The Last Word

Human rights activist Malcom X was assassinated while delivering a speech at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom in 1965. As he was speaking, a commotion occurred in the crowd of 400. Moments before he was shot dead his last words were, “Brothers! Brothers, please! This is a house of peace.”

Rarely are the last words of a speech the last words of that speaker. But these words have lasted through the years. The last words of your speech are important because people remember best what you say last. Here are three ways to conclude your presentation with powerful last words.

Consider a quotation that relates to a major concept in your presentation. For example, if you are stressing a “how-to” notion, you might end with Cicero’s statement, “The skill to do comes by the doing.”

If you are finishing a speech on goals, you might conclude with Thoreau’s line, “If one advances in the direction of his dreams, one will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” 

Second, you might end with a personal testimonial. Assuming you are an expert on your topic, a personal reinforcement at the end will make your message linger longer. A time management speaker might end, “One principle I’ve learned over the years is that to get the most out of your day, begin with completing the biggest challenge first.”

Or I might finish a presentation on speaking with, “The only way to keep improving is to speak. The more you speak, the more effective you will become as a speaker.” 

Finally, you can tie your ending back to the introduction. If your topic is planning for retirement and you opened with a statistic on how few people save enough money for retirement, you could end with the tie-in, “Don’t be one of the people who never saves, but instead be one who makes retirement the great event you dream it to be by following the steps outlined today. “ 

If your topic is nutrition and you began by stressing how much extra energy a person gets by eating breakfast, then your ending might be, “Follow all these tips for good nutrition, but above all, get a head start on your day—energize yourself with a nutritious breakfast.” 

A well-delivered exit line needs no phrase of introduction. It’s easy to say, “I’d like to close with…” or “In conclusion…” but those words are not the words you want your audience to take home. Close with finality. Conclude forcefully. Strategic and practiced last words will help your audience members remember your speech the way you want them to.

If you are having trouble with the ending of a speech you are preparing, email me at and I’ll be glad to give you some ideas.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *