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Un-Burying The Lead - Creating Slides That Stick

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Every slide in a presentation should reveal an important insight to the audience, and a big mistake we tend to make is "burying the lead".

Burying the lead is a common phrase used in journalism to indicate that the most important insight has been buried deep inside the article (or worse unsaid), such that the reader will probably miss it. It is a common mistake due to the fact that the journalist is too close to the subject matter, gets distracted by the details, and is unable to communicate the key point to the reader. Result: the reader not only misses the insight, but forgets the details as well. Chip Heath, one of the authors of "Made to Stick" illustrates this wonderfully using an example from journalist Nora Ephron's life.

We all sit through countless presentations a week - how much of it do you retain 5 minutes after sitting through them? How about after 1 day? Are you guilty of subjecting your audiences to forgettable presentations? I'd argue that one key reason is the problem of burying the lead.

Let's demonstrate how we can "unbury" the lead at the level of a single slide - in other words, let's take a couple of forgettable slides and covert them into ones that will stick.

Example #1



Example #2



For more examples, check out this excellent slide creation guidebook by Garr Reynolds: Sample slides by Garr Reynolds


Try the following recipe to un-bury the lead for a handful of your existing slides. Use this as a checklist for your future presentations.

  1. Identify the lead or the key insight you would like the audience to take away. If you fail to identify the lead, you should probably kill the slide, or at least move it to the appendix.

  2. Modify the title to reflect the lead. Avoid the temptation to cram the entire "story" in the title, only reveal enough to hook the audience.

  3. Re-organize the slide content in service of the new title. Provide data or explanation to back up the assertion, as well as the solution if appropriate.

All feedback, comments and criticism are welcome. Please let me know what you think of these recommendations via LinkedIn.


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