Take home message

A take home message can only be one item. We cannot remember more than three new items and most people at a presentation are not actively trying to memorise things. So even three is too many. The latest fashion of a closing slide entitled “Take Home Message” is just fashion, not effective. Worse when there are multiple messages. Even worse when there are multiple slides. There can be only one take home message.

Fashion is a fickle thing, whether it is leggings, ripped jeans or hipster beards. Things become popular, not because of function, but because everyone else is doing it. The same is true in the presentation world. Tiny references (like in a journal), pie charts and “take home messages” are the latest fashion disasters in the presentation world. We copy them…to be like other people. They are not there because of function, whatever function we retro-fit to them.

Of course, it is good practice to summarise a presentation before drawing to a close. The key word there is “before”. Once the argument, the explanation, the justification has been summarised and explained, the piece should be closed with the punchline, challenge or answer to the question posed at the outset. This is a conclusion. That means the end, not multiple ends (or conclusions) as that simply doesn’t make sense. The conclusion is what should be taken home. A list can never be a take home message. It is not effective to end on a list. The last item on the list, not the first, will, of course, be the one retained. This is usually the least important. Lists cannot be retained unless active learning strategies are engaged by the audience and this is seldom the case during a presentation. And please don’t end just saying “thank you.”


A take home message is emblematic of the belief that a presentation is a data download. It attempts to distil the message. This is in reasonable for a single message. That the distillation ends with a list, however, merely highlights the perceived need for data. A presentation is about the audience and turning the “what” of a list into the “so what” of a take home message. There can be only one take home message.

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