For a long time, I would start to sweat whenever I was getting close to the end of a speech I was writing. It was a kind of performance anxiety — because I was about to have to deliver a Stirring Conclusion.

I needed something that would bring the audience to their feet, applauding hard enough to do lasting nerve damage to their hands and roaring loudly enough to impair the hall’s structural integrity.

No pressure.

But over time, I’ve developed an approach that at least gives me the first draft of a conclusion. I’ll often tweak, prune, rearrange and augment after I get this down on the page… but this approach gives me a solid start.

It’s a four-part outline:

  • The challenge
  • The call
  • The recipe
  • The reward

The challenge sums up the problem your speech has been trying to solve. What high-stakes issue have your asked your audience to confront?

The call is the action you’re inviting your audience to take. It might be something as abstract as seeing their world in a different light, or as concrete as marching with torches and pitchforks on the nearest legislature. (Hopefully you aren’t called on to deliver too many of those.)

The recipe is the brief set of concrete steps that your audience needs to take to fulfill the action. (It may well recap earlier parts of your speech.)

The reward describes the positive change your audience will see in the world as a result.

For instance, let’s say you’re nearing the end of a speech about the importance of spaying and neutering cats. Here’s how you might write a hasty first draft of your conclusion:

The challenge: “Think about this for a moment. In the time I’ve been speaking tonight, six more litters of cats have been born in this city. That’s six more litters, in six more households that don’t want them and won’t keep them. We have to change that. And we can.”

The call: “We have cats in our lives because we love them, because we care about them. So please: I’m asking you to care about cats enough to spay or neuter yours.”

The recipe: “It’s not hard. You call 3-1-1. Ask about the next spay-neuter clinic. And make an appointment.”

The reward: “Do that, and as a cat owner, you can feel the satisfaction of knowing you’ve prevented needless suffering. And the more of us who join you, the more we can all hold our heads a little higher. Some say a society’s success can be measured by how it treats its must vulnerable members. So let’s all take this small action for these vulnerable, wonderful creatures we love so much.”

Conclusions aren’t always easy. They’re your last, best chance to say something that will stay with your audience long after they leave — something that has them walking out the door feeling inspired and motivated to take action — and that brings your speech to a natural, graceful conclusion. That’s a lot to achieve with a few short paragraphs.

So next time you’re wondering how you’re going to pull all of that off, give this approach a try. State the challenge facing your audience, ask them to take action, tell them briefly how to do it, and let the know the reward waiting at the other end.

You still have some editing and creative choices ahead of you. But now you have a draft to work from with a solid dramatic arc… and, hopefully, a happier, more satisfied audience when it’s all done.

P.S. — It also works for the last few paragraphs of blog posts.

Image credit: Flickr user stevewhite. Used under a Creative Commons license.