a review. One of the biggest differences between written and oral communication is the necessity of repetition in oral communication (the issue of “planned redundancy” again). When you preview your main points in the introduction, effectively discuss and make transitions to your main points during the body of the speech, and finally, review the main points in the conclusion, you increase the likelihood that the audience will understand and retain your main points after the speech is over. Remember, your English instructor can re-read your essays as many times as he or she wants, but your audience – and your instructor – only have one opportunity to catch and remember the points you are trying to get across in your speech.
Because you are trying to remind the audience of your main points, you want to be sure not to bring up any new material or ideas. For example, if you said, “There are several other issues related to this topic, such as…but I don’t have time for them,” that would make the audience confused and perhaps wonder why you did not address those in the body section. Or if you were giving a persuasive speech on wind energy and you ended with, “Wind energy is the energy of the future, but there are still a few problems with it, such as noise and killing lots of birds,” you are bringing up a counter-argument that should have been dealt with in the body of the speech.
This is a good place to remind you that the introduction, preview, transitions, and conclusion are for helping the audience be interested and prepared to listen, retain, and follow your speech. The conclusion is too late for that. The hard-core facts and content are in the body. If you are tempted to cram lots of material into the conclusion, that is not the place for it, nor is it the place to provide the important steps to a solution.
As you progress as a public speaker, you will want to work on rephrasing your summary statement so that it does not sound like an exact repeat of the preview. For example, if your preview was:
The three arguments in favor of medical marijuana that I will present are that it would make necessary treatments available to all, it would cut down on the costs to law enforcement, and it would bring revenue to state budgets.
Your summary might be:
In the minutes we’ve had together, I have shown you that approving medical marijuana in our state will greatly help persons with a variety of chronic and severe conditions. Also, funds spent on law enforcement to find and convict legitimate marijuana users would go down as revenues from medical marijuana to the state budget would go up.
Element 3: Clincher
The third element of your conclusion is the clincher or something memorable with which to conclude your speech. The clincher is sometimes referred to as a Concluding Device. These are the very last words you will say in your speech, so you need to make them count. This is the last thing your audience will hear, so you want to make it good. In a certain way, you might think of your speech as a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant: the introduction is the appetizer that gets everyone ready for the main course, the body section is the “meat and vegetables,” and the conclusion is like dessert. But have you ever had a nice meal that ended with a dessert that didn’t really taste good? Regardless of how good the rest of the meal was, you probably walked away thinking, It was okay, but I just remember not liking it at the end. A good clincher prevents your audience from thinking that way, and in fact, can even make an audience remember a speech more favorably.
In many ways, the clincher is like the inverse of the attention-getter. You want to start the speech off with something strong, and you want to end the speech with something strong. To that end, similar to what we discussed above with attention-getters, there are a number of ways you can make your clincher strong and memorable.
Conclude with a Challenge
One way you can end your speech is with a challenge. A challenge is a call to engage in some kind of activity that requires a special effort. In a speech on the necessity of fund-raising, a speaker could conclude by challenging the audience to raise 10 percent more than their original projections. In a speech on eating more vegetables, you could challenge your audience to increase their current intake of vegetables by two portions daily. In both of these challenges, audience members are being asked to go out of their way to do something different that involves effort on their part.
In a challenge, try to make it aspirational but reasonable. The challenge should be something they can strive for but not see as something impossible. Two or three more servings a day of fruits and vegetables is reasonable, but six probably would be seen as too much.
In the same category as a challenge, probably the most common persuasive concluding device is the appeal for action or the call to action. In essence, the appeal for action occurs when a speaker asks her or his audience to engage in a specific behavior. When a speaker concludes by asking the audience “to do” something, the speaker wants to see an actual change. Whether the speaker appeals for people to eat more fruit, buy a car, vote for a candidate, oppose the death penalty, get more sleep, or sing more in the shower, the speaker is asking the audience to engage in action.
One specific type of appeal for action is the immediate call to action. Whereas some appeals ask for people to engage in behavior in the future, the immediate call to action asks people to engage in behavior right now. If a speaker wants to see a new traffic light placed at a dangerous intersection, he or she may conclude by asking all the audience members to sign a digital petition right then and there, using a computer the speaker has made available. For a speech on eating more vegetables, pass out raw veggies and dip at the conclusion of the speech; someone giving a speech on petitioning a lawmaker for a new law could provide audience members with a prewritten e-mail they can send to the lawmaker.
If you are giving a persuasive speech about a solution to a problem, you should not relegate the call to action to the very end of the speech. It should probably be a main point where you can deal with the steps and specifics of the solution in more detail. For example, perhaps a speaker has been discussing the problems associated with the disappearance of art education in the United States. The speaker could then propose a solution of creating more community-based art experiences for school children as a way to fill this gap. Although this can be an effective conclusion, a speaker must ask herself or himself whether the solution should be discussed in more depth as a stand-alone main point within the body of the speech so that audience concerns about the proposed solution may be addressed.
