Episode 70: November 27, 2009
by Lisa B. Marshall
Have you ever titled a slide "Outline," "Conclusion," or "2009 Budget"? What I'm really asking is, do you tend to create generic slide titles that are more like general topic areas than key messages? If so, this article is for you. Today, I'll talk about how to create effective slide titles.
How to Create Effective Slide Titles
Whenever I review someone's slides I give them a homework list--tasks they need to review and change. In just about every case, the first task on the list is the same. Please review each slide title to ensure it communicates the main point of the slide in the form of a headline title or a takeaway message. I chose the phrase “headline title,” because you should think of them and write them like newspaper headlines.
Change Generic Topic Titles to Specific Takeaway Messages
The most common mistake is that the slides titles don’t convey the specific, main point of the slide. Instead they suggest a generic topic.
Obviously titles such as "Overview," "Introduction," or "Challenges" are just too generic. But the problem is usually more subtle than that. A generic title might be something like, "Social Business" or even "A Shift Toward Social Business" when it should really be "Collaborative social organizations surpass barriers to growth." Or "Dell attributes $3M in revenue to Twitter posts" instead of “Signs of ROI” or worse, just “ROI.”
The idea is to ensure that your title conveys the main point or the message you are trying to communicate. Again, it's not "Budget," or even "Fourth Quarter Budget; it should be "Fourth Quarter budget cut by 25%."
Your title needs to convey the main point because the majority of business and technical presentations use a deductive organizational structure. That means you need to make your main point first and then explain the evidence that supports the point (not the other way around).
Use Titles To Reinforce Your Main Point
It’s critically important for efficient mental processing that your bottom line or key message is actually written on the slide.
I want to mention that it’s critically important for efficient mental processing that your bottom line or key message is actually written on the slide. Some people say to me, "Well, I’ll make the main point verbally. Does it still need to be on the slide?" And the answer is, “Yes. Absolutely!”
If your viewer is confused (or if they took a mind vacation when you presented an important detail), the good title helps them get back on track. And if the listener did understand, then a good title reinforces the message and helps them to remember it.
Ensure Correct Message Is On Every Slide
Another mistake I see is either a missing title or a title that misses the mark all together. Missing titles seems to occur more often when many graphics are included on the slide, so be sure to check your slides. It’s rare that a slide can stand on it’s own without a title, especially if the information is complex. Again, the title helps viewers to understand and it reinforces the gist of the slide before you get into the supporting details.
The second issue, missing the mark, usually happens when someone is reusing a slide. It’s OK to use the same slide to make a slightly different point, but just don’t forget to rework the title. An incorrect title, of course, can cause confusion. I recommend going through each slide one at a time. Look at the slide briefly; then ask yourself: “What's the main point I want to make?” Then check to see if that matches the title.
How Long Should Slide Titles Be?
Many people ask me, “Well, how long should titles be?” I always say, use as many words as you need to clearly and concisely communicate the main point. Try to use phrases and, if possible, keep it to one line. But for complex topics, two-line titles are OK. A good title is meaningful, specific, brief, and to the point.
Avoid Vague Phrases
Try to avoid using vague phrases (i.e. the role of or the effect of). Instead use action verbs (improves, increases, reduces, surpasses, etc) and quantify when you can (i.e. improves by 25%, increases by $10,000, or reduces 4 points).
Finally, keep in mind that the process of reviewing your slide titles and concentrating on your key messages can only help to improve your delivery of the presentation. Although slide titles are commonly overlooked, they’re important and should be reviewed carefully.
Effective titles (or ineffective titles) can have a significant impact on the overall clarity of your presentation. As YOUR homework, review your last presentation. See how you did. Did you use specific key messages? Did your titles make the points you wanted to make? Did you use phrases and action verbs to concisely and clearly communicate your ideas? Let us know how you did in the comments.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication; your success is my business.
As always, I invite you to join my newsletter or visit the Facebook Page. I’d also like to invite you to join my networks on LinkedIn and Twitter.
If you have a question, send email to email@example.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.