Transitions – The Most Neglected Part of a Speech

February 24, 2017.

Transitions – the Most Neglected Part of a Speech
From World Class Speaking in Action, Chapter 6 by Kathryn MacKenzie

Starting your presentations with a bang and ending them memorably is important, but you’ve still got to keep your audience with you in the space between start and finish—and that means making sure they follow your speech through all its transitions, from one theme to another.

When making a presentation, even if it has only one basic theme running through it, there will be moments when the subject or focus changes—and those are moments when you might lose your audience’s attention, if the transition isn’t done effectively.

Transitions are opportunities to fill your audience with anticipation and curiosity about what will come next, to keep them on the edge of their seats.  The transitions need to be clear enough to be identifiable, so the audience is alerted to what’s coming next, but not too abrupt, otherwise you might not take the audience with you.

Effective transitions should incorporate three factors:

Remind your audience where they have already been—by calling up a past event or message you’ve already covered in your presentation up to that point.

Show the audience where they are going next—by following up your reminder with a teaser about the next step.

Tell your audience why it’s important for them to stay with you through to the next section, by emphasising the benefits to them.

When making the transition, you can use various techniques, such as telling a story to illustrate the benefits of what is to follow, or using the opportunity to introduce a humorous vignette.  You can also physically highlight the transition by changing your location on the stage at the same time—unless you are standing at a fixed podium, in which case you could briefly pause, by drinking from a glass of water, for example.

There are two techniques that can be used to help in transitions:

The ‘Verbal Knife’, where the speaker discusses negative issues that the audience would rather avoid, like frustration, stress, loss, not achieving goals, and so on.

The ‘Silver Spoon’, where the speaker tells the audience the positive things the audience want to hear or attain—it’s enticing the audience by using the Build on Benefits (BOB) formula.

These two techniques work best in combination.  Use the verbal knife first, then the silver spoon.  That way your audience, having heard the negative consequences of not listening to your message, will be positively motivated to listen to your message and the benefits that will bring them.

World Class Speaking in Action, Craig Valentine & Mitch Meyerson, Morgan James Publishing, 2014.

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

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