December 10, 2020

Connecting the Pieces: Transitions for More Powerful Presentations

Public Speaking , Presentation Tips , Three Things , PowerPoint , How To

Among our complaints about the use of PowerPoint is this one: It's encouraged presenters to believe saying "next slide" constitutes a transition.  

Yes, it does signal you're moving ahead. But without transitions that link ideas, you risk doing what many other speakers do—creating an information dump.

It's easy for any of us to become information dumpers without realizing what we're up to. For one thing, we all suffer from the curse of knowledge. We know how our ideas connect and why the information we're presenting is important. It's easy to forget the audience doesn't have your same insights.

Effective transitions explicitly share your insights, linking your ideas and helping the audience move through your message with you. Transitions connect your points so they add up. 

Here are three ideas to help you think about and create stronger transitions for your next presentation:

1. Start with your organizational scheme—why are your points in this order?

Surely, there's a reason you put Point A before Point B. (If there's not, maybe work on that first.)  

Identify your rationale. Then, ask yourself how your transitions can make the order you've chosen seem apparent, even inevitable, to your audience.

2. Think of each point as a mini presentation.

We've seen this approach help people better grasp the idea of transitions:

  • Open each paragraph/section/PowerPoint slide with a strong statement, perhaps the point in a nutshell.
  • Then expand and support with a few sentences.
  • Conclude by restating or advancing your opening statement.

When you conclude one idea, you're ready to link it to the next one and start the process again.

Once you have a well-organized message for each point, the connections between them can be easier to identify.

3. Think about the relationship of your ideas.

Are you comparing? Contrasting? Adapting an idea from another field for use in yours? Providing an example of how a concept may work?

Making the relationship clear is another way of thinking about how to phrase your transitions.

If you've presented the big picture and now you're examining a specific example, a transition helps make that clear: Here's how this concept can work in our production centers…

Did you present an old way of doing things that you want to revolutionize? Your transition could be: For years, this has been our best option but with news tools, we now have an opportunity to implement better process…  

One warning about transitions:

It can be tempting to fall back on stock phrases, resulting in the verbal fluff we try to help speakers avoid. Some presentation coaches call this "signpost language" and like any technique, it has a place when used for a purpose.

We encourage you to:

  • Watch out for excessive use of unnecessary set up phrases: Can you eliminate "I would like to…" or "I want, next, to…" from your transition and still be effective? As we often say to our students, if you want to so much, why don't you just jump in and do it?
  • Use "I think" or "I feel" with care: These often make you sound tentative to audiences. Can your transition work without those words?
  • Avoid "in conclusion" and its variations unless you plan to end your talk immediately: Audiences mentally pack up when you signal that you're at the end—and sometimes, they even physically pack up and head for the door. 

Read more:

This lawyer's advice on transitions is full of techniques that may spark some more ideas for you. 

This tip sheet for college students on writing transitions may be useful. 

Here's our take on how enumerating your points can be a helpful tool—and also why you don't want to abuse it.  

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