a woman sitting on the ground next to a white horse

#21: When a speech is like quicksand

Bob Ewing
June 18, 2021
a woman sitting on the ground next to a white horse

Talking Big Ideas.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I’ve spent the past month working with an executive on an upcoming keynote presentation.

After pulling together and organizing all the content, we practiced his speech several times. On our most recent run-through, I was delighted by how well he did. His opening words were powerful and captured my attention. His stories held it firm for the next 28 minutes.

And then, mid-sentence, he went blank.

He stood there silent. After a moment he got flustered and tossed his arms up in the air. He completely forgot his closing. Thankfully, it was just a practice session!

I see botched endings all the time. Otherwise confident leaders that find themselves stumbling into a non-close with words like “um, I guess that’s everything” or “well, now I’m probably over on time and just rambling so I’ll shut up” or “so that’s all I’ve got here.”

Rather than land the plane with a flourish, they sputter to an awkward stop. Speechwriter Richard Dowis nailed it when he wrote, “A speech is like quicksand: it’s a lot easier to get into than get out of.”

We tend to prepare and practice our opening words, our key themes and ideas, and the stories we share. The ending often gets the short end of the stick.

And yet it may be the most important part.

What we say at the end is what our audience remembers most. It’s the lasting impression we leave lingering inside their heads and hearts.

Thankfully, my client still has plenty of time to hone his ending. But most people don’t prepare as thoroughly as he does. Many of them end up getting stuck in the quicksand.



Quicksand will try to pull you under. Be prepared so you avoid this fate.

Think of a presentation or conversation you have coming up. It could be delivering a speech, sharing updates at a meeting, or your next chat with a spouse or supervisor. Take five minutes today and practice just your closing. Be clear on what you want to say at the end. Craft it so you will leave the impression you want.


Every ending to every speech has one vital job. We’ll discuss this, and show a few examples, next week.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been pulled under the quicksand. My goal is that, from this moment forward, it never happens to you again.

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