A simple lesson about titles

by morgan · 3 comments


If you’re a scientist who wants to get your work recognized, then the titles you put on your talks, papers, and grants matter.

Today I had a conversation related to my bike shop that illustrates this point (and how to do it) clearly.

My business partner is doing a tele seminar series on bike touring.  She named the first interview:

“Bike touring with Ross & Laura”

I took one look at the title, and the record playing in my mind came to a screeching halt.

Here’s the problem with that title.  Few people know who Ross & Laura are.

And that leads to a deeper problem: if you don’t recognize a word or a name, it invokes no emotion for you one way or another.  That equates to “boring.”

If I say the name “Obama” I’m sure you have an immediate emotional response (whether positive or negative).

Hence, if the title was a”Bike Touring With Barak Obama” you’d probably be at least a bit curious.

The same point goes for scientific talk titles.  They don’t often use names, but they do convey concepts.

Those concepts can be dry and boring and unfamiliar to most people – in which case your title is doing nothing to draw people to your talk.

Or those concepts can be interesting, intriguing, and clearly understandable.

With our bike touring example, we might change the above to:

“Learning to live with only what you can carry on your bike, and loving it”

If you’ve had any practice at all with the English language, there is nothing unfamiliar in this sentence, and in fact it uses several words that convey emotion.

So the next time you set out to write a talk title, make sure to use words that the majority of your potential audience will understand.  Better yet if those words convey that there’s something interesting to be had here.

I’d like to hear about your best and worst talk titles!  Please leave a comment with your ideas.



ps – Also, if you haven’t grabbed it yet, my report on the 5 critical steps to launch your career to the next level is over here at http://scifoundry.com

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