Lady Gaga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the Art of the Transition

I was blown away by Lady Gaga’s Superbowl Halftime Show. It was impossible not to pay attention.

One reason is Lady Gaga’s utter mastery of the transition. This is no easy task.   

Transitions are the moment in any presentation, speech or performance when you are most in danger of losing your audience.

Have you ever had the experience of listening intently to a speech or presentation and suddenly, you realize that the speaker has switched topics?   You somehow missed the transition, and now you’re lost.

As a speaker, the point in your presentation when you most likely to lose your audience is when you transition to a new topic.

Why?

The answer is actually physiological.  The brain is needs time to adjust from one topic to another – especially if the first topic is interesting. If the audience misses your transition, they often have a hard time switching gears to your new topic.

As a speaker, how can you avoid losing your audience when you make a transition?

The answer: change tones.

Lady Gaga is the queen of the tone change. Notice in her Superbowl performance how the songs dramatically rise and fall – changing from inspirational (God Bless America) to raucous (Poker Face) and back to heartbreaking (Million Reasons) in a span of minutes.  What’s more, while each tone is in sharp contrast with the one before it, the changes feel smooth. In her transition from the mournful Million Reasons to the rocking Bad Romance, (9:50) she gives the audience just enough time to transition, so the change is exciting – not abrupt and overwhelming.

Another master of the transition, Lin-Manuel Miranda, explains in his Fresh Air interview that the process of making mix tapes (one of his favorite adolescent pastimes) is all about learning how to transition from one song to the next. He explains, You’re learning about rise and fall and energy and tempo shifts.

How can we apply this to speaking?

When delivering your presentation, try switching tones in your voice when you switch topics. For example, let’s say you are explaining a problem your organization is facing. You might use a tone of concern or frustration. When you move to the solution, switch to a tone of hope or excitement. This cues the brain to move away from understanding the problem and hear your solution.

From the Green Room: Master your transitions. Divide your presentation into mini-tones that rise and fall with the flow of your content. You will keep your audience’s attention – and help them remember not only your message – but the larger story behind it.