Issue #137 June 26, 2007

PowerPoint Tip - Research on Slide Titles

In the newspaper recently I saw a short mention that a study was done recently that showed that a sentence as a title of a PowerPoint slide was found to be more effective. So I did the research and found the paper that this report was based on. And as is all too common, the reporting greatly simplifies what the paper really said. It is a paper that discusses what the authors call "Assertion- Evidence Slide Design" (the paper is online at http://www.writing.eng.vt.edu/slides.html). This is basically an approach that uses a sentence as the title of the slide and a visual as evidence to support the assertion made by the title. In their tests, they compared the effectiveness of slides using this design method to slides with short phrase titles and bullet points only. They found a significant increase in understanding with the slides that used their design. Not a surprise I must say. But here is where the reporting went astray. The report suggested that the conclusion is that the title change was the significant factor in increasing the effectiveness of the slide. Hogwash, I say. All the evidence from other research suggests that it is both the more meaningful message title as I call it, along with the power of a visual that makes the difference. And in my opinion it is probably the visual that made the bigger difference than the title. How can you apply this research to your slides? In two ways. First, start by thinking visually instead of accepting the default bullet point layout that PowerPoint offers. Use graphs, diagrams, charts, photos and any other visual you can think of to break the addiction to bullet points. Second, create titles for your slides that communicate a message. Instead of "Sales 2000-2006", use "Sales up 41% 2000-6" as the title. This message title will allow your audience to immediately "get" the slide and allow them to spend more time paying attention to what you are saying than trying to decipher your slide. If you need some help transforming text slides into visual slides, check out my e-book on the subject at http://www.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com/transformtext.htm . Members of the ThinkOutsideTheSlide Members Site have access to the Transforming Text exercise that I use during my workshops along with my explanation of what I did to make the point of the example more visual. If you want to become a member, go to http://members.ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com .