Five Tips for Great Beginnings and Endings

If you have a great beginning and powerful ending, you can hide some of the mistakes you make during the bulk of your presentation. Here are five suggestions for always getting off to a great start and concluding on an emotional and mental high.

First, make the opening sentence count. Out of curiosity, if nothing else, your audience will want to check out your appearance and how you deliver the speech. Don’t waste your opening on the weather or what a privilege it is to be there. Begin with a sentence that grabs the attention of the audience.

You can use a quotation that relates to your topic. Sometimes I begin my “Be Present When You Are Present” keynote with “The single greatest secret to success is paying attention.” Who doesn’t want to know the one secret to success?

The opening might be an object that draws attention. My cannibal fork from the Fiji Islands gets quick attention.

Humor might be the attention getting opening that will work best. Whatever you do, make sure the opening relates to your topic. For example, in a speech on listening I might begin “The only reason we listen is because we know we get to talk next.”

Second, preview your presentation. Your audience wants a road map of your speech. Tell the audience your main points and what you hope your audience will do as a result of your speech. “Today, I want to talk about three ideas that will help you pay better attention in your job and with your family members. They are:  look for a connection with everyone you meet, embrace the day, and listen to ask questions.” 

Mention a name, place, company value, or current event that lets the audience know you have done homework in learning about them and their organization. “I appreciate….” Here you can mention a person who helped you learn about the context of the conference you are keynoting, an ancillary plant you have visited in another state, or even a current news item about the company.

Third, do not spend much time on either the opening or the conclusion. Two to three minutes should be maximum time with each even if your presentation is an hour or more in length. I find that speakers have a hard time concluding. When you say, “In conclusion,” make sure you are near the end of your presentation. Don’t speak another ten minutes. The safest approach is never to say “In conclusion” at all. Just conclude.

Thus the fourth tip is to make it clear to your audience that you are concluding and that should include a summary of your thesis or main ideas. If the presentation is persuasive, then you want to fill in the blank of this sentence, “What I want you to do as a result of my presentation is.…” Use your unique application of this sentence: “I want you to remember that you must be aware of your surroundings to pay careful attention, and connecting, embracing, and questioning will provide the self-discipline to do so.” 

Finally, end with an exit line, as I will do with this article. People remember best what you say last. Make that last sentence count.

One of my endings is a reference to the logo of Australia; I show a picture, which has two animals on it—the emu and the kangaroo, indigenous to that country. Then I say, “There is another reason why these two animals are on the logo. They can only move forward. By what we have discussed today, may you always move forward and never backward in your ability to pay attention.”

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

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