Which of the many aspects of giving a presentation are you best at?
I’d say I’m best at writing a strong message, and that means I often focus on a talk’s words. So when presentation blogger Laura Foley posted her neat makeover of a title slide, I thought hard about the text on that slide.
- Laura’s makeover
- What’s great about that?
- What’s a title for? And how’s it formed?
- How could you improve the title?
- What about the subtitle?
- How does all that look?
Laura’s makeoverScroll to Contents ↑
Here’s the slide – before Laura’s makeover:
What would you change on that slide? (Let me know in the comments.)
And here’s a still of Laura’s version (which she animated to engage people while they wait for the talk to start):
What’s great about that?Scroll to Contents ↑
As Laura mentioned, that makeover improves the original slide in at least 4 ways:
- The photo adds humour and visual interest, yet also “grabs the gut” of people who’ve ever felt overwhelmed by clutter. And a photo’s great on a title slide.
- The speaker’s name and 3-word bio (“a reformed slob” – on the yellow Post-It) help people relate to the speaker as a person (who’s flawed, just like them).
- The 4 calls-to-action encourage people to engage with the speaker (both during and beyond the event).
- Laura removed the words that said where and when the talk was held, as they didn’t add any value (and might’ve even seemed a bit condescending).
I’ll also bring up 2 other points Laura improved over the original:
- The 1st line of the subtitle (“10 storage…”) now starts to the left of the 2nd line, so almost everyone will read it correctly – unlike the original!
- By mentioning the venue’s city in just 2 words (“Hello Akron” – 4 syllables), Laura customised the talk for this audience in a very easy and conversational way. (The old slide used 10 words for that purpose – “A presentation for the Akron Adult Education Initiative, July 2019” – with at least 25 syllables, in a formal and stilted way. And worse still, several of those words had 4 or more syllables.)
Still, what might you change in Laura’s version of the slide?
If we look 1st at the title, I think we could improve it a bit, in a couple of ways. To do that, let’s think about what a title’s for…
What’s a title for? And how’s it formed?Scroll to Contents ↑
You might think a title’s purpose is to tell people what the talk’s about. But I’d say it’s really to just hint at that, and much more crucially it’s to engage people. (After all, if you don’t engage them with your talk’s title, they won’t even come to your talk!)
How can you engage people with just a few written words? Well, to find out, let’s look at how much various types of words (like verbs and nouns) engage people:
- Because verbs are about action, they’re dynamic, so they tend to engage an audience more than nouns do.
- Because adjectives just describe nouns, they’re often even less engaging than nouns are.
By the way, for more on the relative power of verbs, nouns and adjectives, you can’t beat Clare Lynch’s brilliant post on that subject.
How could you improve the title?Scroll to Contents ↑
Below is the presentation title – what types of words are in it?
Your organized life
Well, “organized” is an adjective, “life” is a noun – and there aren’t any verbs.
So, in itself, the title doesn’t have much power to grab people. Still, the subtitle makes up for the lack of verbs, and I’d like to point out 2 strengths of the title:
- It uses the word “Your”, which engages people because it’s talking about them. (And that’s especially true when “Your” is the very 1st word.)
- It’s very short, containing just 3 words (5 syllables).
To keep those strengths, I suggest we tweak the title very slightly. So here’s my version:
Your life – organized
Let’s clarify at least 3 reasons that’s improved a bit on the original:
- Just by swapping the words “organized” and “life”, I’d say we’ve given them both more power. That’s because:
- We’ve highlighted it’s “Your life” we’re talking about – the audience’s – as we’re no longer splitting that phrase with a 3-syllable adjective.
- We’ve promoted “organized” into more of a verb – something you do to your life, rather than something your life just is.
- By emphasising the word “organized”, we’ve given the words contrast, which makes them a bit more appealing to people.
- By adding a hyphen, we’ve literally caused people to briefly pause for thought when they read the title.
What about the subtitle?Scroll to Contents ↑
Here’s the original subtitle:
10 storage and filing solutions to simplify
and declutter your home or office
What might you change about that? (By all means let me know.)
To start with, let’s look at the subtitle’s strengths and weaknesses:
- It contains 3 parts of what I call the ABCD formula for attention-grabbing titles. (ABCD stands for Action, Benefit, Conversation, Digit.) That is, the subtitle contains an Action (“simplify and declutter”), which also reflects a Benefit to the audience, and it contains a number or Digit.
- By starting with a number, it highlights that people’ll get 10 specific takeaways from the talk.
- The subtitle’s quite long, containing 13 words (22 syllables). And 3 of those words each have 3 syllables (“solutions”, “simplify”, “declutter”), so they’re not short and punchy.
- Both of the phrases “storage and filing” and “simplify and declutter” are about being tidy, so one of them’s redundant.
- Loosely speaking, the subtitle contains up to three pairs of synonyms:
- “storage and filing”
- “simplify and declutter”
- “home or office”
So, again keeping the strengths, I suggest this subtitle instead:
10 tips to declutter your home or office
As before, let’s be clear on the reasons that’s better (to help you make similar changes to your own slides):
- It’s just 11 syllables (8 words) – 50% fewer syllables than before – making it much less of a mouthful.
- We’ve replaced the 2 phrases about tidying up (“storage and filing” and “simplify and declutter”) with just 1 word (“declutter”).
- In doing that, we’ve removed 2 pairs of synonyms.
I even considered shortening “home or office” to something like “space”. But I decided the original wording has wider audience appeal. Plus, it’s clear and specific.
How does all that look?Scroll to Contents ↑
After those changes to the title and subtitle, here’s how the slide might look:
And as a reminder, here’s what Laura’s slide looked like:
Over to youScroll to Contents ↑
In this post, we’ve delved quite deeply into improving a given talk’s title and subtitle.
I hope you’ll find the discussion helpful for decluttering your own talks’ titles!
As I commented on Laura’s original post:
“Even on just a title slide, there are so many aspects
that can work for (or against) the speaker.”
I’m always happy to discuss issues and questions raised by my posts – either publicly, or privately via Direct Message or the Contact me page on this site.
Good luck with your next presentation – as I wrote in the page header on my blog:
“Here’s to better presenting!”
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