The Role of Transitions

Transitions allow your audience to follow your presentation; they help maintain the flow of a speech.

Learning Objectives

Indicate when transitions should be developed during the speech writing process

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Adding transitions may be the last step in building your presentation, but that does not minimize their importance.
  • A speech without transitions often seems choppy, and can even seem unorganized.
  • You can use transitions to signal that you are stressing a point that you have already made.

Key Terms

  • detour: A diversion or deviation from one’s original route.
  • transition: The process of change from one form, state, style, or place to another.

Role of Transitions

Introduction: Building Your Speech

Once you have established your goal and identified your target audience, you should take the following steps to construct your presentation.

  1. Develop a general premise: constructing a presentation will require that you begin by developing your goal and translating it into a general premise you will state to your audience.
  2. Generate main points and organize them strategically: after you have established a premise, you will be able to generate main points to support this claim. Be sure to coherently organize these main points so that the audience can easily follow your flow of ideas. A maximum of two to five main points will ensure clarity and timeliness. Keep main points separate (transitions separate ideas) and balance the time spent on each point.
  3. Create an introduction and conclusion: after you have developed your main points, you will need to complete the introduction and conclusion. Create the introduction first—the conclusion really reiterates much of what was said in the introduction. The introduction opens the speech and is responsible for getting the audience’s attention, relating the topic to the audience, establishing the speaker’s credibility, and previewing the main points of the presentation.
  4. Fill in transitions: Prior to delivering your presentation, your final step will be to develop transitions that lead your audience between parts of the presentation and between distinct, main ideas.

Take the final step, filling in transitions, seriously. Transitions play an important role in the success of your speech.

The Importance of Transitions

Imagine this scenario. You are driving, trying to get from point A to pont B. At the beginning of your trip, you see a sign telling you that you’re going in the right direction. But then you drive and you drive. The road winds. There are detours and forks in the road, but there are no more signs pointing you towards your destination. Are you going the right way? How did you get to this point anyway? What is happening? Where are the signs telling you that the road has changed and you should go this way instead of that way?

A traffic detour sign

Detour: Transitions help the audience follow your presentation even when you take a detour.

In speeches, transitions serve this purpose. Take the road example from above and apply it to your speech:

Members of your audience will do their best to follow you as you speak. However, your speech may take detours. It is bound to move from one subject to the other. Will your audience make the correct connections or get lost? There is also the chance that members of your audience will drift off and when they tune back in will wonder how you moved from talking about X talking about Y. They do not know how you got there.

Proper transitions will not only eliminate such questions, but will also hopefully eliminate the situation in which members of your audience drift off. Transitions enable the flow of a speech. A speech without transitions often seems choppy, and can even seem unorganized. Using them allows your audience to follow your presentation. The words you use can lead them along, signal that you are moving from one point to another, or signal that you are stressing a point.

Types of Transitions

Various types of transactions include: transitional phrases, internal previews, internal summaries, and signposts.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between and give examples of transitional phrases, internal previews, internal summaries, and signposts

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Transitional phrases are words or phrases indicating that a speaker has finished one thought and is moving onto another one.
  • Internal previews cue the audience to listen for the key elements within major points of the speech.
  • Internal summaries review the key points a speaker just made.
  • Signposts are often the numerical indications of the main body points.

Key Terms

  • transition: The process of change from one form, state, style, or place to another.


Transitions enable the flow of a speech. A speech without transitions often seems choppy, and can even seem disorganized. Many tools for transitions allow a speaker to reiterate the central ideas they are trying to express.

Types of Transitions

Transitional Phrase: A word or phrase that indicates when a speaker has finished one thought and is moving onto another one.


  • However;
  • But;
  • Nevertheless;
  • On the contrary;
  • Because;
  • And;
  • Lastly;
  • Yet;
  • On the other hand.


In addition to being hilarious, The Office is also very entertaining. Consequently, there have been many people who try to imitate Dwight, but none can even come close.

Internal Previews

Internal previews are more detailed than simple transitional phrases, but serve a similar function. While the preview in the introduction discloses to the audience the general points to be made in the speech, the internal preview outlines the critical points to be made within the body of the speech.

Internal previews cue the audience to listen for the key elements within major points. Examples of internal previews include statements like “there are a couple of points I would like to make here,””there is both a problem and a solution to propose,” or “there are several items to note in this section. ” Each of these statements might be followed by more detailed, though brief, explanations of what is to come in the speech.


  • I will be focusing on two main points–Why Jim and Pam should get married, and why Michael Scott needs to get married.
  • Before I get started I would like to go over the three best episodes of The Office, which are “Diversity Day,” “Beach Day,” and lastly “Casino Night. “

Internal Summaries

Internal summaries, in contrast to internal previews, review the key points a speaker just made. These regular summaries help the audience to remember the key points just articulated by the speaker.

