I was having lunch with a man the other day, and he and I have been developing a friendship over the past six months or so. I have a great deal of respect for this man. He flew fighter aircraft all over the world – Europe, Northern Africa, Turkey, the Republic of Korea and throughout the US. He was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School – the Air Force version of Top Gun. If that didn’t get your attention, he also led the United States Air Force Thunderbirds as the commander and demonstration leader.
When this man speaks, it’s like listening to spoken poetry. His words match his tune, his movement is fluid, and his message is powerful. In fact, he’s one of the most gifted speakers I’ve ever heard. I do not say those words often, but I said them to him the other day. With that kind of background and that kind of talent, he’s also guilty of struggling with one of the biggest obstacles that face any speaker. What’s the obstacle I’m referring to? He’s guilty of fumbling his close.
You’ve seen this scenario before. After a typically clumsy introduction of sorts, a speaker steps in front of an audience, and begins the journey. The good ones will start with a story, quote or analogy of some sort. If you’re watching a talented speaker, you can feel the momentum beginning to build. Soon, the speaker and the audience are one, and together they travel on a wonderful voyage. When it comes together, it’s like magic. Then, that magic comes to a screeching halt as the speaker says, “Well, thanks for inviting me here today,” and accepts a polite applause.
When you watch a poor close to a presentation, it’s almost feels like you’re watching a poor close to a movie. Imagine that after the last line of dialogue in a good movie, someone just stopped the film, turned on the lights and said just this: “Well, thanks for coming here today.” All that time invested in initiating, and building momentum, and so much of it is lost when the close is not handled properly.
One of the culprits is the dreaded question and answer session. I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked me to close with a question and answer session with the audience. It’s not that I don’t value a Q & A session; it’s just that from a speaker’s standpoint, it isn’t the most dynamic part of the presentation. In a sense, it’s a necessary evil; it’s often needed, but often a momentum killer. The lights come on, and the presentation abruptly ends.
But that’s not how it has to be. I challenge you, as I challenged my friend, to think out that close. Obsess on it if you have to. Write it out and memorize it. Save your best story, quote, or analogy for the close. Where is it written that the speaker is no longer allowed to spend 60 seconds longer with an audience after a Q & A?
I look at a presentation somewhat like performing on a piece of gymnastic equipment. Watch a gymnast and you’ll see a strong opening, a solid routine, but we all know what we’ve really been waiting to see. We watch for the dismount, and we watch to see if that gymnast can execute the most difficult trick of all: We’re all waiting to see if that athlete can dismount from his or her given apparatus in a spectacular fashion, and “stick the landing.”
The next time you’re asked to speak, start strongly, gain and build that momentum, but if you really want to perform like a pro, whether there’s a Q & A session or not, “stick the landing.”