Conclude with a Quotation
Another way you can conclude a speech is by providing a quotation relevant to the speech topic. When using a quotation, you need to think about whether your goal is to end on a persuasive note or an informative note. Some quotations will have a clear call to action, while other quotations summarize or provoke thought. For example, let’s say you are delivering an informative speech about dissident writers in the former Soviet Union. You could end by citing this quotation from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason, no regime has ever loved great writers.”
Notice that this quotation underscores the idea of writers as dissidents, but it doesn’t ask listeners to put forth the effort to engage in any specific thought process or behavior. If, on the other hand, you were delivering a persuasive speech urging your audience to sponsor a child in a developing country for $40 per month, you might use this quotation by Forest Witcraft:
“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
In this case, the quotation leaves the audience with the message that monetary sacrifices are worth taking, that they make our lives worthwhile, and that the right thing to do is to go ahead and make that sacrifice.
Conclude by Visualizing the Future
The purpose of a conclusion that refers to the future is to help your audience imagine the future you believe can occur. If you are giving a speech on the development of video games for learning, you could conclude by depicting the classroom of the future where video games are perceived as true learning tools. More often, speakers use visualization of the future to depict how society or how individual listeners’ lives would be different if the speaker’s persuasive attempt worked. For example, if a speaker proposes that a solution to illiteracy is hiring more reading specialists in public schools, the speaker could ask her or his audience to imagine a world without illiteracy. In this use of visualization, the goal is to persuade the audience to adopt the speaker’s point of view. By showing that the speaker’s vision of the future is a positive one, the conclusion should help to persuade the audience to help create this future.
Conclude by Inspiration
By definition, the word inspire means to affect or arouse someone. Both affect and arouse have strong emotional connotations. The ultimate goal of an inspirational concluding device is similar to an “appeal for action” but the ultimate goal is more lofty or ambiguous; the goal is to stir someone’s emotions in a specific manner. This is done by sharing a story, poem, or quotation that appeals to the audience's basic values and therefore appeals to emotions. Stories or allusions to “underdogs” who overcame obstacles to achieve something worthwhile or those who make sacrifices for the good of others can help inspire. You probably know of such stories (Olympic athletes and a well-known figure such as Captain Sullenberger are examples) that would be of value, as long as they are relevant to your topic and purpose. Poetry is sometimes used to inspire, but you want to use a short passage (eight lines or less) of poetry that is clear to the audience.
Conclude with a Question
Another way you can end a speech is to ask a rhetorical question that forces the audience to ponder an idea. Maybe you are giving a speech on the importance of the environment, so you end the speech by saying, “Think about your children’s future. What kind of world do you want them raised in? A world that is clean, vibrant, and beautiful—or one that is filled with smog, pollution, filth, and disease?” Notice that you aren’t actually asking the audience to verbally or nonverbally answer the question; the goal of this question is to force the audience into thinking about what kind of world they want for their children.
Refer Back to the Introduction
This method provides a good sense of closure to the speech and can be one of the most effective methods. If you started the speech with a startling statistic or fact, such as “Last year, according to the official website of the American Humane Society, four million pets were euthanized in shelters in the United States,” in the end you could say, “Remember that shocking number of four million euthanized pets? With your donation of time or money to the Northwest Georgia Rescue Shelter, you can help lower that number in our region.”
Conclude with an Anecdote or Personal Story
As with your attention-getter, a brief story can be a strong way to conclude. However, it must be relevant and not go on too long. Combining this method and the previous one, you might finish telling a story that you started in the introduction as your clincher. This method is probably better with persuasive speeches where you want to end with a strong emotional appeal.
Conclude with a Reference to Audience or Audience Self-Interest
The last concluding device involves a direct reference to your audience. This concluding device is used when a speaker attempts to answer the basic audience question, “What’s in it for me?” (the WIIFM question). The goal of this concluding device is to spell out the direct benefits a behavior or thought change has for audience members. For example, a speaker talking about stress reduction techniques could conclude by clearly listing all the physical health benefits stress reduction offers (e.g., improved reflexes, improved immune system, improved hearing, reduction in blood pressure). In this case, the speaker is clearly spelling out why audience members should care about the topic and what’s in it for them.
Informative versus Persuasive Conclusions
As you read through the above possible ways to conclude a speech, hopefully, you noticed that some of the methods are more appropriate for persuasive speeches and others are more appropriate for informative speeches. An appeal to action, for example, may not be appropriate for an informative speech since asking your audience to do something often borders on persuasion, which isn’t what an informative speech is intended to do. Similarly, if your persuasive speech is on the importance of voting in the next local election, an appeal to action clincher would probably be one of your stronger options.