As a speech communication professor, one of my areas of research is improving presentations that use mediated software (AKA PowerPoint). In 2008, a colleague and I set out to make it our mission to rid this world of bad PowerPoint presentations. Remember the consequences: every time you make a bad PowerPoint presentation -- God (all of them) kills a kitten. Even if we can only influence one student at a time -- hopefully we are doing our part to make presentation land just a little bit better for our fellow audience members. After all, we're only on this Earth for a short while -- it shouldn't be spent sitting through boring presentations where the presenter reads to us from slides laden with too many words and not enough practice.
So, you can imagine my excitement last year when my partner, who is working on an MBA, asked me to edit his group PowerPoint for an upcoming class project. I was elated -- and I wanted to help the group have an excellent PowerPoint so they could impress the professor and be engaging to all. Upon seeing the PowerPoint, I went to work. The first thing I eliminated was the title slide as the first slide. You know the one -- the first slide that gives away the topic (which everyone most likely already knows), the presenters' names, the date and some other erroneous information that gains the audience's total attention -- said no one ever. I said to my partner James, "Start with a blank slide, or a picture, or a question, something -- anything that puts the focus on you and your attention-getting device (anecdote, questions, facts, statistics, etc.) and not a dull lead-in of 'Hi everyone, we're talking about XYZ and here is our slide show -- now bring on the kitty deaths -- one-by-one.'" James took my suggestions and made the changes. I was glad to help.
A few days later James met with his group one final time before the big day of the presentation. He asked me if I would look at his slideshow one last time, and I said of course. I went to the computer and immediately noticed the dastardly horrific sight of -- the title slide as the first slide in the presentation. I demanded to know the meaning of such a move. After all, I, the PowerPoint scholar with published research in this area prescribed a different attention-getting slide. Of all people on the planet who should listen to me it would be my partner, right? Wrong. Apparently what happened is this: he was outvoted by his group members. They felt that the title slide, however boring, should ALWAYS go first. To keep the peace he conceded to their suggestions and reverted back to his kitty-killing ways. I sighed, and shook my head in despair. If I cannot get my partner to change the hearts and minds of those in his group, are all of my students leaving my class semester after semester only to go to other classes where they start back up with those nasty attention-draining title slides? I'm afraid this is the case. Why can we not break this cycle? Let's look at a few facts to help with this title slide problem.
First, PowerPoint presentations do not fall under APA formatting. You are not presenting a visual paper to an audience. Heavens, I hope you're not. Instead, you should be making an oral, rhetorical presentation. Therefore, there is no guideline that a presenter should start with a title slide. PowerPoint is there to help the speaker make points, not to present an English essay visually to a poor group of unwilling victims. So, this is myth number one that you need to lead off with a title slide.
Second, think about how you learned how to use PowerPoint? Can you think of it? Most likely you are self-taught, maybe a Microsoft suite course somewhere along the line? And who taught those classes? Probably someone else who was self-taught? Did a business faculty member teach you how to make a PowerPoint? Where did they learn? It was most likely not during their PhD program. And, if it was -- it was probably by watching someone else who was self-taught. Do you see the pattern here? Almost no one has been taught how to properly use PowerPoint when making a presentation. Period. So, these are phantom rules we ascribe to when we say, "The teacher said so." Most likely the teacher was not taught how to make a proper PowerPoint presentation.
Next, business likes to "think outside of the box," and use fancy buzz words of the week. Students are taught to be their own people and thinkers (we hope). Everything in marketing is new, creative, different, etc. So why then do people make presentations about cool, new, creative things -- using some of the oldest, most overused, least innovative, and cliché PowerPoint techniques? I just do not understand it.
Finally, what is the worst that could happen? So you choose to listen to me and eliminate that title slide as your lead slide. What's the worst thing that could happen? Will someone from an audience at a conference say something negative to you -- nope. Will a student stand up in class and interrupt you while making a presentation? I doubt it. Will a professor dock your grade -- most likely not unless a "title slide" is officially required by your critique or assessment form -- in which case if you are student presenting CONTENT including some other information (e.g. business, marketing, etc.) then your PowerPoint should not be where you earn your points -- your research should be.
So at this point you may be asking if you do not lead off with a title slide, then what? Also, where do you tell the audience who you are? Good questions. The slide or slides that come first should be there to gain audience attention. Perhaps it is a slide with some facts, or pictures, or statistics. You can also use several slides or a lead-in video. THEN, after gaining the audience members' attention you introduce yourself, and THEN you display your title slide. "So, today, we are going to talk about XYZ and how it can improve your business." Do this 2,3,4, 5, or more slides into your presentation. If you're worried about people having your contact information you can always leave a slide up at the end of the presentation with your contact information. Again, remember it is 2013. If the audience knows your name they can most likely find you and your information online before you even conclude your talk.
So, I do not advocate the elimination of title slides all together, it just should not come first! Ever! Gain the audience members' attention, build the good will with the audience, show them you are there to engage them, and THEN reintroduce yourself, that is if you haven't been introduced already. Your audience will thank you -- and so too will kittens everywhere!
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