TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
In the beginning was the verb

Earlier this week, I got a chance to chat with John, a professor
of human genetics who also teaches scientific communication,
about his experience with using Trees, maps, and theorems
as textbook. Like the two of us at Principiae, John is convinced
of the power of stating one's message in the title of each slide,
as a short statement conveying the so what, not just the what.
Nonetheless, he got into a discussion with one of his students
about what to put as the title of a slide listing three methods
as a list of three bulleted items. This student did not see what
she could use as the slide's title, except Methods (the what).

The question is frequent in my own training programs as well:
yes, getting the so what across in the slide's title is the best,
but is it always possible? Surely some slides carry information
but do not attempt to convey a message, right? My answer is
usually a question: if a particular slide is not making a point,
are you sure you want to include it in your oral presentation?
Can you afford to spend any time on nonessential information
when you have been given 15 minutes to present six months
of research work? That information is typically best presented
in a companion document—and probably in an appendix, too.

I you feel presenting three methods is useful to your audience,
tell them why. Convey in your slide's title what you want them
to remember about the information you present in your slide.
It could be as simple as There are three possible methods to…,
if this number is what your slide is all about, or as assertive as
Out of the three methods in use today, only one is accurate
up to you, as long as you make a complete sentence out of it.
The power of an assertion is indeed in its verb. With Methods
or even Three methods, you know what you mean (hopefully),
but your audience cannot guess whether you mean There are
three possible methods
or We are developing three methods or
We used three well-documented methods in our experiments
or perhaps The current three methods are up for improvement.
Keep it short (no more than 12 words is a good rule of thumb),
but include a verb: use your slide's title to state your message,
to convey what you want them to remember about your slide.

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