ECG Principal Steven Cohen discusses the role of verbal transitions between slides as a valuable way of connecting messages steadily and clearly, of maintaining a smooth flow of ideas in order to persuade the audience.

When we speak of "flow" as it relates to writing or speaking, we are speaking of a smooth, logical progression of ideas or points, a progression that links each to the next. One way of achieving that flow is by using transitions. But when it comes to using slides in PowerPoint or other programs, to moving from one slide to the next, more is usually needed. That "more" consists of wording each verbal transition in a way that guides listeners from the preceding idea to the next, of driving them from one point to the next in a compelling and engaging manner.

COMPEL, ENGAGE, AND GUIDE

Transitions such as "Moving on to" or "As you can see" or "I'm going to take a few minutes to" neither compel nor engage. They neither guide listeners toward an outcome nor support the speaker's purpose.

The ideal slide transition positions the speaker as an expert who is flowing through the presentation, fluidly connecting one point to the next, guiding the audience to a clear outcome.

Effective verbal transitions state the conclusion up front (on data slides) or, on descriptive slides, characterize what is to follow. They are tied to the content they are linking:

  • We're losing ground in that we closed more offices last year than we opened.
  • The high rate of completion reflects the tolerability of the regimen.
  • Both trials shared a common study design.
  • Several signs indicate that the housing market will continue its recovery through the next year.
  • The students surveyed reflected the area's demographics.

ALIGNED TO AUDIENCE FLOW

A verbal transition between slides is effective because it allows for or complements the ways in which audiences view slides.

Every time a slide appears, it grabs the full attention of the audience. For several important moments, the audience will pay attention only to the slide—digesting it and forming their own conclusions about it. If a speaker tries to make a point during those moments, audience members will not listen to it, and it may be that the point conflicts with the impression that the audience has started to form. During those moments the speaker is competing not only with their focus on the slide but with the rapidly forming hypotheses or opinions developing in their minds.

If instead the speaker delivers the point in a transition statement just before the new slide appears, the point will receive listeners' full attention and be timed to prepare them to test it against the information on the upcoming slide. The speaker's hypothesis or conclusion thus reaches listeners before they have formed and committed to any competing hypotheses or conclusions. They will instead test the speaker's hypothesis against the information on the next slide.

This approach enables the speaker to guide listeners to the heart of the slide and focus them on how the data support the speaker's point. By immediately addressing the actual content of the slide, instead of trying to make a more general point when the slide comes up, the speaker will be working with the natural flow of audience attention instead of fighting against it.

By consistently creating content-specific transitions, speakers can boldly deliver strong points that propel the audience through the presentation, driving them to the speaker's desired outcome. That's flow.