Transitions: Narrative and Visual

Communication in narrative form is more than simply a sequence of messages. The human brain needs to see patterns and connections in information so that it can compare it to prior knowledge, integrate new information into schemes of current knowledge, and form new understandings. When you are presenting information to an audience, one of the techniques for enabling them to recognize patterns and form connections is through the use of transitions between one set of information and adjacent sets (before and after).

In this chapter, you will review two forms of transition: narrative transition and visual transition.

Narrative Transition

If you have ever been intrigued by a good storyteller or a well-crafted essay, then you have likely encountered some of the ways in which the pieces of the story or essay have been stitched together so that it feels like a coherent narrative. The techniques employed to achieve this effect are called narrative transitions. The resources below found in Andrew Dlugan’s “Six Minutes” website outlines the twelve forms of narrative transition you can use in an oral presentation. Bookmark this resource and refer to it later when you are called upon to identify the kind of transition you are demonstrating in your presentation.

Speech transitions


visual transition

If you have had any significant experience developing a slideshow using PowerPoint or similar software, you are likely familiar with the choices for visually transitioning between one slide and the next. These range from simple fade out/fade in transitions to complex matrix wipes or “push wipes” where the next frame pushes out the previous frame.

A simple rule for the use of visual transitions in a slideshow is to minimize the use of any visual transition unless there is a relationship between the movement of the transition and the information you are presenting. In other words, if the transition does not enhance the meaning or interpretation of the information you are presenting, don’t use one.

Below are some examples of transitions where the physical movement of the transition is related to the information.

transition 1

“This leads to that” transition: In the right-to-left push wipe, the visual metaphor is used to reinforce the first slide’s representation of three factors added together (over time) leading to a conclusive result. The use of the arrow pointing right in the first slide anticipates the movement in the transition.

Transition 2

“Step by step” build transition: This is an example of a procedural build with a fade transition between each slide. This technique is produced by developing the completed graphic first and then duplicating it (in this case) to create 6 slides of the same content. Then, delete content from each slide to show the progressing from the first stage to the next, and so on. The key is to create the finished graphic first so that you do not make edits along the way that cause you to re-edit your prior frames.

transition 3 transition 4

“This replaces that”: In the reveal/uncover wipe (left) or the overlay/cover wipe (right), the visual metaphor is used to convey that the first object is replaced by the second object.

transition 5

“Change over time”:  The analog clock metaphor represents the passage of time.

examples of transitions for the sake of transition

Review the video below that demonstrates a variety of visual transitions. As you watch each one, try to imagine what metaphor each transition might be used to to express in conveying information. For example, the “Crush” transition might be used to demonstrate how one product in the marketplace dramatically replaces another product (think how Facebook “crushed” MySpace).

Then there are other transitions in this demonstration that don’t seem to be useful metaphors for anything. The “Origami” transition seems to be a transition to serve no other purpose but to draw attention to itself. these are to be avoided. Remember that the audience will become easily distracted from your messages if their attention is focused on gratuitous or decorative visual animation.


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21st Century Communication by Granite State College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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