ôô

How to Create Stronger Transitions in a Speech

Effective presentations and speeches require strong words and strong non-verbal cues. The Public Speaker explains how to use body language to support smoother transitions. 

By
Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #272

Transitions in a speech are often overlooked.

However, strong transitions are what transform a good presentation into a great presentation. Effective transitions make your points flow together into a cohesive whole. I've discussed this topic in an earlier episode called 3 Simple Steps to Smoother Transitions in Your Speech. ;

Today I want to talk about how we can use non-verbal cues to support your verbal transitions in a speech:

Tip #1: Move on Stage

Effective public speakers use the full stage to deliver their message. No matter what you have to say, standing stiff behind a lectern guarantees you’ll lose at least some of your audience.

The best use of movement on stage is both planned and practiced. Random pacing is ineffective and distracting. But deliberate movements help the audience visualize where you’re going next.

For example, if you’re transitioning from one time period to another, move right or left as you explain it. For example, “In 1871, this town’s main source of income was coal mining. [move to the right or left as you speak the next line]. But today, the oil and gas industry is the top income earner here.” If you refer back to the early time period, walk back to the original location. If you move on to another time period, find another point on stage to walk to deliberately.

You can also step backward to indicate you’re about to talk about something that happened much earlier or about something negative. Step nearer to the front of the stage to transition to a more positive point or to make a closer connection with the audience. Transitional movements help to deliver your message in a subtle yet powerful manner.   

Tip #2: Utilize Facial Expressions and Gestures

I usually talk about facial expressions and gestures separately, but when it comes to transitions, the two work together well to help support your language.

Here’s an example:

"As you saw in the video, we’ve made real progress in our efforts to stamp out this childhood disease. That being said, if we become complacent, all our progress will be reversed."

“That being said” is the transition phrase. Now, let’s say you deliver the words “that being said” and following with a scowl on your face and a slow, deliberate finger wag at the audience. What will their reaction be? Your audience will probably feel they’re being scolded or talked down to. Your video may have earned you support, but your poor transition delivery will take it away.

Let’s try this again. Instead of a scowl and finger wag, put out your hands in an open position. Your face should show an emotional plea. But it shouldn’t be forced, unnatural, or angry. Your transition from the video to your call to action will be more successful this way.

Tip #3: Vary Your Vocals

The way you deliver your transition words is important. Even a short pause between words gives the audience time to digest what’s been said and ready themselves for what is to come. Similarly, changing the volume, speed, and tone of your transition words signals a change or break. It is important to purposefully add vocal changes during transitions and the bigger the transition the bigger the vocal change. 

I suggest always using slightly longer pauses between all major points that you deliver. In fact, you may even want to sip some water during one of these longer transitions. If you are taking questions along the way, these longer pauses between main points will leave space for the audience to ask their questions about the main point you were just making.

I also suggest you use the pause as a transition during the Q&A portion of your presentation.  After you deliver your closing line, insert a long pause. Don't immediately blurt out,  “Are there any questions?”  I repeat.  Don’t blurt out “Are there any questions?” Give your audience time to absorb your final closing words. 

Your closing words should be strong and act as a signal to let the audience know that you are now done with the main presentation.  However, you can strengthen that closing signal by pausing and gazing directly at your audience. Don’t rush this pause which is signaling the transition from your closing to the interactive part of your talk.

In fact, this transition to the Q&A should be so obvious that I recommend you combine it with movement which brings you closer to your audience. You can even remove your jacket at this time.  Together these non-verbal signals will indicate that you are now moving to the informal portion of your talk—answering the remainder of your audience's questions. 

Creating smooth transitions is a critical part of effective public speaking. Your choice of words is important, but they’re only as strong as the non-verbal cues you give alongside them. When you practice your speech, be sure to practice your movements, gestures, and vocal delivery with particular emphasis on the transitions. Smooth transitions are the key to delivering an exceptional presentation.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk:  Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.  

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.