I sometimes read the index of “Vital Speeches” just to look at speech titles. I find that if a speech has an unusual or humorous title, the speech is of better quality. I look at book titles and indexes for the same reason. This is simply my own intuitive response; I have no data to prove this.
Let me explain. I have always asked my students to give their speeches titles when they submit outlines to me before they speak. In listening to thousands of speeches, a catchy title more often than not was the beginning of a well-thought-out and engaging presentation.
In fact there have been times when I think of a title before I have the main thought in preparing the speech. I find that a title will give me ideas for the introduction and a theme I may use in deliering the speech. If nothing else, pondering a clever and relevant title will get the creative juices flowing for preparing my presentation.
There are a variety of ways to find the appropriate title. One is to examine the stories you might include. I have a speech entitled “Practicing Short Leaps” which is about motivating yourself; the little things you do make you get the most out of your day. I tell the story of a man who is on an African safari and on his way back to camp spots a huge lion just a short distance away. The lion sees him and prepares to leap at the man. At the same time, the man raises his gun to shoot. The lion leaps and the hunter shoots. Neither hits his target; the man escapes and returns to camp.
He realizes how close he came to dying so he decides to work on his marksman skills and is out behind the camp the next morning practicing. As he is shooting, he hears some rustling in the bushes. He looks and here is the same lion practicing short leaps. Seeing this title on the program, I believe, gives me better attention at the start of my speech because the audience wants to know what the short leaps are.
Another way to choose a title might be an exercise or some activity you may have the audience participate in during your speech. In my popular speech, “High Bid,” the thesis is that we sell ourselves each day to others by the way we speak and listen. I use an auctioneer’s chant at different times during the presentation and as part of my conclusion I actually have an auction where I auction off a uniquely painted hummingbird welcome sign to hang at the purchaser’s home. The victorious bidder donates his or her high bid money to a favorite charity. I make the connection between the potential of the hummingbird and each of us and conclude the speech.
Another way to choose a title is by a play on words. One of my most requested speeches is entitled “Be Present When You Are Present.” This presentation is about paying careful attention and the dangers of multi-tasking. An underlying principle is that if you are going to be a part of a meeting or a conversation, really be there. Don’t allow distractions such as cell phones or texting, but be single-minded with whatever the purpose of the activity or event might be. Be really present.
Certainly the title is not as important as other elements of a successful presentation such as organization, delivery, excellent main points, and engaging supporting material. But the great title will give you a competitive edge in the market place against the dull and uninteresting titles you find with many speeches.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.