Conclusions are tricky. If a conclusion summarizes the main points, then why not just make that the body of the speech and be done with it? How do you say something new while summarizing what you’ve already said? For that matter, how do you transition into it without actually saying “In conclusion…?”
All of these questions can be answered by understanding that a conclusion helps the audience see the point of the speech. So, if it’s a persuasive speech, the audience will see that you went through this entire process to change the audience for their benefit. If it’s an informative speech, the conclusion helps the audience see how the various points come together to provide them with a new understanding or skill set.
So, how do you construct a conclusion?
Transition into the Conclusion
I realize that saying “In conclusion…” seems a bit obvious and shows a lack of skill. Certainly, you should never write “in conclusion” in a paper. But, keep in mind that in a paper, it’s much more obvious that you’ve reached the conclusion; there are only a few paragraphs or pages left. We can actually see the end of the paper. This is not the case for a speech.
So, I suppose you could try a variation of “in conclusion” by saying:
- “And, so…”
- “As I close…”
- “So, what have learned?”
Or something like that. It works. It’s not great, but it works.
Another way to signal the transition into the conclusion is a nice pause. Let that final point sink in, then move into the conclusion. It may take a second or two for the audience to realize what has happened, but once they start to hear the review of the main points, they’ll know that you’ve moved into the conclusion.
Review the Original Problem (Purpose)
Once you’ve transitioned into the conclusion, you need to look at the original problem (i.e. the established need for change in persuasion or the missing skill set or lack of understanding over an issue in an informative speech). Remind the audience what this presentation was all about.
Review the Points
Take a moment to look at the main points and how they address (solve) the problem. Show them how each of the arguments lead them to conclude that change must take place or how each point gives them more complete knowledge and understanding about the given topic.
Once you’ve built your case (i.e. shown the audience how your points address the problem/purpose), tell the audience what the next course of action is. For persuasion, this is an urge to action/change (e.g. “I urge you to stop using Z and switch to Product X!”). For an informative speech, this is where you invite members to take advantage of their new found skill or knowledge (e.g. “Now that you know how change your oil, you won’t have to worry about the high prices of your local oil change station. You can do it yourself!”)
Let the audience know that things will be better in the future as a result of listening to the speech, because the change or new knowledge is a good thing that will lead to positive results (if applied).
Ending the Speech
Simply say “thank you.” There is no need to add much else. You’ve reminded them of the problem/purpose, summarized the main point, shown how the points fit together to address the problem/purpose, you’ve provided the next steps, and you’ve encouraged them. What more needs to be said? Just “thank you.”
Bringing the Meaning– Saying Something More
Remember, the conclusion is a way to wrap it all up. However, a wrap-up is not just reiterating what was already said. If you end your speech with “In conclusion, I showed you how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by taking peanut butter, jelly, and bread and mixing them together. Thank you,” you’ve missed the point of the conclusion (and by the way, please don’t ever prepare a speech on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!).
You need to add more than just a brief summary of the main points. Tell the audience what they mean. What does it all mean to them? What are they supposed to do or think as a result?
“We’ve looked at the facts. We’ve seen the effects on our environment. We’ve heard the potential consequences of not acting. It all leads to a very obvious need for us to…”
Notice how the particular facts aren’t repeated. Only the bigger ideas are added as a reminder of what was said in the body of the speech. This helps the audience to see how all that stuff (facts and figures) fit together. It also keeps it brief. Adding too much detail will make it sound like you are repeating the body of the speech.
A conclusion is an opportunity for you to bring meaning to the speech. It’s a synthesis of facts and arguments with the problem or purpose. You help the audience see what they couldn’t or wouldn’t see before. It’s one last chance to have an impact on them, so choose your words carefully.