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Is Your Presentation a Noun or a Verb?

2 min read

Many of us squander the most valuable real estate on our slides: the slide title. Audience members read slide titles expecting to get the storyline, but often all they get is a string of nouns that sounds like a file folder label. One of the most welcome upgrades in contemporary business presentations is turning that slide title into a message on every slide.


Need an example? Here are four typical slide titles:

1. Overview of sales goals
2. Targets by region
3. Performance against target last year
4. Incentives for meeting/surpassing your goal

Are you out of your chair with excitement yet? Neither am I.

Now imagine the same presentation with these upgraded slide titles:

1. Your sales goal this year is attainable
2. Your region decided to reach higher, and headquarters will support you
3. Last year’s achievements prove you can do this!
4. Terrific incentives await you when you achieve your target


Which presentation would you rather attend?

For all of human history, we have made sense of the world and shared what we know by telling stories. You can buck that trend if you wish, but we do this for a reason—stories are memorable and evocative. If a little voice in your head is saying that you prefer the first set of slide titles because they’re shorter, please question that little voice’s reasoning. Is the goal of your presentation to finish quickly or to drive action? What outcome do you want? If you want excited salespeople who will reach this year’s targets, you’ll benefit from slide titles more like the second set. Length is much less important than impact.


What happens if you choose verbs over nouns?

If every slide has a noun phrase at the top, content shows up in neat categories. You look organized. All the content is sitting still, going nowhere, but it’s in the right place. Your boss could entrust you with organizing her sock drawer.

If, by contrast, every slide has a verb phrase at the top, you can unfold the storyline as you advance your slides. You look outcome driven. All the content supports a story the audience is more likely to care about, and your boss can stop thinking about her sock drawer.

Noun phrases are polite. Neat. Still. Forgettable.

Verb phrases are dynamic. Energized. Memorable.

Is your entire presentation a noun or a verb? Your slide titles will decide the question.


How can you tell?

Open one of your slide decks. In PowerPoint, at the heading for the left column, you can switch from “slides” view to “outline” view. Read the bold text in outline view, top to bottom, and see whether you pick up an unbroken storyline. (Hint: “Next steps” is not part of a storyline. It’s a file folder label. “Next we’ll choose the vendor and start the training” is part of a storyline.)


And there’s a bonus!

Audience members often complain that there’s too much text on slides. Using verb phrases helps you avoid that trap. With your key message for the slide up in the title, you can reduce text in the body of the slide.

With your verb phrases in place, you’ll be ready to keep your audience members’ attention all the way through your story, and they’ll be more likely to remember it. That’s a winning outcome!


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