The Last Word

Malcom X, a human rights activist, 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. 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 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.”

My speech on getting the most out of your day I title “Never Stop Dancing.”  I begin by telling that after my last class upon retirement, a friend and I danced out of my classroom. I wanted to leave on a high note and dancing was my way of doing that. My ending story is about the Inuit tribe and the annual walrus hunt they participate in. One person always comes back with the largest kill, and his secret is going farther out in the ocean straits than others, for that is where the large ones live. And it is very dangerous. However, his application helps me tie back to my opening when he concludes with, “If you are going to walk on thin ice you might as well dance.”

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

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