Effective Conclusions

The conclusion may be the most important part of your presentation. It is the last part of the message the audience will hear or read. Choose your words carefully and use your conclusion to seal your influence.

This material is based on Ehninger, Douglas, et al. Principles and Types of Speech Communication. 9th Ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman and Co., 1986 and Sprague, Jo and Douglas Stuart. Speaker’s Handbook. 2nd Ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.



A. Questions to ask

B. Functions of a Conclusion

C. Types of Conclusions

D. Tips

E. Pitfalls to Avoid

See a map of a basic oral message structure.

Learn more about strategic choices to consider when planning introductions and conclusions.


A.    To plan your conclusion, ask yourself:

1.     Is the speech developed in a simple or a complex fashion?

2.     Does the content lead naturally to a “so what?” question?

3.     What mood do I wish the audience to be in as I conclude?

4.     Should I signal the ending of the speech?

B.    Functions of a Conclusion

1.     Summarize the main points.

a.      Just as you gave a map in the introduction, give a summary in the conclusion.

b.     Remind the audience of the big ideas to help solidify their memory of the message.

c.      In a technical or argumentative speech it can be particularly useful to restate your thesis and main points exactly. For instance:

So, today I have tried to show you that conjugal visits should be allowed in prisons. I first explained the system of conjugal visits that has been adopted successfully in some penal institutions. Second, I made the point that conjugal visits contribute directly to the morale and rehabilitation of prisoners. Finally, I documented that the visitation system is beneficial to society as a whole.

d.     In some speeches you may think this is too mechanical. You may then choose to paraphrase rather than restate exactly, summing up the content, but not in the identical words.

To summarize-meaning is in the head of the listener. You cannot stir up what is not already there. You communicate through all the senses. Often the where and the when may influence those that listen to you. if you can’t put your message in the language of your listener, you are likely to fail.
Waldo W. Braden, “In the Heads of the Listeners,” Vital Speeches of the Day 44, no. 2 (Nov. 1, 1977):44.

2.     Restate the main idea

a.      Emphasize once a again the main idea of the message with a clear, concise, single sentence.

b.     Make it memorable if appropriate.

3.     Adapting to Complexity

a.      A message that advances but one idea, fully developed through clear, relevant supporting materials, needs only a simple restatement of the central point to ensure audience understanding.

b.     A message that advances ten claims about the effects of a particular bill or governmental action needs a summary that synthesizes the different ideas into a condensed, unified form.

4.     Answering the “So What?” Question

a.      If your presentation is directed toward some type of overt response, your conclusion is the final chance to clarify what you want that response to be.

5.     Creating the Appropriate Mood

a.      Then plan to conclude your speech in a way that generates that mood or creates that frame of mind that supports the influence you wish to exert in your message.

6.     Signaling the Ending

a.      A successful message also conveys a sense of completeness and finality.

b.     You can signal the end with transition phrases:

i.       “In summary...... “
ii.     “As I conclude this address, let me reiterate . . . “;
iii.   “The eminent poet, Robert Frost, best summarizes what I have been saying. . . .”

C.    Types of Speech Conclusions

1.     Challenge or Appeal to Listeners

a.      Openly appeal for support or action, or remind the listeners of their responsibilities in furthering a desirable end.

b.     Be vivid and compelling and include a suggestion of the principal ideas or arguments presented in the speech.

c.      Leland Miles, president of the University of Bridgeport, selected this method when urging university presidents to seek peace studies for their campuses:

Peace is not something that you pick up off the ground and say, oh look, peace! I found peace. Peace you’ve got to work at, peace you’ve got to create, peace you’ve got to make, peace you’ve got to produce. And the only way I know to produce it is through education, which is our business. Rodrigo Carazo, the president of Costa Rica, has said, “If you want peace, educate for peace.” I agree. He has also said, “War begins in the minds of men and women. It is therefore in the minds of men and women that we must construct the defenses of peace. “ I say let all of us join in building those defenses. Let all of us in our own ways attempt to build on our respective campuses constituencies for peace. We have constituencies for fraternities, constituencies for drugs, constituencies for better jazz concerts. peace, by requiring some kind of internationalized curriculum for all our students. Let’s not leave the critical task of survival to Costa Rica alone.

d.     Your ability to make sense of the world which you now enter will depend on your determination to retain your own integrity. If you do that, the rest will follow. Yours may not be what is often called a happy life; it may be battered by adversity. But it will be a life of purpose, of dignity, and of meaning. And that should be enough for anyone.
John R. Silber, “Beyond the Real World Integrity,” Vital Speeches of the Day 45, no. 19 (July 15, 1979):604-606.

e.      Robert Kennedy, in a speech to the Democratic legislative dinner, shortly after the Watts riots of 1967, ended his speech this way:

For us as Democrats the responsibility is clear. We must reject the council of those willing to pass laws against violence while refusing to help eliminate rats ...
We must offer that leadership—in every legislature and school board and city hall—which dares to speak out before it tests the shifting wind of popular anger and confusion; that leadership which prefers facts to illusions, actions to sullen withdrawal, sacrifice and effort to indulgence and ease.

