Let your audience applaud

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I attended a low-key concert recently. The opening act was a young man with an acoustic guitar. Nobody in the audience was familiar with his music. At the end of each song there was this awkward pause: Was that it? Can we clap now?

Presentations often end like that - they have no clear ending. Don't do that. Do something that tells your audience: I'm done, you can applaud now.

Some speakers seem to think that when they end on a strong note or repeat their main point, it's clear when they're done, simply because they stop talking. But that doesn't really work; in fact, the audience may think there's "one more thing" to come - and will wait for it. A musician can make it clear that he's done by putting down his instrument; as a speaker, you don't usually have that option.

So be explicit: Say Thanks for listening or simply Thank you. Just make it absolutely clear that you've finished.

Other speakers, and I've seen this several times at a recent conference, do make it clear that they're finished - but don't give the audience a chance to clap. They end with something like: Thank you - any questions? In my experience, that's even more awkward. The applause at the end of a talk (or a performance) is a ritual. Even if the audience didn't like it, they will still want to clap. It sets a clear end point.

So, as a speaker, when you're done with your presentation, thank your audience (just say Thanks or Thank you). Let them clap. Then ask if there are any questions. Don't be afraid that they would be leaving the room after the applause. To make it absolutely clear that you're going to take questions, your last slide could actually say Any questions? - just don't say it out loud yet.

Wait for the applause. You've earned it.

(Image Credits: "Untitled" by Emily Tan, from Flickr)

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Creative Commons Licence "Let your audience applaud" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.