Transitions matter. Truly effective transitions help your audience follow you from one idea to the next, from one topic to the next. The good news is: It’s easy to make transitions well. The bad news is: It’s just as easy for them to trip you up.
A common problem occurs when speakers don’t adequately announce a shift in topic. If you assume the audience knows where you’re headed, you may not signal the new direction. Even a powerful speaker can derail their speech in a moment by suddenly jumping headfirst into a new topic without taking the time to bring his audience along for the ride. This is a dangerous assumption to make; it can create confusion that is difficult to recover from. If you don’t realize that you’ve lost your audience — i.e. they still think you’re talking about reasons some systems fail, when you have moved on to reasons why your solution will work — you may never quite get their attention back.
Make sure to signal for that turn
To avoid this, take the necessary steps to let your audience know when one topic has been concluded and another topic has been introduced. You can be casual about it, using simple transitory words like “first,” “second,” “third,” or “next.” Or you can make it more formal (i.e. “Now I’d like to move on to a new topic…” or “I think we’ve sufficiently covered that. Let’s take a look at this next.”)
Some easy transition words and phrases include:
- “Moving on …”
- “The next issue/argument…”
- “Now let’s take a look at/think about/discuss …”
Apart from these, there is a another type of transition called “looking forward/looking backwards.” When you use that method, you refer to what you just spoke about and then mention what you are going to cover next. For example, “We just took a look at introductions, now let’s talk about transitions,” or “Now that we’ve looked at how you construct your message, we are going to take a break and afterwards we’ll start talking about effective delivery techniques.”
Getting out of a dead end
Sometimes you will find yourself without a logical segue way. Maybe what you have to say next is a complete departure from your previous topic and you’re worried that you could confuse your audience. Don’t view this as a problem. Instead, try to turn it to your advantage by acknowledging the odd transition. You may even get a laugh. (“Okay, we’ve been talking about statistics for a while. Now I’d like to change things up a bit and chat about Dungeons and Dragons. Everybody saw that coming, right? Stay with me, people!”)
The point about transitions is that speakers need to use them and use them often. Without transitions, you are asking your audience to drive from Los Angeles to New York without any road or street signs. Not a pretty picture!