2.     Pertinent Quotation

a.      Leland Miles when concluding a challenge to his audience to act with him for peace.

If a quotation is used in the beginning of the speech, you can tie the speech together by a direct reference back to the earlier quotation. Chui Lee Yap began a speech on ethnocentrism by quoting from Aldous Huxley: “Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” After explaining the reasons for American ignorance of other cultures, Chui Lee concluded by noting that “As Huxley implied, cure of our not knowing-is our wanting to know.

3.     Epitomizing Illustration

a.      A speech-ending illustration should be both inclusive and conclusive:

i.       inclusive of the main focus of your speech,
ii.     conclusive in tone and impact.

b.     Michael Twitchell used an illustration in both the opening and closing of his speech on the causes and effects of depression:

i.       Opening
ii.     Have you ever felt like you were the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the leaking dike? You waited and waited but the help never came. The leak became worse and the water rushed around you and swept you away. As you fought the flood, gasping and choking for air, you realized that the flood was inside yourself. You were drowning and dying in your own mind. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, as many as half the people in this room will be carried away by this devastating flood. What is this disaster? Mental depression.
iii.   Conclusion
iv.   Let’s go back to my illustration of the little Dutch boy. He was wise to take action and put his finger in the dike, preventing the flood. In the case of depression, each one of us must be like the little Dutch boy’-willing to get involved and control the harmful effects of depression.’

4.     Additional Inducement

a.      In his speech, Michael Twitchell elaborated at length on the effects of depression on the family of David Twitchell. Besides tying the introduction and conclusion together with an illustration (see above), Michael added an inducement:

Why should you really care? Why is it important? The depressed person may be someone you know-it could be you. If you know what is happening, you can always help. I wish I had known what depression was in March of 1978. You see, when I said David Twitchell could be my father, I was making a statement of fact. David is my father. I am his middle son. My family wasn’t saved; perhaps now yours can be.

5.     Expression of Personal Intention or Endorsement

a.      State your own intent.

b.     Wanda Coppola, a student at Towson State University, ended her speech on computer anxiety with an endorsement of her own solution to the problem:

Finally, we who avoid computers because we don’t understand them can enroll in a college’s or university’s introduction to computer course, as I have done. Although it is still sometimes difficult to sit behind the computer terminal without becoming nervous or fidgety, I am convinced it is still worth my while. I believe all of us should become comfortable with computers. Only in that way will we be able to perform in the job market and the educational system, in order to become computer literate and to function effectively in our technological society.

c.      “I plan to give blood tomorrow morning and I hope to see you down there.”

D.    Conclusion tips

1.     Leave enough time in your speech for a solid conclusion.

a.      If you are running short on time, don’t cut the conclusion since it falls at on of the psychologically strongest parts of the message.

b.     Instead, try to cut material from the middle—or at least something before the conclusion.

2.     Just like the introduction, build your ethos in the conclusion with solid, confident nonverbal cues.

a.      Look at the audience.

b.     Be personal.

c.      Be energetic

3.     Take the time to plan a solid conclusion.

4.     Avoid giving the audience a false sense of when you will finish. Few things annoy an audience as much as thinking a speech is over, only to have the speaker go on, and on, and on.

E.     Avoid these conclusion pitfalls:

1.     Do not use “thank you” as a substitute for a clincher.

2.     Don’t end with an apology:

a.      “I guess I’ve rambled on long enough.” “I don’t know if I’ve made this clear.”

b.     “I’m not usually this hyper; it must be the coffee.”

3.     Don’t trail off. Do your audience the courtesy of wrapping things up and using a clincher.

4.     Don’t introduce a whole new idea in your conclusion. The body of your speech is the place for that.

5.     Don’t make the conclusion disproportionately long. It is a summary and ending.

6.     Don’t end a speech in a style or mood that is at odds with the tenor of the rest of the speech. You do your listeners a disservice if you have kept them laughing up to the very end only to hit them with a stark recitation of doom.

7.     Don’t use the phrases “in conclusion” or “in summary” in any part of the speech other than the actual conclusion. You will lose part of your audience while they reorient themselves to the fact that the speech is continuing even though they thought it was winding down.

This page was last modified on Wednesday, August 15, 2001.
You may contact the instructor at SHKaminski@yahoo.com
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