Your presentation headlines suck. Do better.

Your presentation headlines suck. Do better.
October 31, 2022 Beth Nyland

As the holidays approach, I’m refining a new party trick. Let me try it on you, right now.

“I bet I can guess the slide headlines on your most recent presentation.”

“No way,” you say. “You don’t even know what I do for a living. You don’t know who was in my audience, and you have no idea what I was talking about.”

Correct. I don’t have to know any of these details. Never mind if you’re a marketing VP, sales rep, or HR manager. Never mind if your audience was internal or external. Never mind if you were talking about quarterly results or product innovation or logistics.

If you lead meetings or make presentations at work, I am practically guaranteed to dazzle you with my party trick.

So I stride to the white board (all good parties have a white board, you know) and write the following in my best dry erase block letters:

Agenda | Background | Recommendation | Next Steps | Questions

By now a crowd has drawn. I turn to you and, in front of all these witnesses, I ask:

“Are these your headlines?”

“Yes,” you say, your eyes wide with amazement.

A unison gasp plunges the room into shocked silence.

Then someone turns up Harry Styles, and the party is back on. As you and I head to the bar for a wine refill, you ask, “What was this sorcery? How did you know?”

“Everyone knows,” I say. “Everyone knows.”

The points I listed are not necessarily a bad outline for a presentation. But they’re a shitty set of headlines.

Headlines tell the story.

This is what my inspiration partner, Jill Pollack, always says: “Headlines tell the story.”

Read these headlines again:

Agenda | Background | Recommendation | Next Steps | Questions

The headlines you see here do not tell a story. They don’t say much of anything.

As my teenage daughter would say, “Do better!”

Replace those generic words with specifics that tell the story of your meeting or presentation. Not sure how to rethink your headlines? Here are some pointers:

Crafting more colorful, explicit headlines is the right approach If you want to:

  • Capture and keep attention
  • Focus on what matters
  • Stimulate conversation
  • Appeal to skimmers
  • Make good use of visual real estate
  • Create useful leave-behind materials

Do better. Write headlines that tell the story.


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