By the time you reach the end of your PowerPoint presentation, it’s tempting to turn the last slide into a standard ‘thank you’ or ‘questions?’ slide. Don’t give into the temptation. Read these five tips, and make the last slide of your presentation as impactful as the first.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression”, but when it comes to presentations, the first impression is only half the story.
Serial-position effect is the tendency of the human brain to only remember the first and last items in a series. If you consider your presentation as a series of incredible messages, that whole middle section is going to look a little fuzzy to your audience after just a few short hours. In fact, researchers testing presentation recall found that only 50% of information is remembered immediately following the last slide of the presentation. This number reduces to 25% by the next day and just 10% the following week.
For those of you reading this right before a big presentation, don’t throw your laptop against the wall in despair. There are ways to manipulate your narrative to take advantage of the serial-position effect and end your PowerPoint presentation with impact.
In this article, we’re going to be focusing on just one aspect of the serial-position effect: the recency effect. This is how to capture your audience’s imagination, up to the very last slide of your presentation.
For storytellers, it’s often beneficial to start from the end and work backwards, making sure every message is pointing towards that end goal. Once you get back to the beginning, take a look at our tips for hooking your audience from the first sentence.
If you’ve been keeping up with our storytelling tips and tricks, you’ll already know that you should use the end of your presentation to summarise all your key messages and tie up any loose plot points.
We’re talking about what happens after that.
We’re talking about levelling up.
5 ways to end a PowerPoint presentation
1. Start a revolution
You wouldn’t put together a PowerPoint presentation in preparation for a Friday night catch up with your best friend. Presentations are designed to encourage fundamental change. If done correctly, a presentation is just a series of messages that speak to the audience emotionally, backed up by logic and cemented with credibility. And they have to end with a rallying cry.
The call to action is how you communicate to the audience the first step towards their better future. Whatever it is you want them to think, feel, or do at the end of your PowerPoint presentation, needs to be clear when you reach the last slide.
Of course, you could just tell them what you want them to do. But, as any parent, manager, or Prime Minister will tell you, people don’t like being told what to do. In fact, they actively revolt against it. It’s much more effective for them to reach that conclusion themselves, with just a little gentle guidance from you.
This all sounds like witchcraft, but there are plenty of ways to manipulate your audience without them catching on, if that’s what you’re worried about.
2. Pull a stunt
You need to do something different to make an impact.
Imagine yours is just one presentation in a whole string of slideshows. By the last slide of the last presentation, they’re all going to have blended into one. If you can’t flirt your way to being placed as the first or last of the day, you’re going to have to go bigger and better for your finale. Bring out the dancers.
Too many people think of their slides as a box to contain their ideas. We say, think outside the box. I know, we’re probably the first people to ever say that. But seriously, break down that wall between digital and physical. Show your audience what you mean. And use your slides as support.
Your impactful moment doesn’t have to be acted out or over the top, just something out of the norm, and out of the slide. People are 30% more likely to retain information when there’s a visual aid to accompany the audio. This could be in the form of a statistic, an animation, or an image, or it could be something you do.
For example, say you want to end your presentation with a shocking statistic. Big numbers can become meaningless, as the sheer size is difficult to comprehend. Make your point digestible with context.
Say you want to communicate the number of coffee farmers in Kenya who can’t make a living wage, as a way to illustrate the importance of fair trade. You could just say 150,000, or you could bring out a clear container with 150,000 coffee beans in it. And pour them slowly out on the stage.
Gimmicks and tricks can feel forced but, if cohesive with your story and your messaging, they can create a buzz around your presentation, reinforce your message and be impossible to forget.
In 2009, Bill Gates was campaigning for Malaria relief awareness and aid. Mid presentation, he reached for a jar, unscrewed the lid, and released a cloud of mosquitos into the room, saying: “Not only poor people should experience this.”
Jaws dropped, the room was buzzing – in more ways than one – and no one has forgotten that moment. What a way to end a PowerPoint presentation.
I’m not suggesting you give your audience Malaria, but by moving away from traditional presentation practice, you can shake your audience out of their PowerPoint coma, make an impact and coerce them into action.
3. Go full circle
I know we said we were only going to talk about recency effect today, but what can we say? We’re all give.
Primary effect is the other half of the whole. The explanation for why we remember the start of the list. By making both these halves work seamlessly together, we can create a calming effect in the brains of our audience. Let me explain.
Humans like things to be neat. We like a question to have an answer. We like a pen to have a lid. We hate when a mystery key shows up with no sign of a lock. And we need stories to have an end.
Give your audience a sense of completion by starting with a story, and picking it back up on the last slide of the presentation. Not only will this keep them engaged throughout, wondering whether the hero will ever overcome the villain, but they will feel enormous relief and accomplishment when they finally find out.
The start of your story should set up the challenge. The characters in the story should reflect the people in your audience, they should be able to see themselves in your story and relate to the characters’ struggles.
When you pick the story back up at the close, you should regale your audience with their triumphs. And the reason behind this turnaround? Well, they took your advice, obviously.
This is a more human way to integrate case studies into your presentation. You want to show your audience that your solution has worked for others like them, but case studies can be so cold, so focused on facts and numbers. Stories are emotional, persuasive, and easy for our brains to understand.
4. Turn the tables on your audience
Think about the last five presentations you saw. How many of them ended with a Q&A? Yawn.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t give your audience the chance to ask questions, but by ditching the obligatory ‘questions?’ end to your PowerPoint presentation, you create the opportunity to do something different for your close.
We believe presentations should be interactive throughout. Regularly checking in with your audience, or encouraging them to get involved with activities, polls, or games, will keep them engaged from start to finish. Breaking down the barrier between presenter and speaker allows you to connect with your audience. They’ll feel valued, part of the process, and are more likely to be persuaded by your message.
So, that’s what you shouldn’t do for the last slide of a presentation, but I bet very few of you were searching for how not to end a PowerPoint presentation.
Flip the script. Don’t ask for questions to close, ask a question yourself. By ending on a provocative and rhetorical question, your audience will be thinking about your presentation for hours afterwards. Pitch them a hypothetical situation, where they have the power to control their future. How are they going to make this dream a reality? Coincidentally, the answer happens to be exactly what your product or service is offering.
5. Get handsy
Speaking of breaking down the barrier between speaker and audience, our final tip is to give them something to get their mitts around.
Since Primary School, we’ve all understood the sentiment ‘show, don’t tell’. It’s unlikely your pet hamster, Scratchy, or the collection of Roman coins your grandma bought you on a trip to a real amphitheatre are going to seal the deal in your business presentation, but the Show and Tell philosophy still stands.
If your product is as good as you’ve been telling them it is for the last 20 minutes, let them have a go and see for themselves. And if it’s not a physical product you’re selling, this would be the perfect time to slip in some success examples from your creds deck.
No one likes goodbyes, but by implementing one of these powerful conclusions, you’ll end your PowerPoint presentation with metaphorical fireworks and your audience will be unable to get you out of their heads.
If you’re struggling with more than just the final slide, our talented team have plenty of tricks up their collective sleeve for banging beginnings and memorable middles too. Why not get in touch to talk about your next presentation project?