PowerPoint Slides Need Message Titles

One of the communication items I stress with my students is that PowerPoint slides require Message Titles, not Topic Titles. The difference? A message title tells the audience what to think, believe, do, or say as a result of your slide or presentation. Don’t just tell them the topic and allow them to draw their own conclusions, whatever they may be. If you have gone through all the work of gathering your message and are preparing to deliver it to an audience, you must have some point you want them to take away, something you want to persuade them to do or think, of even inform them that your vision of a situation is the most accurate one. To help them with this process, tell them by embedding your message or point in the slide title. When presenting, leave as little to chance as possible.

I started thinking about this with Garr Reynold’s post today about Bill Gates, where he compared a slide presentation from Bill Gates to one by Steve Jobs.

Bill Gates’ slides are overwhelming in content, the colors look dark and dreary, and as I scan the slides, I have no idea what main message (point? take-away? idea? belief? action?) he wants his audience to leave with. Granted, I am a huge fan of the business prowess of Bill Gates, and he undoubtedly said some interesting and challenging things while presenting, but I was not at the conference. I only have the slides, and reviewing them now does not help me at all. If anything, it has the opposite effect–what is he talking about? When they get printed and/or electronically distributed (as is happening here and at countless desks around organizations), they lose their meaning. That is not what a communicator wants.

Steve Jobs’ are clean, straight-forward, and more compelling. They follow what Seth Godin suggests with minimal text on slides so they help to reinforce the speaker’s message. Great for the audience that is there, perhaps, as long as they are primarily auditory learners. However, I have another reservation here–I was not in the audience at the time, and while the slides may indeed reinforce the presenter, that doesn’t do anything for me. Is Steve suggesting Apple is aiming at all-in-one? They have already achieved it? They want to ultimately sell only one all-in-one product? I am not sure. Once again, without message titles, I am clueless and left to my own thoughts.

Yes, presentations still have that “had to ‘been there” quality. BUT, as social media changes the way we work, it is also having an effect on how we communicate and consider the primary and secondary audiences we face. Message titles, even if they are just scattered through a presentation with the other slides filled with images and other engaging devices, will definitely help the various audiences far into our digital futures.

If only Amazon will hurry up with the delivery of Garr’s book Presentation Zen!

2 thoughts on “PowerPoint Slides Need Message Titles

  1. From Topic Titles to Message Titles… I’m more inclined to do the latter. Easier to create too and hopefully ensures engagement from participants rather than just getting a copy of the ppt deck and leaving the presentation as we’ve seen in some conferences and lectures.

  2. I am a tireless advocate for message titles–tell the audience (in the message) what you want them to know. However, I find constant Resistance to this with many colleagues. People tend to want to jam as much into a title as possible and describe the topic, rather than emphasize the take-away.

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