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10 Transitions for an Effortless and Enjoyable Journey

Good speakers vary their transition style and avoid being predictable.

Here are 10 types of transitions that are easy to use:

  1. The simplest transitions are bridge words—words that alert the listener that you are changing direction or moving on to a new thought. Examples of bridge words include: furthermore, meanwhile, however, in addition, nevertheless, moreover, therefore, consequently, and finally.

  2. A trigger transition relies on repetition, using the same word twice to connect one topic with the next. "That wraps up our assessment of product A. A similar assessment can be made of product B" is an example of this type of transition.

  3. A question can serve as a good transition. It can be broad or quite specific. At a seminar on productivity, I shifted people's attention by saying, "Now that we have seen what an effective team is, what can we do to build that better team within this organization?" It was a large question that I was about to address one part at a time, using smaller transitions between those parts.

  4. A flashback can be a transition and can also create movement within your talk with its sudden shift to the past in the midst of what the audience may think is a predictable sequence. The flashback doesn't have to be far in the past; use a transition such as, "You remember that I mentioned the major changes in our workforce a few minutes ago. Another example of the dramatic changes we will face this year is...." This is not one of my favorites because most audiences do not like to be reminded that they should know something. Often people use "as I said before," but I have not found that to be effective either. Better just to repeat a statement rather than tell the audience you are doing so. A more effective way to handle it would be to direct your audience to "flashback to all the changes we've been working through and how well we've handled them. This experience will prepare us for the dramatic changes we will face next year."

    Flashbacks can serve as mini-summaries sprinkled throughout a speech. They are especially helpful transitions because they aid your listeners in remembering your ideas and seeing how everything fits together. They also let you build your argument by summarizing the points you have made before. A simple example is: "So far we've talked about hiring new people and training our existing staff. Another possibility is a reorganization that would...."

  5. A point-by-point transition can also work, if you don't have too many points. Saying, "There are three important reasons this product will sell in the Midwest," and then listing them is a quick way to shift from generalities into specificity. These transitions can also serve as mini conclusions that sum up what you have said in a previous section of your speech.

    Be careful not to overuse point-by-point transitions, because they are the least dynamic and can easily bore audiences unless you have lots of lively examples with emotional appeal. Good visual aids also liven up a presentation that depends on point-by-point transitions.

  6. Visual aids are transitional by their very nature. Shifting from unaided speech to the mechanics of visual aids carries a built-in transition, as you turn down lights or start to use whatever equipment you have chosen. And when you use visual aids to illuminate complex points quickly and vividly (instead of just using slides to restate what you could easily convey verbally), you are making visual aids a transition that also enlightens.

  7. Pausing is a nonverbal transition that helps your audience shift with you. Good use of a pause—if done sparingly—helps your listeners focus on what you are about to say. But be careful, too many pauses will make your delivery seem frustratingly slow and stilted.

  8. Physical movement—such as moving to another part of a platform— also acts as a transition between parts of your speech. As I mentioned, just shifting from one prop or visual aid to another is its own transition, because it refocuses the audience.

    Effective nonverbal transitions entail doing the opposite of what your audience has gotten used to. If you have been pacing, suddenly stand still. If you have been standing in one place behind a lectern, move about suddenly. Either way, you call attention to what is about to come—which is the essence of a good transition.

  9. A joke or a story can act as an interesting transition. In a talk to managers on why and how to become better listeners, I used the Epictetus quotation: "God has given us two ears and one mouth—so we may hear twice as much as we speak." I added: "Now, because people talk twice as much as they listen, we must reverse the process and listen twice as much as we talk." The quotation helped me make my point and provided a way for me to shift to my next idea.

  10. The PEP formula—Point, Example, Point—is a valuable transition in itself, because it makes connections between points for your audience.

Transitions are the seams that keep the parts of your speech fitting smoothly together. They let you take the audience by the hand and guide it in the direction you want to go, and they also reinforce your main points.

Transitions also reenergize and reactivate an audience. It is a place to gain renewed attention. Mastering transitions means realizing the best ones are frequent, varied, clear, and compelling. Transitions are the maps you use to persuade your audience to follow your thoughts and buy into your ideas. Transitions turn an outline, with its abrupt switches, into a smooth, memorable presentation—and turn you into a persuasive, powerful presenter.

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