Heard of Nicolas Boileau? Don’t worry if you haven’t. It’s just remarkable that this 17th century French author made an observation that provides the key to a good PowerPoint slide title: ‘What is well conceived well is clearly expressed’. Clear, well-phrased titles attune your audience to the content and purpose of each slide, providing rapid orientation and keeping them focused on your presentation. And there’s a useful side effect: when you’re done, you really do know what you want to say!
This sort of slide title is called an ‘action’ title. Sounds like a stage direction in a Hollywood blockbuster, but there’s an intelligent thought behind the name. With an Action Title, you’re sending out your message right at the top of the slide. Because an Action Title provides a concise summary of the slide’s main statement in one sentence. You can still add a subtitle that describes the slide’s exact content. For example:
Action Title: Our sales rose 7% last year.
Subtitle: Sales trend in million USD
Now read all your slides’ Action Titles one after the other. There’s your story line – your presentation’s ‘golden thread’. (Compare this with using the slide subject or even the chapter heading as the title, and then flipping through the presentation. You’ll just be earning blank stares.)
A good Action Title is understood immediately. It summarizes the slide’s contents and gives you and your audience security by providing a clear message. It’s no longer than two lines, avoids ‘filler’ words and provides facts, not PR. If you get too promotional, there’s a danger you will lose your audience or, worse still, your credibility. Here are a few style tips:
Write in the active, not the passive, voice.
poor: The structure of the holding company is determined by the shareholders.
better: The shareholders determine the structure of the holding company.
Use simple words.
poor: Through cost reduction, an earnings improvement potential of 9 million USD can be generated.
better: Cost reduction leads to an improvement in earnings of 9 million USD.
Avoid unnecessary words.
poor: The analysis conducted shows that significant cost reductions can be achieved.
better: The analysis shows that costs can be reduced significantly.
Do you pride yourself on your journalistic prose? Perhaps you favour a more telegraphic style? Or do you like to play it safe with carefully worded messages? This depends to a certain extent on your personality and your presentation style. And on the physical space available on your company’s PowerPoint Master.
If you’re most comfortable with a journalistic style, you can awaken your audience’s curiosity and add some drama to your presentation with a title such as ‘The long road to Japan’.
Or you can set the scene with a more staccato telegraphic style: ‘Long-term thinking among foreign car manufacturers in Japan’.
Or write in complete sentences, to ensure your message is not misinterpreted: ‘Foreign car manufacturers in Japan start thinking long-term’.
Once you’ve decided on a style, you should stick to it throughout your presentation.
Have the courage to make clear statements, and you’ll make a better impression. People will realise that you want to achieve something and give them real added value. Action Titles help you to organize your own ideas and make it easier for your audience to follow your thoughts and intentions. By interpreting the facts up front, you lead your audience in the desired direction. Definitely the right course of action!