Have you ever walked up and down the stacks of the library or bookstore looking for something to read? As you saunter, your eyes come to rest on a book and you pull it off the shelf. What was it that compelled you to pick that particular book over hundreds of others? It was the title.
Every workshop, seminar, speech, blog, book and journal article has a title. It is how we name and introduce our work to the world. It is our first—and perhaps only—lure to snag a potential audience. Yet despite its importance, crafting the right title is typically overlooked and underrated. This integral component of our written and oral presentations merits thoughtfulness and creativity.
Here are five techniques for building a title that will bring your audience to their seats.
1 Create Intrigue
Curiosity is the spark that ignites engagement. Find one aspect, result or observation that is especially interesting about your topic and incorporate it into your title. The main challenge is in keeping your title relevant and related to your material. If it lacks a connection to the body of your work, you are simply using curiosity as a well-documented marketing ploy. For example, I could have titled this article, “A Good Presentation Title Increases Your Sex Appeal by 73%.” Undoubtedly, more people might read this article. But because the information they are seeking is irrelevant, they will finish the article feeling frustrated, angry and duped.
2 Ask a Question
When you pose a question in your title, it implies that the body of your work is going to provide the answer. Most people are drawn to resolve; there is great satisfaction in having a problem untangled. By posing a question, you are letting your audience know, in advance, that their time invested will be well spent and gratifying. For example, I could have named this article, “Can You Meet the Challenge of Creating a Great Title?”
The brain operates optimally when it has finite chunks of information to digest. Offering a defined number in your title—three cures, five mistakes, 10 secrets—gives the potential audience the assurance that they will receive a delineated outline of information. Enumeration draws an audience because it pre-defines the outcome. Success, in this case, is not defined by the quality of the content, but rather, by the quantity of the content. Case in point: I could have easily named the title of this article, “Five Ways to Increase Your Presentation’s Visibility.”
The challenge to enumeration is keeping the numbers manageable. Although “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (the title of the 1975 hit song by Paul Simon) is exciting, it would take a long time to get through a list that long.
4 Elicit Humor
Humor is a universal connector, capable of drawing people together from all walks of life. Its upbeat nature tied to the human condition resonates with all ages and all professions. It provides a safe environment for topics ranging from the casual to the controversial. To illustrate, I could have named this article, “I Stayed Up All Night to Write the Perfect Title … and Forgot to Hit Save.”
The challenge with humor is making sure that it is appropriate for your material. Topics that invoke human suffering, such as cancer or the plight of refugees, don’t resonate well with a funny title.
5 Highlight Your Audience
People like to feel special. You can leverage this desire by pre-defining who you want to engage as an audience. You craft a title that appeals directly and specifically to them. For example, if you are presenting to engineers, you can employ a title such as, “Expert Engineers Can Master the Art of Provocative Titles.” Similarly, I could have given this article the title, “A Toastmaster’s Dream: Creating a Title That Pleases Everyone.” The challenge in employing this technique is that it can inadvertently alienate people who might truly benefit from your expertise.
You have invested time, energy and passion in your work. Your words deserve recognition. The right title will help bring many eyes and many ears to your voice.