The Value Of Transitions

by Stephen Boyd | June 24, 2009

A speech writer was tired of working for an obnoxious state leader who treated him badly. Knowing the politician rarely read ahead of time the speech he had written for him, at the bottom of the first page the speech writer wrote: "The three most important points in my campaign are…." The speaker turned the page and it was blank except for these words in big print, "I quit. You are on your own!" The politician was literally left speechless.

Careful transitions are an important part of preparation. Most speakers have problems with using "um," "and," "and uh," and "you know" or some similar nonsensical utterance as they falter toward their next point. This is primarily because they don't have a smooth manner of getting to their next point. That's why transitions are so important. A transition is a bridge from Point A to Point B—a connection between two points. If you learn to use specific transitions, you will improve the fluency of your speech as well as avoiding the verbalized pauses and unnecessary words. Good transitions demonstrate a command of language, thus enhancing your credibility.

The simplest transition is numbering your points—giving your audience signposts along the way. Say, "My first point is…, My second point is…," and so forth. All you have to remember is which point you are on so you don't say the wrong number.

A second method of transition is the internal summary—when you summarize what you have just said and preview your next point. "Now that we have covered signposts, let's move on to internal summary." You can use this anytime in your speech. If you have a feeling you are losing your place, simply repeat what you said and tell what you plan to say next. That will usually give you the spark you to need to maintain continuity in the flow of your speech.

Introduce the next point with a question. For example you might ask, "Now you may say, ‘Why is the transition important to the speaker?'" One answer is that transitions create a bridge between one point and the next. Thus the answer is your next point. Any question draws in the audience to the speaker.

The last transition is the interjection, which is a way to motivate the audience to listen while highlighting a specific point. A common interjection might be, "You may forget everything else I say, but remember this next point!" Of course you can only use that once in the presentation. Other interjections could be, "Put a star by this next point," or "Underline this next point in your mind." This is an especially appropriate transition if you are losing the audience.

Johnny Carson used the imaginary swing of the golf club. Jack Benny used the violin, Mark Twain the cigar. But for most speakers, the best way to move smoothly from point to point is to have in mind effective transitions.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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