Oral Transitions

Transitions are key components to the organization of any presentation that align with the preview in your speech’s introduction and the review in its conclusion. Think of them like interchanges between highways that make the journey easy to follow, or headers in a paper that signal a change of topic or direction. A speech without transitions is hard to follow and, usually, less effective than one that uses transitions well. Here, we will discuss what transitions are and what they can look like in your speech.


Have you ever seen or read an essay that did not use paragraph breaks? Was everything just one big chunk of text with no logical division of ideas? If you have, you know that style of communicating is unclear and ineffective. A speech without transitions is like an essay without paragraphs—incorrect and inaccessible. A good speech will be divided into logical main points. In the example of a biographical speech, the main points may be: early life, career, and fame. To ensure that the audience can tell the difference between those main points clearly, use transitions between each one. This allows a speaker to move from one topic to the next with ease, and make the process easy for an audience to follow. Oral transitions do not have to be fancy or subtle. In fact, clearer and more straightforward transitions are preferred.

Sticking with the biographical speech example above, let’s look at what the transitions between the main points might look like. Again, don’t overthink this process. The simple structure below is clear and does not risk confusing the audience.


Now that I’ve talked about Oprah’s early life (main point 1), I’ll move on and discuss her career (main point 2).

Now that you are familiar with Oprah’s early life  (main point 1), and her career (main points 2), let’s finish up by talking about her fame (main point 3).


Note that the transition between the second and third main points includes the first main point. Again, this continually reminds the audience where they’ve been and where they are going.

Transition Themes

While your primary focus should be making transitions clear and useful, some speakers like to use a theme for their transitions that aligns with their topic. This can add some level of personalization to your content without violating what we consider the rules of strong transitions.

For example, if your presentation topic is travel, you might choose to do something related to moving from one place to the other.

Now that you know more about planning a trip, let’s hop in the car and hit the road so we can discuss enjoying that trip.

Now that we’ve planned our trip and talked about enjoying it, let’s fill up the tank and head home as we shift our attention to maintaining our vehicles.

Is this cheesy to some speakers? Yes. However, consider your audience when you make this, and other, decisions about your speech. While an audience of college students might not value this approach, a group of retirees who are traveling for fun might feel differently.

Group Presentations

In addition to making any individual speech clear and easy to follow, oral transitions are a vital tool for group presentations. Implementing simple transitions between speakers is an easy way to make your group presentation appear more polished and well-rehearsed. The next time you have to give a group presentation, try using the following simple transition format:

Now that I’ve talked about Oprah’s early life (main point 1), John (group member) is going to cover her career (main point 2).


If you want to spice things up a little, try something more interactive, like this:

Well as you can see, Oprah’s early life was full of challenges. In fact, her early career was challenging, too. Isn’t that right John? 

Yes, Pat, that’s right. Her early career was challenging but, as well all know, she overcame those challenges. Back in 1975….


To top things off, if your presentation is in-person, practice nonverbal transitions as well. As one speaker is wrapping up, he or she can move backwards slowly while the next speaker moves forward at the same rate. A smooth verbal and nonverbal handoff is a winning combination.

Prepared by GVSU Speech Lab Consultants & Carl J. Brown

Information partially adapted from Stephen Lucas' The Art of Public Speaking, Tenth Edition.

Page last modified October 16, 2020