Group raising hands with questions

You are just about finished with your presentation. It’s gone very well. You have engagement. Nobody is fiddling with their phone or drawing pictures on the back of the handout. It feels like you’ve got buy-in. Heads are nodding agreement. You can feel the energy. You get to the last slide and there is an awkward pause. You squirm a bit until someone says, “no.” You see the phones coming out. You thank your audience and a few thank you in return. The CEO starts talking to her HR manager about something they have to do this afternoon. A couple of people thank you and explain that they need need to get back to work. It feels like the whole thing fell flat in the last minute. What happened?

The presentation did die in the last minute. The traditional “Questions?” slide sucked the air out of the room. While that slide, the one where we ask for questions from the audience, is meant to be a lead in to the close by eliminating objections, it kills momentum. It kills momentum even in presentations that are not about sales.

Here’s what happens.

You spend 20 minutes building a case. Your audience is following your thought process and agreeing with you. At the end, rather than give them something powerful to remember or something strong enough to reinforce what you’ve just told them, you divert away with asking them for questions. If there are no questions, you are left with the empty tank of speaking. You’ve used up your material and they have nothing to add. They recognize this before you do. That’s why the phones come out. They know you are done and if they have no questions, they too are done. The speaker thanks the audience and lets the bubble of interest pop. We’re back to reality.

How should we end a presentation?

It’s a good practice to open for questions but that should be done before the last couple slides. Your last slide should be something big. Something memorable like a story or metaphor. Perhaps a final quick example or a powerful image is appropriate. You want to end with a punch.

I like to engage my audience throughout. You can entertain questions at any time in your presentation. Before closing, it’s a good idea to set up something that will encourage questions. For example, if I’ve just spent an hour teaching a technique, I might ask a question like, “if you were in a situation like this, what would you do?”  I’d let a few people demonstrate their grasp of what was taught.

Then I would be set to reinforce my point and close. I’d say something like, “I am pleased by your responses to know that you see the importance of what we covered. That is very rewarding for me.” Then I’ll end with “I assure you, if you continue to practice this technique, you will see much better outcomes. See me later and I’ll give you a couple of incredible examples.” Punch.

2 to go.

There are two key points here.

#1- Stage the “Questions” slide by giving your audience something to discuss. Once the dialogue starts, other questions will probably come out.

#2- Do not end with a “Questions” or “Thank You” slide. End with a punch. End with something that is memorable and reinforces your point.

This works. The last presentation I delivered resulted in a very big contract.

Chris Reich, CEO of the TeachU Companies