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Fine Tune Your Presentations with Strong Transitions
by Chris King

As many of you know already, I teach group fitness classes six days a week. I find that many of the principles that I apply to leading these classes also apply aptly to giving powerful presentations.

I mention this here, because a woman in one of my classes told me that another instructor was hard to follow because she was either jumping from one move to another without warning, or taking so long to change to another routine that the participants felt that they weren’t getting a satisfying workout. Even though I have mentioned the importance of successful transitions before, I decided that it was time to devote a whole article on the what, why, when, where and how of using transitions when presenting.

What is a transition?

A transition is used when we change from one state to another, from one thought/idea to another, from one topic to another, and from one method to another – in other words, a transition serves as a bridge for change. It can be smooth and effective. Or, it can be jarring and ineffective. Transitions need to be well planned and rehearsed, so that they help our listeners receive the full benefit of our presentations, which segues (transitions) right into the next section of this article.

Why should we use transitions?

  • Our listeners aren’t as familiar with our material as we are. Transitions serve as guides and bridges between the directions we are going and know ourselves where we are going.
  • Participants are often busy and distracted. So, by using smooth and effective transitions, we can grab their attention, lead them into each new area with ease and help them to latch onto our whole message.
  • When we move to a new thought or topic, a listener may still be thinking about our last statement. A well-placed transition will give him or her time to catch up.

When, where and how do we use transitions?

  • The first and most important transition is our opening. We must transition our listeners from their daily lives, their conversations with others and their present concerns into paying attention to us and what we have to share. Once we are introduced it is now the time to bring the audience focus onto us. That first impression will determine whether or not they will listen to and trust us. If we don’t make a striking first impression, we often lose them for the rest of the presentation.
  • Don’t say anything for several seconds. Give them some time to settle down. Then, start with a compelling story, a meaningful – not hackneyed – quotation, an interesting question to start participants thinking, or a startling statement. Many speakers think that telling a joke or saying something like, “I am so pleased to be here. Thanks for inviting me,” is appropriate. Boring – don’t go there.
  • Or, if you have a sufficient amount of time you may start with an ice breaker. See the article How to Break the Ice When Presenting for a plethora of icebreaker ideas. Just keep in mind that some participants may not be ready this early on to take part in an ice breaker, while others will be delighted, so choose carefully.
  • The next transitions should occur between important points, thoughts and/or topics. These transitions can be as simple and straight-forward as, “And that brings me to the next point.” Or, they can be much more creative which takes prior planning. I love to use stories that relate to the next topic and I usually say, “Before I get into the next point, let me tell you a story.” This never fails to get their undivided attention (everyone loves a story) – and also brings to life those who are close to dozing. Make sure, however, that your story relates, is short, punchy and worthwhile. (I can’t stress practice enough here!)
  • Other ideas for interactive transitions include participants turning to the person next to them and telling them something that answers a question you have posed, or sharing an idea that you have sparked, or even having all stand up and stretch. Just remember, you will lose their attention and will need a clever way to get them back – another creative transition! I have experienced presenters who use a bell, whistle or other musical instrument to signal the group that it is time to get back on track. Again, as in the beginning, the polished presenter knows that pausing for a short time will capture audience attention.
  • Depending upon the time allotted and type of presentation, you may designate a question and answer period. Even in workshops, I feel that all of our transitions and strengths can be ruined if we let participants continually interrupt us. I have learned – through unpleasant experiences – to tell my listeners/participants that, “There will be time for questions, so write them down as I go along.” Or, if there won’t be time, that, “I will be here afterward or during the conference, etc. if you have questions.” Again, make sure that you know how long you have for questions and answers and plan a clever way to transition everyone back to your presentation when the time is up.
  • The final, and important, transition is the close of your presentation. Don’t start many minutes before saying, “Before I close.” I know you have heard a speaker do this, and you keep waiting and waiting, not even hearing what they are saying, thinking, “When will they get there.”
  • For the close – the last transition – consider the most important thought, idea and/or action you want your listeners to leave with. The closing should never give the impression that you have just run out of time and need to rush. So, have a rehearsed, memorized and strong, strong closing prepared.

Remember that your transitions, well planned and strong, will add a smoothness and professionalism to your presentations that will wow any audience.

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