Three ways to rethink your title slide

Your title slide occupies prime real estate in your slide deck. It is the gateway to your presentation. You can either spend time thinking how to use it to maximum advantage or miss an opportunity to grab you audience’s attention from the start.

Titles slides often contain such details as the date of the presentation, the name and location of the event, the logo of the speaker’s company, contact details and more. In fact, it is not unusual to see a title slide like the example below or some variation of it.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong, per se, with having a title slide like this. It conveys important information about what is to come. But it is bland and all too common.

Moreover, this slide is often projected on the screen before the speaker takes the stage. The speaker is then introduced and proceeds to say something along the lines of the following:

Good morning / afternoon. My name is [name on the slide]. I am the [speaker’s title on the slide] at [company whose logo is on the slide]. I am very happy to be at [name of the event on the slide]. Today I am going to talk to you about [title on the slide and perhaps some variation of the subtitle].

In other words, the speaker starts by telling the audience things that they already know because they have already read the title slide. Not a great way to begin. In fact, by beginning this way, many speakers waste one of the most important parts of their presentations, the opening.

Psychologists talk about the learning principles of primacy and recency. People tend to remember the first thing they hear and the last thing. So the openings (and closings) of your presentation are important. You don’t want to waste them.

This post is not about designing a good title slide – there’s plenty of information elsewhere about design principles; rather, it’s about rethinking title slides and how to use them.

Below are three ideas for you to consider with regard to title slides. They might seem unconventional – and to the extent that most presenters don’t follow them, they are – but whenever I have seen them used, the results have always been impactful.

IDEA NO. 1 – YOU DON’T ALWAYS NEED A TITLE SLIDE

There is no rule that you need a title slide for every presentation that you make. This is especially so if there is an agenda for the event that clearly states your name and the subject of your talk.

Instead, make your first slide black. The audience won’t even know it’s a slide: they’ll just see a black screen.

When you are introduced, walk on stage and begin speaking while the screen is black. The audience will be 100% focused on you because there is nothing on the screen to distract them. At the appropriate point, transition to your first substantive slide and continue the talk.

When participants in my corporate trainings try this approach, the feedback from their peers is overwhelmingly positive. The audience feels more connected with the speaker and a solid foundation has been laid for the rest of the talk.

Notwithstanding the above, if you distribute copies of your slides after the presentation, I recommend that you do include a title slide so that people have the name of your presentation, your personal details, the date of the presentation, etc. There is no rule that says that the copies you distribute have to be exactly the same as what you showed on the screen.

IDEA NO. 2 – START TALKING AND TRANSITION INTO THE TITLE SLIDE

This idea is a variation on Idea No. 1.

As above, you begin your talk with a black slide. You open, for example, by telling an interesting fact or making a bold statement or telling a story. Of course, whatever you say, it should be related to your talk.

Once you have completed your opening comments and have grabbed your audience’s attention, you click into the title slide and tell them where you are going to take them.

This type of opening reminds me of the opening to a James Bond movie. If you have never seen a Bond movie, they usually open with a riveting scene involving high drama: a high speed car chase; skiing down a mountain; jumping out of a plane; or some other adrenalin-pumping activity. Once the scene is over, things calm down and we find out what the plotline of the film will be.

The good news is that you do not have to be James Bond on stage. (Though if you are, I will buy a ticket.) But you can use the technique of a powerful opening and transition into the title slide to achieve a similar effect.

IDEA NO. 3 – START WITH A SUBSTANTIVE SLIDE AND CLICK INTO THE TITLE SLIDE

This idea is a variation on Idea No. 2. However, instead of a black slide, you begin your talk with a substantive slide on the screen and then transition to the title slide.

I once worked with a young start-up company that had created an incredible device to help people who have been injured regain the use of their legs. CNN had featured their device as part of an exposé examining the incredible technological breakthroughs in this field. I was helping them with their pitch.

They began with the usual, title slide and explained who they were and what they did. They then transitioned to their second slide, which was an amazing full screen image, and they told the amazing story behind it.

During the feedback discussion, I said, “Let’s try something. Let’s start with the image and put the title slide second.” I then reversed the two slides in the PowerPoint. “OK,” I told them, “go right into the story and then click to the title slide and tell me who you are and what you do.”

So they did, and they were almost jumping up and down with excitement over how much better it was. Now, they began with a compelling story that hooked you from the outset. After their story was completed, they clicked into the title slide and said, “We are [Company X] and our passion is to help people like [the person in the story].”

I have had the same experience with other clients. I don’t do much; just swap two slides. But little changes can make a big impact.

So there you have it. Three ideas to consider when it comes to title slides; three ideas that can give the opening of your next presentation a shot in the arm.

This post originally appeared in Presentation Guru on 29 August 2017.

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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