PowerPoint Engineering 1: Titles & Take-Aways

As engineers, we will constantly use Microsoft Powerpoint.  Yet, I find it strange that a program so widely utilized is used so poorly.  “PowerPoint Engineering” will be an on-going series of posts, in which I’ll discuss my keys to creating successful presentations.

In this post, I’ll demonstrate the appropriate use of slide titles and take-away statements, neither of which in my experience, do engineers use appropriately.

Let’s start with slide titles, because every content slide will have one. The most common slide title is simply one that acts as a header or label; a general description of or category in which the content fits.

For example, let’s create a slide showing the weight model of an electronics unit. We may quickly title the slide “Preliminary Weight Model” which minimally describes what the slide is about. However, making the title actionable or a statement, “Preliminary Weight Model Complete”, is better. Now we’re telling the audience we accomplished something or have an artifact to discuss. It’s a subtle change on paper, but very powerful in meaning.

Another method for titling slides is asking the question the slide contents will be answering. I tend to implement this method for presentations used in working meetings to stimulate discussion and brainstorming.

Of course, not every slide will warrant an action or question title. If we’re showing an isometric view of the same unit for reference, it doesn’t make sense to title the slide “isometric View Created”. It’s not an artifact. Just title it “Unit Isometric View”.

Let’s shift our gaze to the bottom of the slide and discuss the take-away statement. In my experience, engineers do not make good use of this feature.  They’re either not used at all, used when not necessary, or convey the wrong message.

The take-away statement is usually a single line of text, located at the bottom of the slide just above the footer.  It can be bolded and/or contained within a shaded box – or other method of distinguishing it from the rest of the text.  It is the message or data point from this slide you want the reader to remember.

When used appropriately, the take-away statement should answer the question being asked by that particular slide.  In the previous example, the question being asked might be “does the design meet the weight requirement?” We would use the body of the slide to communicate the supporting data like a summary table from the weight model.  Our take-away statement might then read would “Weight requirement met with 14% margin.”

powerpoint_title_take-away

Figure 1. Proper use of slide title and take-away statement.

Think of it this way, in a design review, when a panel member is scoring your design, and flips through your data package for artifacts, his or her eyes will be drawn to your take-away statements first. That’s why they are so important.
However, not every slide needs a take-away statement. Typically, instances when they won’t be used are slides that contain reference data. These are the same slides that won’t require action title. Again, using the isometric view example, there is simply no need to conclude with a take-away statement that reads “isometric view shown”.  Why would we want the reader to remember that?

When used incorrectly, titles and take-away statements are non-value added at best and confusing at worst. But when used correctly and consistently, they work together to book-end the slide. In fact, they book-end the entire presentation. They provide flow and a clear message to the reader.

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