Envision you are listening to a speech or presentation where you are enthralled by the information being presented and the stories being told. You blink or lose focus for a split second, and suddenly you have no idea what the person is talking about. They seem to be off on a tangent. You rationalize what is going on, “Ok, one minute we are talking about humor in the workplace, and now you are talking about the company financial difficulty and restructuring. How did we get here? Where is he going with this? I am lost and confused- time to zone-out and grab a nap”.
The two most common reasons that lead to this kind of scenario include bad speech structure or inadequate transitions from thought to thought. Let’s discuss transitions.
The fundamental importance of transitions is that they help the audience follow along step-by-step through your presentation. They let the audience know that you are deviating from the previous train of thought. Here is a simple speech structure to illustrate where you would typically incorporate transitions:
First Point/First Story
Second Point/Second Story
Third point/Third Story
SOME TRANSITION STRUCTURE OPTIONS:
Reiterate your last idea
“Now that we have discussed how humor at work and can evoke creativity and bring you leading edge technology and profits, let’s discuss how conflict in the workplace can erode earnings and force you to lay people off to maintain a viable business.”
Ask a question and lead into your next idea
“Will we ever reach a point where the culture in the corporate office embraces the fundamental concept that respect and trust amongst employees and leaders increases profits? It’s easy to come up with examples of negative traits, but let me give you some recent indications that indicate that positive change is underway”.
Use words that clearly indicate a shift from the previous train of thought
“Let’s look at this from another perspective”
“Let me go off on a tangent for a minute”
“Let me put this into a real-world scenario”
“You may be envisioning this as someone else’s problem, but let me twist it around and demonstrate a different line of thought”
“Today we have covered the benefits of respect, trust, and levity in the workplace. I want to demonstrate my passion for this subject with one final personal story. The story may at first seem irrelevant, but with a bit of thought, you will understand why I am standing here today”.
What can make transitions powerful and crystal clear is when you incorporate purposeful movement into your speech or presentation.
1) “I have discussed how effective I have become as a public speaker; however, let me take you back to when I was a young engineer standing in front of corporate executives and my mind went blank”.
Note: As I am saying the words “let me take you back”, I am walking slowly to the left or the right to symbolize going into the past. If my speech wording has me going into the past again, I make sure I use the same side for clarity and consistency. If I was to talk about going back to my childhood in the same speech, I would walk further than I had walked to get to the young engineer stage placement.
2) “We have talked about my humorous escapades as a teenager, now I need to take you to a different place, the place where pranks go wrong and consequences are dire”.
Note: As I am saying the words “now I need to take you to a different place”, I might decide to step backwards, or backwards and diagonal to symbolize moving into a negative story.
3) “My talk today was designed to change your life. I have a personal story that will demonstrate how my life was changed”.
Note: As I am saying the words “I have a personal story”, I might step forward center stage to symbolize moving into the positive story in my speech conclusion
Take 20 pieces of paper and on each one write down a topic or word that you can easily talk extemporaneously about “on the spot”. Put the 20 cards into a bag, take out one card, and talk for 30 seconds about what’s written on the card. After 15 to 30 seconds, pick another card and use a transition to flawlessly lead into the topic written on the second card. This is a fun way to help public speakers hone their skills with transitions.