Public Speaking and Presentations (2/3): Transitions and Signposting – ‘Speaking Glue’
By David Rose
After an enforced break to move into my new house in Brussels and prepare for a new government training project in Serbia (I’m currently there – writing this in a hotel in Belgrade), I’m back with the second of three articles on public speaking skills: Transitions and Signposting – ‘Speaking Glue’.
The first article in this series – ‘Structure for Success’ – outlined how to achieve an overall planned, cyclic structure for your key messages and content to enhance your presentation, meeting intervention or speech.
Now, as promised, we come to the methods, techniques and language to effectively use transitions and signposts – the connections that ‘glue’ your messages together into coherent parts, so keeping your audience engaged and making your key messages clearer and more memorable.
1. About Transitions
Example: “Today, we are going to cover three points: A, B and C. First, A… Next, we come to B… Having covered B, it’s time to move on to C. So, that was A, B and C. In conclusion, …”
Some people are instinctively highly logical and structured, using transitions ‘naturally’ and ‘smoothly’ when speaking publicly. Equally, some people can eat anything whenever they want and never put on weight…
If, as a mere mortal like me, you are neither of these two enviable types, you will have to plan and rehearse your transitions to be sure you use them consistently and fluently.
2. Types of Transitions
Signposts are, in a nutshell, ‘simple transitions’ – usually one word or a short phrase – to clearly highlight your key points and/or signal the logical connections between your ideas.
Here is a quick map of some common signposts by category of use:
|Highlight priority/importance||PrimarilyOf primary importanceMost importantly||Primarily, this is a question of…The first issue, of primary importance, is…Most importantly, this involves…|
|Make a contrast||HoweverDespite thisOn the other handNevertheless||However, this is not the only consideration…Despite this, we must also note…On the other hand, it does allow us to…Nevertheless, we still need to ensure…|
|Add an extra point||AdditionallyIn additionFurthermoreAdded to this||Additionally, this requires us to…In addition, I’d like to point out…Furthermore, we have to keep in mind…Added to this, we have…|
|Cause and effect||ThereforeConsequentlyAs a resultAs/since||Therefore, more attention is needed to…Consequently, we were able to…As a result, the problem has been reduced…As/since roll-out was delayed, we now face…|
|Time/Sequence||Previously/beforeSubsequently/afterCurrently/presentlyIn parallel/simultaneously||Previously/before, the situation was unclear.Subsequently/after, we decided to focus on…Currently/presently, the study is measuring…In parallel/simultaneously, we carried out…|
|Give emphasis||In fact/actuallyIndeedNot only… but also…||In fact/actually, this is not the case…Indeed, we fully agree with…There are not only cost but also time issues to…|
|Give a reason||Because (of)Due toOwing to||This was chosen because of our limits on…Due to the internal reorganisation, we have…Owing to the delays, we now require…|
|Offer an alternative||AlternativelyConverselyInstead||Alternatively, we will solve the issue by…Conversely, we could also consider…Instead, it’s also possible to…|
(ii) Transitional statements
These guide the listener, marking your ‘movement’ (or transition) from one discrete point or part of your presentation, intervention or speech to another.
Examples of common transitional statements include:
|Common transitional statements||Examples|
|First/first of all||So, having introduced today’s aims, first/first of all, we have…|
|Second/secondly||Second/secondly, we come to…|
|Following this/next||Following this/next, I’d like to cover…|
|Having seen X, we now come to Y||Having seen the past situation, we now come to the current state of play regarding…|
|So, that was X. Now, let’s move on to Y||So, that was the outline of the new strategy. Now, let’s move on to its planned implementation.|
|Finally/last but not least||Finally/last but not least, we move on to…|
|In conclusion/to sum up/to wrap up||In conclusion/to sum up/to wrap up, I’d like to…|
(iii) Internal summaries
In simple terms, internal summaries are a more elaborate form of the transitional statements outlined in (ii) above.
The internal summary is a form of ‘stop and check’ – i.e. pausing the delivery of new information to tell the audience:
- Which part you’ve just covered
- What your main points were
- How this fits into the overall ‘framework’
- where you’re going next
They are usually inserted at the end of each stage of a longer presentation/intervention/ speech to ensure:
- Worst case scenario – your audience doesn’t get ‘lost’, i.e. they are not able to place the information you’re giving them into a clear framework
- Best case scenario – attention levels remain high and your key messages are memorable
“So, in this first section of my presentation we’ve just seen the background and details of the new Citizens’ Initiative introduced under the recent Lisbon Treaty.
Specifically, (i) how it raises EU citizens’ direct involvement in the democratic process; (ii) what is required to trigger a Citizens’ Initiative; and (iii) once triggered, which obligations, if any, it places on the European Commission in terms of developing legislation.
Now, we move on to the second of the four parts in today’s presentation – namely which opportunities this new Citizens’ Initiative presents to the NGO sector.”
