Why and how you should master transitions in your presentations

Hopscotching from one section to another can be baffling—if not downright annoying—for your audience. Often a simple word or phrase will help you segue and keep your listeners spellbound.

Mastering speaking transitions

Have you ever been in the audience listening to a speaker and found yourself lost?

Maybe you weren’t exactly sure where the speaker was going or how the different points in a speech were connected.

One possible reason for such confusion is faulty or non-existent transitions.

Transitions help audience members understand the flow of your talk, making it easy for them to follow along.

These signposts tell the audience where you are going, just as signposts along the highway tell you which direction you are heading. When a speaker says, “You’ve seen what the product can do; let’s now look at market opportunity,” the audience knows that the speaker is moving on to the next topic.

Below are common types of transitions, with examples:

The overview

This moves from the opening of a talk (once you have grabbed the audience’s attention) to the main part.

  • Today, we will look at the reasons for [X] and what we can do about it.
  • In the next 45 minutes, I will share with you four ways that you can [X].
  • As a team, we need to [X] for the following three reasons …

Moving between main points

These signal a change between one point and another. Without them, the different points can blur together.

  • The first reason is [X] …; the second reason is [Y] …; the third reason is [Z] …
  • Now that we’ve seen the problem, let’s examine what we can do to solve it.
  • That was the past; let’s look at what we have planned for the future.

Comparison of similar ideas

These link concepts that align.

  • Likewise …
  • Similarly …
  • In the same manner …
  • In the same way …
  • We can also see this …

Comparison of contrasting ideas

These signal a counterargument.

  • However …
  • But …
  • On the other hand …
  • On the contrary …
  • Nevertheless …
  • Notwithstanding the forgoing …

Expanding on a point

If you use several reasons to support a point, these are useful:

  • Furthermore …
  • In addition …
  • On top of the that …
  • Also …

For emphasis

When you reach a key moment, help the audience grasp its significance.

  • And the most important reason is …
  • Most important …
  • Even if we put aside all the other reasons …
  • Above all else …

Discussing consequences

To convey a causal relationship between two things or events, use the following:

  • Therefore …
  • As a result …
  • As a consequence …
  • For these reasons …

To conclude

Depending on how long or complex your talk was, you might repeat your main points.

  • In conclusion …
  • In summary …
  • To sum up …
  • I’d like to leave you with …

Cohesion in team presentations

Transitions in a team presentation must be practiced, because the way a team performs on stage sends a signal to the audience about its cohesiveness.

Too often, a speaker will finish his portion and signal to a partner to come on stage without a word, or he will say something banal such as, “I’ll now hand over to my colleague.” It doesn’t look good, and it can easily be avoided.

The key points to cover in a transition to another speaker are as follows:

  • Brief conclusion of your part
  • Name and position of the next speaker
    • If you’re speaking to an audience of strangers, use the first and last name.
    • If the audience already knows the team, you can drop the last name and possibly the position.
  • Brief statement about what they will cover

A good format is as follows: “I’ve shown you [X]. I’d like to hand over to [name and position] to talk about [Y].

Here are some examples:

  • “I’ve shown you the challenges that the new legislation poses. Sara Jones, the head of our accounting department, will discuss the steps we’ve taken to adapt.”
  • “Now that you’ve heard the reasons for the office move, I’d like to invite Martin Smith, our logistics expert, to explain what we have to do next.”
  • “I’ve set out the cost-benefit analysis of the first option. Melanie will now do the same for the second option.”

John Zimmer is an international speaker and a co-creator of Rhetoric—The Public Speaking Game. 

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