Examples of internal summaries include statements like “I have reviewed…,””Now that I have talked about a couple of the key points,” or “to summarize briefly what was just discussed…. ” Each of these statements would be followed by more specific but still brief summaries. Internal summaries reinforce the key issues in the speech.


  • I hope I have made it clear that The Office is the best show ever, because it is relevant to the audience, it makes fun of so many different people but still gets away with it, and it is just plain funny.


A man and woman looking into the distance from a rooftop restaurant.

Where Are We Going?: Transitions show the audience where you’re taking them.

Signposts are often the numerical indications of the main body points. Many speakers utilize “first, second, third” type numbering to indicate where they are in their speech.

Signposts allow an audience to remember the key points and follow along in the speech. They serve to clearly distinguish main body points from each other and also from the introduction and conclusion. Signposts can also be used as questions.


  • First I will discuss with you the importance of convincing everyone about the greatness of The Office.
  • To begin with, we must talk about how The Office came to be.
  • Why do you think The Office is the number one show today?

Transitions are so important to a speech. Without them, your audience may just think that you are rambling.

Using Transitions

When using transitions, pair them with body language to make them even more effective.

Learning Objectives

Indicate when and how transitions should be used in public speaking

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • You can use transitions along with hand movements to emphasize a point.
  • You can use transitions to indicate that you are going to talk about the past or the future and then add movement to physically take your audience there.
  • Transitions can also be used with facial expressions.

Key Terms

  • body language: Body language is a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication. It consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.
  • transition: The process of change from one form, state, style, or place to another.

Using Transitions


Transitions go a long way in improving the quality of your speech. However, there is something that can make the quality of your transitions truly bring your speech alive: combining your transitions with body language. You may be surprised to learn that only 7% of the information you transmit to others is in the language you use. The remainder comes from the following:

  • 38% is how you speak—the quality of voice, accent, voice projection, emphasis, expression, pace, volume, pitch, etc.
  • 55% Body language—posture, position, eye contact, facial expression, head and body movements, gestures, touch, etc.

Armed with this information, it is easy to understand why body language can make your transitions even more attention-grabbing.

Using Transitions with Body Language

Transitions Paired with Hand and Arm Movements

You can probably think of many good speakers who have used a finger wag or other hand gesture to emphasize a point. President Kennedy did this quite a bit and so did Bill Clinton. Be careful, however. If there is a note of admonishment in your voice, try to avoid finger pointing because it will seem insulting. An open-palmed hand spread wide, as if in appeal, is far less confrontational and is there fore more likely to be seen as positive.

Photograph of John F. Kennedy

Emphasizing Transitions: President John F. Kennedy used body language to emphasize transitions.

Other hand or arm movements can be useful—even positive—if it is well-chosen and sparse. An animated speaker who punctuates every expression with hand or arm gestures can create a diversion or distraction. Used occasionally, however, movement adds weight and gravity to important points.

How would you use a transition with this movement? Perhaps you are explaining a strategy with similarities to something that was implemented in the past. You want to emphasize that the past errors must be avoided. To emphasize this point, you might say, “However, we must be careful to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. ” As you say this you may use a hand gesture such as the finger wag or the open palmed gesture.

Transitions Paired with Walking Backwards or Forwards

When Steve Jobs gave a presentation, people listened. The buzz created around his product announcements and the announcements themselves had a lot to do with it, but so did his presentation style. He incorporated movement within his style. He didn’t just stand behind a podium and speak. He knew how to enhance his story using transitions by changing his position on the stage.

You can do the same. You may be talking about the present and then want to take your audience back to the past. In doing this, you may use the transition phrase, “let me take you back. ” As you say this, move slowly to the right or left to show that you are moving into the past. Moving forward in time? Move in the opposite direction. Moving back again? Move the same direction in which you previously moved.

You may have been talking about something positive and now need to talk about something negative. To do this, you might use the transition phrase, “Now I need to take you to a different place. ” As you say this, step backwards. Or try adding even more emphasis by stepping backwards and then diagonally. Both movements signal that you now moving into a negative aspect of your talk.

Have something positive to say? Step toward the front of the stage as you say your transitional phrase.

Transitions Paired with Other Movements

Remember that your head and face are your key expression amplifiers. With appropriate movement and expressions of the face you can add emphasis where needed.

An exaggerated eyebrow lift or the removal of eyeglasses at an appropriate moment can give the appearance of your own realization of the importance of the particular point being made. Expressing a negative point while shaking the head from side to side, or a positive point while nodding are standard devices for amplification. Use these movements along with your transitions.

Finally, remember to alter your tone as you deliver your transitions. Think of what transition delivery methods you can use as you write your transitions into your speech outline.