The pain of “I’ll wrap up here”

“Well, that’s my time gone, so I’ll wrap up here.”

final words in every other presentation, also quoted in TED Talks by Chris Anderson

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? 20% of effort gives you 80% of the results – the remaining 80% of effort just 20% of the results?

Presentations are no exception. If the end sucks, so does the whole thing. I’m not pulling your leg here. An experiment by a guy who won the Nobel Prize tells us more.

Endings: Cold Water and Musicals

Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Prize for his works in behavioral economics) ran an experiment with buckets of cold water (and some people, of course). The subjects were asked to hold their hand in a bucket of uncomfortably cold water for sixty seconds. Then they took their hand out and were offered a hot towel. After some break, they were asked to hold their hand in water of the same temperature again. After sixty seconds, the temperature of the water in the bucket was raised by 1 degree Celsius, making the experience slightly less uncomfortable. The subjects had to keep their hand there for another thirty seconds. Then again, they took their hand out and were offered a hot towel.

In the third round, they could choose, whether they wanted to repeat the experience from the first round (60 seconds in cold water) or the second (60 seconds in cold water and then 30 seconds in slightly less cold water).

The result? Most students chose the second option – the one that differed only by extra 30 seconds in cold water in the end! Why? Because the ending was better!

You can read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow for more details on the study – or try it at home!

Apparently, the insights that endings matter is not completely unknown to the world. Can you think of any good movies you’ve seen recently? How were the endings? Here’s an observation about musicals from Derren Brown’s book Happy:

“When writing a stage show, one normally concentrates disproportionately on the finale, as while the ongoing emotions of each scene cater to the experiencing self, it is the finale that is most pertinent to the remembering self’s story of how much fun it had and how satisfying the whole experience has been. Hence the tendency of many modern commercial musicals to employ the tactic of the ‘mega-mix’ at the curtain call (…)”

Derren Brown, Happy

Why Do We Botch Presentation Endings

Shall we assume you’re now on board with the fact that endings matter?

But why is it then that such an overwhelming amount of presentations have weak endings?

We are thinking in a linear wa – even when preparing a presentation. We begin – from the beginning. When we’re happy with the opening, we start working on the “body”. That’s usually a lot of work. While we’re doing that, here and there we jump back to the opening and improve it a bit. The opening gets better. After we are somewhat happy with the body of the presentation, we start working on the ending. The problem: This is often not very long before we have to get on the stage and start presenting. With a catchy opening ready, body somewhat prepared, we believe we’ll “figure the ending out along the way”. The usual result is the earlier quoted “Well, that’s my time gone, so I’ll wrap up here.”

Don’t take me wrong. Openings are important. It’s when our audience decides, whether to keep paying attention to us or to start scrolling through their newsfeed.

But it’s the ending that our audience will remember. This means, when you have a powerful opening and a botched ending – you ensure everyone pays attention to you being mediocre.

How to get the endings right

The next time you’re preparing your presentation, turn the preparation upside down. Keep the ending front of mind.

Here are some ideas from TED Talks by Chris Anderson to get you started:

Remember the bucket of cold water: Even a bad presentation with a decent ending is preferable to a bad presentation with no ending at all!

Photo by Samur Isma on Unsplash

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