Guess what – speech transitions and transition words are a BIG DEAL when it comes to holding on to attention in the world of public speaking.
You know that donkey who doesn’t signal when changing lanes on the highway, leaving you screaming “Gah! What just happened?!” Don’t be that donkey when it comes to your speech!
The trouble is, when you give a really awesome presentation – people get really into it. But when you switch to the next point, their minds will lag behind. In other words, they’re still dwelling on what you were talking about.
Your audience is still thinking about the huge knowledge bombs you just dropped on them, but to keep the speech momentum going, you need to keep them on-board for the entire ride.
And how do we solve this? Transition Words and special speech transition techniques.
Good speech transitions between the “bite-sized-chunks” will keep your audience’s mind moving with you from one captivating point to the next, instead of lingering behind. And the right transition words will tie your points together gracefully.
Here’s a quick guide for how to make speech transitions effortless.
Learn from my speech that broke my own heart
I know firsthand how rough transitions can ruin a presentation. A long time ago, I overlooked them because I thought it’s “pretty obvious” that I’m moving on.
It was a disaster.
I put so much effort into a strong introduction, and then when I moved on to the main topic people got lost. They didn’t tune in fast enough. I was practically expecting people to be fainting in their chairs entranced by what they just learned, and instead I just got blank stares.
I was heartbroken.
Luckily, I record everything. I watched it but still couldn’t figure out where I lost everyone. So I asked my husband.
He watched it and asked me to pause right after I switched points. There it was. That same blank stare as he was mentally catching up (husbands, right?) But I had a eureka moment. More than half of my audience were “husbands” just like that.
Okay, maybe I’m just being mean. Everybody needs their time to catch up. So I recreated that same speech with smoother transitions and clearer transition words and lovingly gave it over again.
Blazing success! OK, OK. No one fainted. But I did see some emphatic nods. Nods are basically the fireworks in public speaking.
I’ve given that speech a few times now and each time it’s more successful, and each time the only thing I change is the transition.
Now, lucky for you, I have this boiled down to a science and I’m sharing the secret ingredients that make it go BANG!
Speech Transitions are a 3 step process
- We will go through good structure because it’s always important
- Some special speech transition techniques I worked out
- Specific transition words that will help you guide the audience (and when to use them.)
Step 1 – The structure for smooth speech transitions
There are many creative ways to structure your presentation, but for basics I always recommend my trusted engagement formula:
- Three main chunks,
- Call to action.
The hook and the intro are the parts where I draw my audience in, engage them, and give them the roadmap for what’s coming next.
Read more: How to start a speech without boring people
The conclusion and the call to action is where I draw everything back to a main idea and tell the audience what to do next.
And the three main chunks? That’s the meat and potatoes of the speech or presentation.
Know what that means? There are 6 BIG transitions!
Those are 6 danger zones where people are going to get lost. If you don’t have your transitions under control they won’t have a clue!
It’s not overly dramatic
People can’t really get lost in transition can they?
Yes. It takes as little as 2 seconds in a presentation to get completely lost. BUT only 0.5s when you are introducing something new.
If people miss one important term, or one concept that you are moving into. They will have no idea what’s going on for the rest of your speech.
I’m writing this from Spain. My spanish is decent but if I miss the piece of a sentence, that say, was the topic. I have no idea what we are even talking about.
The Spaniard on the other side thinks I’m dumb for not understanding that the elevator is broken, but he keeps pointing at the stairs and saying “roto roto” (*Broken broken).
“The stairs are broken?” I think. How do I get to my place? I missed about 0.1 s of that conversation but if I didn’t get a chance to clarify, I would still be standing in the lobby to this day.
So yes, we need people to be engaged and mentally with us ESPECIALLY when we transition to a new topic.
If it’s so dangerous to transition, why three chunks?
Great question internet! This is a 3 step process! (See threes are great!)
There’s something elegant about threes in general but there is something much more concrete and magical about three points in a presentation.
Maybe it’s because three chunks are easy to keep track of, or maybe it’s because it gives the audience a sense of when they’re “over the hump” in your presentation. Whatever the reason is, three seems to be a magic number for holding on to attention.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and I often have to break it myself, but there’s no denying that three parts create a sort of natural arc to your speech.
In fact, if you have many unrelated points, I often suggest trying to group them into three categories to help the audience pay attention.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- For a product: 1 – How we solve your problems; 2 – What sets us apart; 3 – How we go above and beyond
- For a technical demo: 1 – Why we need this; 2 – How to use this; 3 – What to do when you’re stuck
- For inspiration: 1 – Where we came from; 2 – Where we are now; 3 – Where we’re going next
OK 3 chunks, you get it. How is that speech transition friendly?
