All the way back to my days as a public speaking professor and debate coach, I stressed the practical importance of a transition. The goal, I emphasized, is not just the formal nicety of appearing organized, but is rather to directly create attention, retention, and comprehension for your audience. An effective transition doesn’t just announce a new point, but communicates to the listener a path through the information. Working with attorneys, I have noticed that the transitions as well as the organization generally can be clearer to the presenter than to the audience. It can feel blunt to say, “Next, let’s talk about…” and as a result, some attorneys just avoid them, flowing into the next point without a clear announcement of transition. The implicit suggestion is, “If it is clear in the notes, and in my mind, then it should be clear to you.”
The problem is that it isn’t, particularly when the presentation is oral, rather than written. I believe that if we were able to interrupt an opening statement, witness examination, or closing, and ask the fact-finder “What point are we now on?” many, to most, would not be able to answer, but would instead just have the general sense that the attorney or witness is just conveying more information. Without that sense of organization, the risk is that listeners are left with a pile of facts and impressions, but lacking categories or conclusions. In a past post, I wrote about the cognitive importance of clearly conveying structure through a transition, as well as a sequence for a transition: Conclude the previous point and draw a connection, announce the next point, and give a short preview. In this post, I will share nine ways of making and communicating that relationship.
With the right structure, the transitions should be natural. But just to prime the pump on creating meaningful transitions, consider the following nine ways to transition.
Identify the way the last idea connects to the next — the reason you put one point next to the other:
It is important to look at all of the steps that the team missed, as we just have, because that is what created the situation that caused permanent damage to my client…
Draw a parallel between the previous point and the upcoming point so the audience sees the continuity:
That describes one way of calculating the royalties, but there is another method…
Draw a distinction to signal that you are now covering different content:
We have looked at the facts of what happened on that day, but now I want to say a few words about the law…
Signal that you are moving into greater detail in order to analyze the point further:
That gives you an overview of the testing process, but I now want to give you a better understanding of the tests themselves, and how they work specifically…
Signal that you are stepping back in order to synthesize the point more broadly:
So at this point, I think you understand the mechanics of how you apply for and win a patent. Now, I would like to step back and look at the purpose: what all of this is for…
Highlight a “what if” as a way of drawing a distinction between the next point and the previous material:
I have previewed several reasons why there isn’t really a contract at all. But let’s look at what happens if there is a contract…
Stress the importance of what is coming up relative to what has been covered so far:
So we have looked at all the explanations the company has offered for this termination. But hovering over all of this, there is one final fact that puts everything else in context…
Frame the upcoming point as an illustration of the previous material:
We have now walked through the process of inspecting a construction site. Now, let’s look at some of the situations that could result in a permit being denied…
When laying it out in story mode, highlight the next chapter by emphasizing what changed:
So the stage was set, all of the pieces for a good business relationship were in place, and the mood was positive, but all that was about to change…
The more you think about your outline, and your reasons for preferring that particular sequence for this particular audience, the easier it will be to explicitly connect one point to the next in order to keep the audience on the right track.