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April 2003 - Using Effective Transitions

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April 2003

Using Effective Transitions

Effective transitions from one part of a speech to another are marks of an effective speaker, for transitions add polish to the presentation while they aid listeners' understanding. Transitions are needed between the beginning and the body of the speech, between the body and the ending, between illustrations and the points they support, and between sub points and major points. In fact, all parts of a talk benefit from good transitions. But one of the greatest needs is as the speaker moves from one major point to another. Transitions between major points as well as all good transitions can be classed by function: mechanical, relational, and summarizing.

  1. Mechanical Transitions. These are the simplest type of transition. At times nothing else is needed. When going from the first point to the second in a speech on the "Six Sensational Spots in Seattle," you may say, "the second sensational spot is the Woodland Park Zoo." In other words, you give a simple signal that you are going from your first point to your second one. While such simple transitions may be sufficient, at times you need another type of transition.

  2. Relational Transitions. As the name implies, relational transitions tie two points or two parts of the speech together by showing a relationship between them. But relational transitions between points may do more. They may tie or relate the two points back to the point they are subordinate to. For example, you might say, "I'm sure you understand why I started by telling you about what many consider to be the most sensational spot in Seattle, the Space Needle. Certainly it is Seattle's most famous landmark. But even more popular with the locals, especially those with children, is the Woodland Park Zoo-one of the most sensational and fun zoos anywhere." In this example the relationship was a sequential one -- the points followed one another.

    When there's a direct or dependent relationship between points, relational transitions become very important. Consider the following transition from a speech on mandatory physical fitness programs in the military. "We have discussed the precedents for a mandatory physical fitness program in the military, but these precedents alone will not prove a need for such a program. To more fully understand that need, we must examine benefits of mandatory physical fitness." Notice the relationship transition relates the point just discussed (precedents) to the objective (need for a mandatory program) and introduces the next point (benefits). For relational transitions between points to be effective they must mention the point just discussed and introduce the next point. Although relational transitions may act as mini-summaries, longer summarizing transitions are often beneficial.

  3. Summarizing Transitions. Summarizing transitions may not be needed if the point is very clear. You should use them, however, when main points are unusually long or contain complex or unfamiliar information or if it is important to remind listeners of the points you have covered before presenting new information. A summarizing transition or internal summary is actually an expanded relational transition, one that gives more detail about points already covered. Here is a summarizing transition on a mandatory physical fitness program.

    "We have discussed the precedents for a mandatory physical fitness program in the military. We have seen how the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have all had physical fitness programs. We have also examined the reasons for such programs and have heard why past commanders of the various branches of the armed services have favored such programs. But precedents alone will not prove a need for such a program. To more fully understand that need, we must next examine in several practical situations the benefits of mandatory physical fitness." Notice how more detail is given than in the shorter relational transition. The speaker reminds listeners of more detail.

You may find it difficult at first to prepare and use transitions effectively, but soon you will find that it becomes so easy and natural that you will give it little thought. They will just happen as you speak.

(This information was extracted from Dr. Kline's book, Speaking Effectively, which Prentice Hall will publish later this year.)

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

April 2003 - Using Effective Transitions
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