Improve each slide’s title – make your whole talk better

In this post, you’ll find simple but effective techniques you can use to engage people more, and make your flow of ideas far clearer than with typical slide titles.

(Have you seen my post on how to grab attention with “ABCD” headlines? If so, you’ll know 4 ways I recommend you also use your whole talk’s title to capture people’s interest – even before you speak. The techniques used here are similar to the ones in that post, so if you’ve not seen it, you might want to check it out.)

In your slide titles, I suggest you use either of these powerful, deceptively simple tips:

  • Make a claim about part of your topic. For instance, if you’re speaking to a group of new employees in a particular role, you might write:

    “Your role has 6 main tasks”

    (That technique’s part of what’s called the assertion-evidence approach, advocated by Michael Alley of Penn State Uni.)

  • Involve your audience, which happens when you do any 1 or more of these:
    1. Ask a question.
    2. Use the word “you” or “your”.
    3. Mention an action your audience might take.

Let’s look at some examples. Suppose you’re speaking to a group of managers about on-boarding their new hires.

In the 1st column below, you’ll see some of the slide titles you might’ve used in the past. The 2nd column suggests a better version of each title, and the 3rd column explains the reasoning:

Old slide title New slide title Why’s that better?
Aims of on-boarding On-boarding has 3 goals The old title just mentions things – “Aims”, “On-boarding” – which, in formal terms, are nouns. That title simply labels what’s on your slide, and doesn’t draw a conclusion. (If you like, you can see the old slide this example’s based on.)

So the old title doesn’t help the audience much. In fact, they’re left to make up their own conclusion, which is hard for them to do while you’re talking to them.

That’s a problem for 2 reasons:

  • You’re making your audience work to understand your message, which means it’s needlessly hard to absorb.
  • The conclusion people reach – if any – mightn’t be the one you intended anyway!

In contrast, the new title makes a claim (“On-boarding has 3 goals”), which helps you and your audience in at least 6 ways:

  • When you make your slide, it keeps you focused on what those 3 goals are (so you’re not tempted to include too much content).
  • When you present, you can just glance at the slide’s title to get an overview of what you intended to say, so you don’t risk rambling.
  • You make it easier for your audience to understand your slide, so your message is clearer and therefore more compelling.
  • You make sure people draw the conclusion you intended from your slide.
  • People can quickly grasp your point, so if they get distracted and then look back at your slide, they stay on track.
  • Your slide better supports what you say, which makes you look more expert.

If you’d like to see how the title now looks on a slide, check out this version of the new slide.

Value proposition What benefits do you get? Again, this old title just mentions a thing (the “Value proposition”), without drawing any conclusions.

This time, the new title involves the audience by asking them a question, which intrigues them about the answer. As you talk through the rest of the slide, you answer the question posed by the slide title.

In fact the new title’s phrased as though you’re saying it directly to 1 person in your audience. (Craig Valentine, who’s a former World Champion of Public Speaking, calls that the Hallway Test. In other words, use words you’d say to 1 person if you passed them in the hallway. So the effect is almost as if you’ve engaged each person in your audience in a 2-way conversation.)

On-boarding checklist Get a checklist from our intranet As before, the old title simply labels what’s discussed on the slide, and doesn’t draw a conclusion or involve your audience.

In contrast, the new title involves the audience by mentioning an action people can take, and tells them where to get more details about your topic.

 

Over to you

So there you have it – a couple of concrete ways you can make your slide titles more helpful, and some examples to show what I mean.

  • Which of the ideas or examples above resonate with you?
  • What sort of titles do you tend to use on your slides today?

 

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