First Things

Put the Best Last
Jim Barber
"Save the best for last" may be a trite expression, but it's frequently the smart thing to do. Improve the quality of almost any presentation -- whether written or verbal -- by putting the best thing... at the end!

Put the Best... Last!

A good technique to use in almost any presentation ― or part of a presentation ― is to put the most important element at the end.

It’s rather obvious that in a speech, you should end on a strong note. Your call to action, for example, should be the last thing you say. (This means, for example, that it's generally not a good idea to end your presentation, and then ask for questions. Instead, say something like "I'll answer questions for the next ten minutes, and then I have a closing remark to leave you with.") If you give your strong closing before you take questions, you dilute its impact. Try to make the last thing you say... memorable.

But this applies to smaller parts of your speech as well. For example, the last sentence in a paragraph should usually be your most powerful sentence. Offer the "meat" of your thought in the middle sentences, but in the final sentence, either sum up the point of the paragraph, or provide a transition to the next paragraph.

In the same way, the most important word of a sentence should frequently be at the end of that sentence (especially if it's the last sentence in the paragraph). Compare “when I opened the door, my wife was standing there” with “when I opened the door, there stood…my wife!”

If you are giving a list of items, the last item in the list oftentimes should be the most important one. Why? If you start with the most important item, the remainder of the list will be anticlimactic. Instead, it can work well to build anticipation, ending with the most important point.

Even your introduction should follow this technique. Is your name the most important part of your introduction? If it is, then your introduction should end with “here to tell us how to make a million dollars, please welcome... John... Doe!” On the other hand, if the topic is more important than your name (blasphemy!), then your introduction should end with "please welcome John Doe as he tells us... how to make a million dollars!" (The idea of "importance" is from the viewpoint of the audience, of course. From your perspective, your name will always be the most important thing.)

The last thing that people hear is what they’re most likely to remember. So if possible, use this to your advantage by putting the thing that you want people to remember ― the most important thing ― at the end!

Jim Barber is an experienced writer, editor, and presentations coach. Want Jim to help you get the most out of your next presentation? Contact Jim for an appointment.