Transition: What’s Your Next Step?

TransitionEvery speech needs three distinct parts:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

You have to write each part.  But you don’t have to write them in order.  In fact, you shouldn’t.  Go back to my first class notes and review the how to write a speech instructions and you’ll see that I think you should write your speech backwards.

But how to move smoothly from one section to another?


Suppose you’re giving a speech about how to drive a car.  You’ve decided that there are three major points you want to cover in your speech:

  1. How to start the car
  2. Driving the car
  3. How to park the car

You have a good intro and an excellent conclusion.

I.  Moving from one topic to another isn’t just a matter of saying “Now I want to tell you about…”

That’s just about the ugliest way to make a transition.  Why?

Because you don’t need to tell us what you’re about to do.  Just do it!  Don’t annoy your audience by telling them you want to tell them something.  That’s boring.  It wastes time.

II.  The Danger of “So Then” and “And Then”

This is a subtle but difficult trap that many speakers fall into.  I do this far too often myself.

When we’re giving a speech with a sequence, “then” is a perfectly acceptable word that indicates the next step.  “Then” isn’t the problem.

It’s the word in front of it.   SoAndBut

These words aren’t meant to start sentences.  They’re conjunctions – they’re meant to add two or three things together, not start a sentence.

(This is why we have the bells in class – to help me break this bad habit!)

So What Do You Want Us to Use As a Transition?

A transition indicates that the speaker is moving on to another topic or the next step in a sequence.  You need to give the audience a clue about the change – that’s the transition.  There are several ways to do this.

  1.  Ask a rhetorical question.
  2.  Use a couple of words to review and announce the next step or information
  3.  Move to a new location on the stage.

Let’s review each of these transitions.

Have You Ever Asked a Rhetorical Question?

What’s a rhetorical question?  It’s a question that a speaker poses to the audience but doesn’t expect the audience to answer out loud.

“Have you ever thought about making a craft with a plastic knife?” is a rhetorical question.

In your speech, using a rhetorical question as a transition might work like this:

“After I place the plastic knife right here, can you guess what I have to do next?”

This technique works well when the next step is either blindingly obvious – or the audience will never guess.  If the audience can tell what the next step is, they start to feel pretty smart – an emotion you want to make your audience feel because they’ll like you more.  If the next step is so bizarre that they’d never figure it out, then you have built suspense – another emotion that the audience will respond to well.

The key to rhetorical questions is to not over-use them.  If you use one for the obvious answer, you can get away with another for the unguessable answer, but that’s it.  This is one case where less is best.

Repeat Yourself Repeating Yourself

Sum up your last step in the shortest number of words you can and then introduce the next step.

“After I put the knife right here, then it’s time for me to use the hot glue gun to secure it in place.”

This works especially well in transitions because by reviewing what you’ve done, you’ve got the audience focused on what you just did and ready to move on with you.  You can’t take too long on this.  You have to be succinct (that means very short and fast).  Audiences don’t like having too much repeated to them.

Moving On

Demonstration speeches don’t lend themselves to a lot of movement by the speaker unless there are several stations where the models wait to be used.  Suppose you’ve got a big model and moving it around could lead to a disaster.  Making a separate model and putting on the other side of the stage and moving to it helps the audience see that you’re moving on and they should, too.

Moving on stage keeps your audience’s attention on you.  Staying in one place when you have the option to move is like hitting the ball in baseball but not bothering to run the bases.  If you can find a way to move around, take it.

This isn’t as hard as you think for your demonstration speech.  If you have multiple models, you don’t have to move sequentially!  Put your first model in one place, and your second model on the other side of the stage, and then your third (probably final) model in the middle.  You can vary it by using three stations across the stage in order – if that’s what you prefer.

Moving requires you to be very clear with your transitions to bring the audience along with you.  You can’t just move.  Using some strong transition words such as “next” or “after” or “then” and a summary statement makes moving a very… yes, I’m going to say it… moving experience for your audience.

Be Clever!

You want to win over your audience and keep their attention?  Make your transitions clever.  Make them funny.  Puns work.  Jokes work.

Let’s go back to my speech about driving.  My intro could be a story about why driving is so important, and when I’m ready to move to my first point, I might say

“Let’s take a left turn into garage and see how we start the car” 


“The key point to understand…”

Yes, go there.  If every transition follows the theme of your speech topic, or relates to something in your speech, you’ll make the audience laugh 0r groan.  Either way, they’ll respond and that’s good for you.

Jokes about cutting, slicing, dicing, sharpening, dullness – anything that might relate to your plastic knife – will be great!

A responsive audience may be the best cure for stage fright.  When you’re confident that your audience is with you and wants you to do well, then you’ll find out how much fun public speaking can be.

When It Goes All WrongDon't Panic!

Let’s get ready for the disaster.

Your model breaks in your hands.  Or worse, falls on the floor and breaks apart.  What do you do now?

Don’t panic.  This isn’t even close to the end of the world.  I promise.

If you can make a joke about it, go for it.  If you keep your composure, then the audience will feel bad for you, but they’ll move right along with you if you do.

This is the real power of the transition.  If you can ignore the problem and move on to the next stage or step with a transition that the audience can follow you with, you will rock!  Don’t refer to your problem again. Don’t even look at it.  Just pretend it never happened and move on.

Last week, due to a huge traffic jam, I was 45 minutes late to a speech contest – and I was the MC of the contest!  I didn’t have the time I needed to prepare!  I walked in, said hello to a couple of people and went onto the stage.  Fortunately for me, there were a number of people who could handle the backstage work that I didn’t have time to do!

But I felt like a mess.  I forgot important information – like introducing the dignitaries.  Then I misread the instructions.  I forgot the introductions of each speaker.

After the contest was over, I got one compliment that I will always remember.  “You never let it get to you, you just did what you needed to do and moved on.  You keep cool.”


Are you ready to start your demonstration speech?

Let’s go!