Giving Your Speech a Title

Oprah at the Golden Globes (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

In the beginning I had no idea that I could make a career of delivering speeches. My first contact with a professional speaker was a telephone conversation with Robert Henry who became one of my favorite mentors. I remember the name of his most popular speech, “Win with ACES. “ ACES, of course, was an acronym with the letters standing for the beginning of each trait you needed to develop to be successful in life. He sold me on the importance of a catchy, intriguing title for my presentations. For me to be satisfied with a speech, I have to be satisfied with the title.

Each of the major speeches I have given numerous times over the years has what I consider an appealing title.  My presentation, “High Bid,” compares living life to an auction and that we are constantly selling ourselves by the way we speak and what we say. Another favorite of mine is “Never Stop Dancing,” which is a different way of saying you should never give up and should persevere.  Another presentation I have delivered many times is “Practicing Short Leaps,” which stresses that it  is not one big characteristic that helps in life, but the routine habits we develop.

Steve as auctioneer

Titles should be short and immediately connect to your signature story, film clip, or key quotation. For example, I demonstrate the auctioneer chant several times during the “High Bid” speech. In the “Never Stop Dancing” speech I begin with a short video clip of my dancing out of my last class when I retired from the university. The “Short Leaps” speech begins with the story of the lion who missed catching the hunter when he leaped over him. Then the hunter discovered the animal practicing his short leaps.

Titles should be repeated in some form several times in your presentation. This helps the listener remember the thrust of your presentation several days or weeks after they have been in your audience.

Oprah at the Golden Globes (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

At the Golden Globes awards last week, Oprah Winfrey used the title of her speech again and again to make her point: “Their Time is Up.”

I find that when you work on a powerful and memorable title that you sometimes think of an idea or example to add to your presentation; thinking of just the right title helps your mind go in a different direction that you might not have considered earlier.

Another benefit of working on the right title can help you make the organization and wording of your speech more concise.

I sometimes look at chapter titles in a nonfiction book because they can trigger a connection to words that might lead to a title. Reading titles in “Vital Speeches,” a compendium of representative speeches of various current subject matter, can be helpful for the same reasons.

Looking at the title of this article, you may conclude that I don’t take my own advice. Does the same go for written pieces? After reading this piece, I think maybe a better title would have been “Every Speech Deserves a Creative and Memorable Title.”

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
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. Contact Steve today for priority scheduling! (859) 441-6520 or email info@SBoyd.com

1 Comment

  1. Denny Krause says:

    Love it, Steve. Right down to your self-awareness in the last line. Very thought-provoking.

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