Question: how many different question styles can be used as effective transitions from one section/part to another in your speech, intervention or presentation?
Answer: three – direct, rhetorical and loaded
As I’ve just done above, questions can be used to introduce a new topic or section. Importantly, they help engage your audience through interaction and so keep attention levels high.
Literally what it appears from the name – a direct, open question to your audience that requires them to answer.
E.g. “Can anyone tell me the number of steps this new process contains?”
An open question to yourself – you answer it after a brief (2-3 second) pause during which you look around the room to make eye contact with all the audience.
E.g. “Can anyone tell me the number of steps this new process contains? … As you may know, there are five.”
A ‘special’ type of question, designed to ‘trick’ your audience into producing a common misconception/only partially complete picture of a situation that you can then (politely) ‘correct’ to emphasise your main message.
You can either ask this as a direct question to the audience i.e. with them answering or as a rhetorical question you answer yourself. Naturally, this requires you to first decide what such misconceptions may be.
E.g. “What is the statistical chance your car will be stolen this year – 1%? 5%? 10%? – What do you think? … Actually, you’ll probably be very surprised to learn it’s only 0.05% according to the latest national crime figures. This highlights our perceived risk of crime is much higher than actual reality.”
- What if nobody answers? – people are often ‘nervous’ about asking direct/loaded questions to the audience in case nobody answers… an understandable concern!
- What if they give the ‘wrong’ answer? – sometimes audience members will enthusiastically answer your questions, but with incorrect answers! How can you clearly indicate they are wrong without embarrassing them/de-motivating others to answer?
- What if nobody answers? – if you ask a direct/loaded question and aren’t getting any response from your audience after 3/4 seconds… just turn it into a rhetorical question and answer it yourself as if that’s what you planned!
- What if they give a ‘wrong’ answer? – be brief, polite and honest then move on to other audience members e.g. “unfortunately not… anyone else? / I’m afraid not… any other ideas? [Note: you should avoid the trap of explaining in detail exactly why the persons answer is wrong – this risks ‘losing’ the rest of your audience. Remember, your primary aim is to get the ‘correct’ answer to introduce a new topic, so explaining in detail will simply cover issues you are about to present].
A simple yet highly effective technique – linking the audience back to a related point you have already mentioned to introduce a new point.
“As you may/might remember/recall, in the first part of my presentation we saw how this new project has radically improved coordination between departments. Now, in this third and final part, I’m going to outline how the next project phase offers us all opportunities to further develop the level and scope of this inter-departmental coordination over the next two years.”
It is possible to use an anecdote (story) drawn from your own or others experience to illustrate the key theme of the topic you are going to introduce.
Although this approach is especially effective at the start of your speech/intervention/ presentation to strongly ‘capture’ the audience’s attention, it can also be successfully employed as a transition between sections.
Caution: to be effective, annecdotes must be brief and planned in advance. Improvising an annecdote in real time is very rarely successful.
(vii) Visual aids
A picture-only slide can be used to great effect to mark the ‘change’ from one topic to another. Ideally, the image should clearly link to the next topic’s main theme/title.
Humour can also be used here – e.g. through a well-chosen cartoon – to raise your audience’s attention if appropriate for the audience and situation.
Caution: since humour is very much a culturally-connected concept, this technique is often a double-edged sword in the international/EU environment
i.e. if nobody laughs, you’ll feel a little embarrassed. If only some of the audience ‘get’ the joke, you’ve just marginalised the others.
(viii) Physical movement
Just as well-chosen visual slides can show your audience you are moving to the next point/section, you can also use movement to achieve the same aim.
An effective speaker will plan their movement to make it clear to the audience they are literally ‘moving’ to the next stage.
A common method is the so called ‘centre → left →centre → right → centre':
- Start at the centre of the room/podium for your introduction
- Move to the left side for your first point/section
- Return to the centre for your second point/section
- Move to the right side for your third point/section
- Return to the centre for your conclusion
This varied movement, used together with other methods of verbal transition, will not only make it easy for your audience to follow you as you move from one point/section to another, but will also help maintain your audience’s attention.
3. Common mistakes with transitions
Finally, I’d like to finish by outlining the three most common mistakes speakers make with transitions:
1. Not using verbal and non-verbal transitions at all/sufficiently
2. Only using short, simple transitions
3. Over-using the same, limited range of transitions
Having seen what transitions are as well as the eight most common types of verbal and non-verbal transitions you should now be able to avoid these three common mistakes in your public speaking.
So, planning and consistently using a range of transition techniques in the appropriate places in your presentation, meeting intervention or speech:
- Makes it significantly easier for your audience to follow your points
- Helps you ‘capture’ and maintain their attention
- Makes your key messages clearer and so more memorable
The third and final ingredient to boost your public speaking skills – Emphasis, Intonation and Pausing – will be covered in the next article… watch this space!
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© David Rose 2011