Your slide titles are lousy. Here’s how to fix them

When you decide on your presentation’s title, do you just state what the content is, and maybe who it’s for and the date?

For instance, if you’re presenting to a prospective client about your company’s product called the Gizmo 630, does your title slide say something like:

“Gizmo 630 – Client update, May 2016”

bad slide title example

That’s what many presenters do. But if you do that, your title simply won’t engage people. And if you don’t engage them, they’ll start to tune out.

Here’s another example: Suppose you’re informing managers and executive assistants in your company about the process for on-boarding new hires. In that case, would you tend to call your deck something like this?

“On-boarding process – Manager/ EA information session, June 2016”

Let’s see what’s wrong with these examples and look at how you can improve them

Like most titles, the two examples above are filled with nouns (like the product or process you’ll discuss, as well as the word “client”, and an “update”). So each title seems lifeless because it’s about the content and the event, without explicitly involving the audience.

Here’s what I recommend you do instead:

Ensure your title reflects what people should do with the content after the event.

For example, here’s a far better way to write the second title. Instead of
“On-boarding process – Manager/ EA information session, June 2016” try:

“Tips for Smooth On-Boarding of All Your New Hires”

good slide title example

It’s better because it’s audience-focused, in 2 ways:

  • It mentions how your audience can benefit (in that they’ll run “smooth” on-boarding).
  • It implies that listeners can take action (because they’ll get “Tips” they can use).

So when you write your talk’s title, I suggest engaging people by mentioning a benefit they’ll get and/or an action they’ll take.

Now fix the titles on your other slides

In fact you can make similar improvements on every slide. Doing that helps to engage your audience throughout your talk, and makes your flow of ideas crystal clear, too.

I recommend you write slide titles that either state a fact or involve your audience. Each of your slide titles can involve your audience in any of these ways:

  • Asking a question
  • Including the word “you” or “your”
  • Mentioning an audience action

Again, let’s look at some examples from a talk you might give to managers about on-boarding their new hires at your company:


Old Slide Title: “Aims of On-Boarding”

NEW Headline: “On-Boarding Has 3 Important Aims”

slide example

The old title just mentions nouns (“Aims”, “on-boarding”), which simply labels what’s on the slide and doesn’t draw any conclusions. In contrast, the new headline states a fact: that on-boarding has three important aims. That helps you and your audience in three ways:

  1. When you make your slide, it keeps you focused on what those three aims are (so you’re not tempted to include too much content).
  2. When you present, you can just glance at the slide’s title to get an overview of what you intended to say, so you don’t risk rambling.
  3. Your audience can quickly grasp your point, so if they get distracted and then look back at your slides, they stay on track.


Old slide title: “Value Proposition”

NEW headline: “What Great Benefits Do You Get?”

good slide title example

The old title again just mentions a thing (the value proposition), without drawing any conclusions. This time, the new headline involves the audience by asking them a question, which makes them wonder about the answer. As you talk through the rest of the slide, you answer the question posed by the headline.

Notice that the headline’s phrased as though you’re saying it directly to one person in your audience. That’s what former public-speaking world champion Craig Valentine refers to as the Hallway Test. In other words, use words you’d say to one person if you passed them in the hallway. So the effect is almost as if you’ve engaged each person in your audience in a 2-way conversation.


Old Slide Title: “On-Boarding Checklist”

NEW Headline: “Get Your Checklist From the Intranet”

On-Boarding Checklist

As before, the title simply labels what’s discussed on the slide, and doesn’t draw a conclusion or involve your audience. The headline, on the other hand, gives people a takeaway action and tells them where to get more information on your topic.

So when you write a title for your presentation, and on each of your slides, remember the tips above. Your audience will appreciate your effort, and they’ll reward you with their attention.


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About the author

Craig Hadden works as an instructional designer, creating online training from his home in Sydney. He’s fascinated by presentations, and at his Remote Possibilities blog you’ll find many articles and videos about presenting. When he’s prised away from the keyboard, he enjoys cycling and snorkelling. He’d love to hear from you, via either his blog or @RemotePoss on Twitter. More blog posts by Craig Hadden ››
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  • Thanks for commenting, Andrew, and I’m glad you found the tips helpful. People often don’t put much thought into their slide titles, so the labels they usually end up with are a big part of why their talks come unstuck!


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