Sunday, April 27, 2008

In Transition

One thing my students get out of my class knowing: the importance of transitions. I harp on that subject. The speaker doesn't benefit from them; only the audience does. The speaker doesn't need transitions; the audience does. Transitions separate the prepared and practiced from the "I just want to get this over with" crowd because the ability to do transitions well shows that the speaker truly is about communicating, not about performing; that the speaker is about the outcome, not just the act, of public speaking.

First, the transitions of writing and the transitions of public speaking are very different. For one, public speaking transitions are one or two sentences, whereas written transitions are a couple of words. For two, public speaking transitions are obvious; written transitions are conspicuous in their cleverness. For three, public speaking transitions are of necessity more cumulative; by the time you get to the third point, you might be including the first and second point in the transitions. For four, public speaking transitions should do more than announce that a new topic is coming up; they should explain the logic behind the connections (something hard to get students to understand).

Second, public speaking transitions must be practiced. The speaker must hear them to know if they work. This may mean several tries and revision.

Third, public speaking transitions should not be repetitive. The audience shouldn't hear "Next ... next... " They should be varied in wording, again, focusing on the cumulative nature of the material and the logical connections.

Fourth, public speaking transitions should not be used just between the main points. Any list of more than two items needs transitions, even if they are sub-sub-points.

If I had given these points orally, I would have done it in a totally different manner. Such is the nature of transitions.

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