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Action titles: provide orientation with clear slide headings

Reading time 3 minutes
Heard of Nicolas Boileau? This 17th century French author once made an observation that provides the key to a good PowerPoint slide title: “what is conceived well is clearly said.” Well-phrased titles attune your audience to the content and purpose of each slide. It helps them to navigate your slides quickly, so keeps them focused on your presentation. Added bonus: when you’ve finished writing your slide headings you’ll be much clearer on what you want to say.
Nicolas Boileau

Get to the point

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. It provides a concise summary of the slide’s main statement in one sentence. If you want to, you can still add a subheading that describes the slide’s exact content. For example:
Action title: Our sales rose 7% last year.
Subheading: Sales trend in million USD

Now read all your slides’ action titles one after the other. There’s your storyline – your presentation’s “golden thread.” (Compare this with using the slide subject or even the chapter heading as the title, and then flip through the presentation. Your audience would just give you blank looks!)

and … action!

A good action title is understood immediately. It summarizes your 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’ll lose your audience or, worse still, your credibility.

A few writing style tips:
Use the active, not passive, voice.
Passive: The structure of the holding company is determined by the shareholders.
Active: The shareholders determine the structure of the holding company.

Use simple expressions, not complex formulations.
Complex: Through cost reduction, an earnings improvement potential of 9 million USD can be generated.
Simple: Cost reduction leads to an improvement in earnings of 9 million USD.

Keep it concise – avoid unnecessary words.
Too wordy: The analysis conducted shows that significant cost reductions can be achieved.
Concise: Analysis shows that costs can be reduced significantly.

Develop your own style

Do you pride yourself on your journalistic prose? Perhaps you favor a more telegram style? Or do you prefer to play it safe with carefully worded messages? This all depends a bit on your personality and presentation style, as well as the physical space available on your company’s PowerPoint master. If you’re most comfortable with a journalistic style, you can stir your audience’s curiosity and add some drama to your presentation with a title like, “The long road to Japan.” Or set the scene with a succinct telegram style: “Long-term thinking among foreign car manufacturers in Japan.” Or write in complete sentences, to avoid any misinterpretation: “Foreign car manufacturers in Japan start thinking long term.” Once you’ve decided on a style, you should stick to it throughout your presentation.

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Your own brand of presentation

Have the courage to make clear statements, and you’ll make a better impression. People will realize 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. Present the facts up front, and you’ll lead your audience in your chosen direction – definitely the right course of action!