Four places to find headlines in your slides; Issue #421 August 21 2018

In my customized workshops one of the key takeaways from the section on creating effective visuals slides is to start by writing a headline for each slide. A headline summarizes the key message you want the audience to understand. Think of the headline for your slide like the headline of a news story or article.

Writing a headline for each of your slides is likely the easiest thing you can do to quickly improve your slides. It forces you to be clear on the message for each slide. It allows you to then select the best visual to communicate that message. In my book Select Effective Visuals I go into more details on how a headline is useful for both the audience and the presenter.

In the slide makeovers I create for my customized workshops, writing a headline is where I always start. Having created over 1,000 makeovers in the last few years, I realized that the key message is often hidden in the body of the slide. It just needs to be better stated as a headline. There are four places I see the key message hidden in a slide.

In a shape

In order to highlight a key message, presenters will sometimes add a shape, usually a rectangle, that contains text explaining the key takeaway. It could be at the bottom of the slide, underneath the title, or off to one side of the other slide elements. Key messages in shapes should be moved to the headline.

Single top-level bullet point

On bullet point slides, I look to see if there is a single top-level bullet point with all other points are organized as sub-points under that one high-level point. In this case, the presenter has identified the key point but has put it into the detail area instead of the headline. By moving the key message into the headline, you also allow each of the detailed points to move to a higher level in the body of the slide.


Some organizations have a standard that each slide has a title that is 2-4 words long and a sub-heading that is a full sentence summarizing the key message. Unfortunately, that sub-heading is usually in a much smaller font and can easily get lost when the audience views the slide. I would suggest replacing the title with a headline that provides a summary of the key message.

Answer to a question

I think using a question as your headline is risky. It suggests that the audience can answer that question any way they want. The conclusion they come to may not be the one you wanted them to come to. The body of the slide often answers the question asked in the headline, but the audience may have already come to their conclusion by the time the presenter gives them the answer. Instead, I suggest making the answer the headline of the slide. This gives you a much better chance that the audience understands the message you intended them to get from this slide.

I have created a video that shows examples of all four of these places. Watch the video below.

When you want to improve the effectiveness of your slides, start with a headline that summarizes the message. You may not have to start from scratch though, as the headline may already be on the slide. Check the four places above to see if you can move the headline from the body of the slide to the top of the slide.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.