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!


Aidan Henry recently wrote about how he wanted to learn more about his readers, and I have been thinking about how interesting this idea is. Now, I am not going to pretend I have a lot of readers, and while I do not really track my blogging stats, I do want to use this to partially share something about me right now, especially as I just celebrated my first anniversary of this blog.

Back then, I wrote:

I think silence and voice are elusive concepts that are so intertwined they cannot be seen independently. Silence means others can have a voice, and to have one’s voice means another is silenced.

Is it this simple? Who decides?

So, where am I today?

Well, I am still an instructional designer (though a senior one at this point) and an adjunct instructor (yes, a professor) at NYU Stern. I consult on organizational learning and communication issues more these days. I still conduct research in the fields of human resource development and adult education. I like philosophy, though appreciate it most when it is in an applied context, namely in the areas of political and social postmodern thinking (especially with issues of power and positionality and self-identity). I also really like love technology, primarily in its application to the above-mentioned things I do.

I expect this to further develop over the next year, as even dictionary definitions change over time as new experiences occur. I have certainly had no end of new experiences recently, and expect the same for the foreseeable future. I like to remain active and alive!