It is one of the basics emphasized in your first public speaking class: Have a clear transition between your main points. But it is also a rule that many experienced communicators set aside or start taking for granted. As you become more comfortable with your content and your audience, you can fall victim to that fundamental adaptation error: the belief that your audience is tracking right along with you. And when you move from one point to the next, the change seems clear and obvious, to you. But is it clear to the audience? Often, not nearly as clear. What they hear is a bunch of information, and now they’re hearing more information, but the distinctions and connections between one point and the next can be lost.
If you can get your audience to adopt your way of thinking about the issue, you are more than halfway there: The path determines the destination. So structure is key to conveying content. And the transition is key to conveying structure. It is the transition that plays the role of making sure your audience isn’t just receiving a bucket of information, but is instead moving through the right main points in the right sequence. So when you are preparing your notes for opening, closing, or witness examination, the question of “How am I going to transition?” should be an important one. It’s not just a matter of stopping one topic and starting in on another topic, it is about briefly building a bridge that your audience can cross and know that they’re crossing. In my view, there are a few steps to doing it. Following those steps as a checklist will help to make your transitions more clear, and as a result, your structure more evident and influential.
The first step to moving on is to conclude the point you are on. So mark the end of that previous point with a quick one- or two-sentence wrap-up:
So the first point is to understand the purpose of the contract. And the purpose of the contract, as we’ve seen, is that SmithCo would prepare the construction site, and then we would put in the foundation.
The key to the transition is a connection that bridges one point to the next. I’ve found that a good way to arrive at that expression, is to ask yourself the question, “Why did I put this point after the previous one?” or “Why do the two points make sense together?”
And now that you understand what the contract laid out, you can understand that what happened instead was completely different.
The next step is to announce the upcoming point. This is also called a “signpost,” and it is equivalent to the “Now entering…” or “Welcome to…” signs that you see at the city limit. The audience should be reminded of where they are.
So the next chapter of the story focuses on SmithCo’s failures.
Sometimes, particularly if you are beginning a point that is detailed and carries its own internal structure, it is a good idea to preview what is coming up in this point.
And SmithCo failed in three important ways: They failed to get a soil sample, they failed to do a hydrological analysis, and they failed to appropriately grade the site.
Put those four together, and you have a clear transition from one point to the next. It is simple, but important. Spelling out that transition helps you regain the jury’s or judge’s attention, and convey a sense of movement through the topics that keeps your listeners oriented and engaged.
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