We probably all agree that Powerpoint presentations can be pretty horrible sometimes. Many people feel the tool itself is fatally flawed, even “evil”, but I think that’s like blaming your hammer because your home workshop project did not come out right.
Regardless of where you stand on this argument, you probably will have to use the tool anyway, so you might as well figure out ways to get the best out of it. In this article, I’m going to suggest one simple change that can make an immediate difference in the effectiveness of your presentations: Use headlines instead of titles.
In a newspaper, a headline neatly and succinctly summarizes the main point of a story. If you’re too busy to read the entire article, you at least know what happened. If newspapers used titles instead of headlines, you would see titles like: “Yesterday’s Super Bowl Result”.
Pretty ridiculous, right? Unfortunately that’s how most slides are written.
The most important principle in using slides is that the slides should support your spoken presentation, not be a substitute for it. This means that the point of your slide should be easy for the audience to grasp. Otherwise, they can either devote their attention to figuring out what the slide is trying to tell them, or listen to you speak. They can’t do both at once.
If you tell them through a headline what your main point is, they can then sit back and listen to your evidence that supports that point. The body of the slide should ideally contain some visual that reinforces or clarifies what you are saying. This way, attention can be fully focused on you, which is where it should be. Otherwise, why not just email the presentation and have them read it, given what the price of gas is today?
There’s a second benefit to using headlines: it forces you to think very carefully about what your main point is for that slide, and that’s going to improve the quality of your thinking that goes into the presentation itself as well as reducing the number of slides you use. (If you can’t think of the main point, you should seriously consider whether the slide belongs at all.)
Here’s an example:
If you’d like to know more, see this presentation by Alley, et al.