How Neuroscience Can Improve Your Presentation Title Slide

Sometimes a presenter might start with the narrative – nailing down the plot of the presentation from the body to the conclusion. Sometimes a presenter might dream up a powerful presentation title and expand on the narrative from there. It doesn’t matter much where you start, but it does matter how you start your presentation. From the layout and design of the slide to the headline placed on it, a presentation title slide sets the tone for the rest of your deck. The title of your presentation plays 3 different roles. It helps your audience identify the subject matter; it hopefully serves as an attention-grabber; and it is the foundation from which audience members create their expectations of what will come next. Did you ever realize that a title – just a phrase, or even one word – could be so extremely vital to achieving a successful presentation? Well, titles and headlines are that important, and neuroscience theories and research on the old brain, midbrain, and new brain explain the many of the reasons why this is true.

1. Old brain

In Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, she explains how the old brain is only concerned with food, sex, and possible danger. The old brain primarily responds to sensational content. A cursory glance of examples of the positive results of yellow journalism illustrates the effects of lurid content on an audience. Bred through a fierce competition for increased readership and funds between newspaper moguls Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, yellow journalism consists of the dissemination of a false or biased story or information. During the Spanish-American War, William Randolph Hearst’s reporters produced devastatingly descriptive story after devastatingly descriptive story about the various battles waged – exaggerating events and stretching the truth. But the headlines for these stories appealed to the old brain of the newspaper’s audience. The attraction to these headlines stemmed from the old brain’s capacity for scanning for dangerous elements in the environment. And the publications knew this simple fact of nature.

In terms of a presentation title slide, knowledge of the old brain can inform a presenter’s theme for the talk. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should deceive your audience or use hyperbole in the title. That will only cause people to deem you a less credible presenters. There are more ethical and effective ways to capitalize on the concerns of the old brain to your advantage when writing a title. Let’s say you are working on a presentation about running and how it can affect your health. A headline aiming to address the old brain could look like this:

“A Ticking Clock: Running for Your Health”

When the old brain reads this presentation title, it thinks: What can I do to add time? I need to survive! By framing the presentation topic in a slightly negative manner and addressing a danger, this title identifies the subject matter through an appeal to one of the 3 concerns of the old brain.

2. Midbrain

While the old brain responds to base needs and desires, the midbrain performs an analysis of social cues – leading the charge in developing an individual’s emotional response to stimuli. A company called Native Advertising compiled a list of 1,072 words that spark interest in content. Each of these words falls into 4 categories: insight, time, space, and motion. After deciding the purpose of the presentation and the needs of the audience, a  presenter should consult this list to craft his or her presentation title. According to Native Advertising, insight words are utilized to relay more information or details, while time words give your message a particular time period to operate within. Space and motion words refer to size, location, and movement.

Aside from processing emotion through text, the midbrain also scans visual information – whether it be facial expressions and gestures or illustrative and graphic images. This means that it can be greatly impacted by slide design. According to research conducted by The Washington Post and Missouri School of Journalism, clean and clear design prompted readers to perceive content to be more interesting, enjoyable, and readable than poorly designed projects. On both a cognitive and emotional level, readers resonated better with good design over bad design. The midbrain will instinctively search for the attention-grabbing and emotion-producing element of a presentation title. So, presenters should consider the midbrain during title formulation.

3. New brain

According to Susan Weinschenk, the new brain rationally evaluates the content or object and constructs a more thoroughly-vetted observation, idea, or perspective of a stimulus. By the time a piece of content has resonated with the new brain, an extra layer of caution and thought has entered the game. It takes the ball that is your message and confidently attempts to shoot it through the hoop – the process of forming expectations about how your will progress past the first slide and on through to the last. In some instances, a presenter might need to evoke curiosity with his or her presentation title to create cognitive dissonance for the audience. Fashioning disparity between an individual’s expectations of the presentation and the actual message will dramatically increase the cognitive effect of your title. For example, utilize a visual metaphor in the presentation title to encourage event participants to perform a deeper evaluation and increase engagement with your message. The headlines created by Upworthy on a daily basis exemplify the power of curiosity. Cultivating 75,000 Facebook likes per article in 2013, the publication harnessed the weight of information-gap theory to reel readers into their posts. Carnegie Mellon’s George Loewenstein posited that curiosity abounds when a gap in knowledge occurs and the individual feels compelled to bridge the gap by consuming the information.


Source: Upworthy’s Headlines are Insufferable. Here’s Why You Click Anyway.

Make your audience want to “click” into your presentation by setting a tone ripe with mystery and curiosity.

Our triune brains – combining the functions of the old brain, midbrain, and new brain – are affected by content each and every day. And we respond to different things in different ways based on the function a piece of content is addressing. A presenter must take this knowledge and apply it to the opening slide a presentation in order to display a compelling cognitive creation that will be a subject matter identifier, attention-grabber, or expectation-creator. Present a title that accomplishes all 3 roles? You’ve hit the presentation title trifecta. To find out more about presentation openings, check out the links below:

The Complete Guide to Opening a Presentation

8 Simple Yet Powerful Types of Headlines

How to Introduce Yourself Before a Presentation

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