That’s the beauty of this speech setup.
In the beginning, we can give people a roadmap of what’s coming up so that they are mentally prepared.
Then even if they do space out a tiny bit. They have an idea of where you are.
If you are supposed to get off the interstate, you don’t want to stay on just because it’s interesting.
Know what’s horrible?
When your navigator suddenly screams at you to take this exit when you are all the way in the left lane and getting into the U2 that just came on the radio.
We show the roadmap at the beginning, but no one is going to remember it if it has too many steps. Even better, we can keep referring to the map during our transitions – recapping where we are now and what’s yet to come.
With just three main chunks, a quick recap is, well, quick. (If you had 10 points to recap over and over again, that would be torturous.)
Step 2 – Use my special secret speech transition techniques
I want you to think of speech transitions as a “collective exhale” for your audience’s brain.
Have you ever looked at a giant block of text and become instantly overwhelmed? Well, the same thing happens when you speak.
The same way that you need your text chunked with paragraphs, headings, and even images when you read, people need mental breaks and help in seeing how each part relates to the big picture.
Give them a chance to mentally catch up. To make their own connections. To snap back into it. Focusing on good transitions will not only make sure that you don’t lose your audience, it will actually bring them back in.
Here are a few best practices to hold on to your audience’s attention while you move through your speech:
1 – Pause between chunks. There is nothing better to let the weight of what you’re saying sink in than a good pause. That moment of silence echoes the last point in people’s heads. Besides, if they were really into it – they’ll need a second to switch gears before you move on.
A pause is also a great way to slow down and recollect yourself. Not to mention, making the audience wait a moment shows an air of confidence.
It helps to actually work this pause in while you rehearse – even if it means repeating pause-pause-pause in your head (or have a quick drink of water.)
Read more: The Art of the Pause
2 – Summarize. Give a brief recap of what you just covered and how it ties into the big picture. This is that roadmap we were talking about.
For example: “So what does this all mean, and why is it so important… “
3 – Add pattern-interrupters. If your audience spaced out a little bit, this is where they go “ooh, something different! Time to buck up again.”
If you want something easy, use an image, quote, comic, or video that would help the audience shift gears a little bit. For something more involved, offer a good side-story, or even use one of my hook ideas to introduce the next chunk.
Pattern-interrupters are especially important for longer presentations. If you don’t have one every ten minutes – you’ve probably lost half your audience.
When I was in middle school I was constantly confused. It seemed like we’d go from learning about grammar to talking about continents to speaking French all in one morning with the same teacher. It wasn’t until much later that I realized “oh… they’re different subjects!!!”
My teachers probably thought it was obvious that we were moving on, but not to me. The space-out force was strong with this one.
Fast-forward to highschool where it all made sense. The wrap-up, the five-minute pause, and having to get up and physically walk to a different room meant that we’re transitioning to a new topic. Duh.
Step 3 – Transition words are important
“Let me show you how this might look.” That’s what I should have said during that one pitch meeting. Except that those words completely escaped my mind, and I momentarily froze, cursing my fleeting vocabulary.
When preparing for a big speech, we tend to put all our effort into the main chunks and skim over the transitions. So now when I coach people, I make sure that they prepare and rehearse how to move from one point to the next. Otherwise you might get stuck on the most mundane part of your talk.
Here’s a quick guide of simple transition words that will help you get started and will let the audience know you’re moving on:
To tie different topics together:
- On that note,
- On the other hand let’s look at…
- Speaking of,
- Why did I bring this up?
- How does this tie in?
To emphasize something important:
- To clarify,
- And most importantly
- Above all
- Let me repeat…
- Why is this important?
To connect with an example or story:
- By the way,
- With this in mind,
- Let’s look at…
- For example, for instance…
- Speaking of…
To move on between points:
- Firstly, secondly, lastly,
- Which leads me to my next point
- Moving on to
- We just discussed … and now I want to touch on …
- The last thing I’m going to tell you
To conclude or summarize:
- So what’s next?
- Let’s recap…
- To summarize,
- As a result
- In short
Bookmark these transition words and work them into your next speech. Trust me. They’re easy to overlook.
To recap – transition words and speech transitions
(See what we did there)
Remember to signal before changing lanes on the highway, and remember to smoothly transition between your points in a speech.
Do it right by using my engagement formula; following my special transition techniques (like pausing, summarizing, and using pattern interrupters); and inserting simple transition words, and you’ll be sure that your audience stays with you for the entire ride.
Don’t let them check out before the best part.
PS – If you’re getting ready for that high-stakes talk and need help making it engaging, persuasive, and impactful, let’s connect. I’d love to help you make that happen
PPS – you didn’t think I’d let you leave without a gorgeous infographic to download, did you?!