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PUBLIC SPEAKING

Even Great Presentations Don't Always Get This One Detail Right

If your audience walks away remembering the theme of your talk, you've done your job. Here's one way to make sure it happens.
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Quick: How much time did you spend thinking of the title of your last presentation? I'd venture to say, not nearly enough.

Titles are important. My dad was an editor, and legend has it that sometime in 1955, a manuscript entitled Big Yeller Dog crossed his desk. He liked the book and decided to publish it, but he asked the author if he could change the title to Old Yeller. The author agreed, and the name is lodged in our collective psyches.

Titles sell. Gone With the Wind. From Here to Eternity. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. These are all great titles for presentations, too.

For instance:

"The Budget Surplus and the Bush Administration: or Gone With the Wind."

"Creating Customer Loyalty: From Here to Eternity."

"Comparative Online Dating Outcomes: or The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

Can you use good titles to set a tone for your presentations, without losing your buttoned-up professionalism? I think so.

I gave a talk once at the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association (PMSA) called "How to Get Brand Teams to Get Down on their Knees and Beg for More." I used the excuse that the meeting was in Nashville, and my talk needed to sound like a country and western song.

You can afford to jazz up your titles a bit. A good title sets the audience abuzz as it anticipates being entertained or intrigued. And the speaker can come back to the title throughout the talk if it serves as a theme. People may not leave humming the melody, but they might leave remembering the theme--which is a feather in the cap for any speaker.

And at the start, I like it when the speaker leaves the title slide up and delivers her opening so there's no new visual to distract me from my enjoyment of her beginning--that is, if she's done her homework and crafted a beginning designed to capture the attention of an audience.

The title of your talk should make people want to come hear it. If someone stops you in the elevator because you have a "Speaker" ribbon on your lapel and asks you, "What is your talk about?" you could say, "It's about unethical practices in the pest control industry and it's called 'Rat Finks on the Rise.' I hope to see you there."

And then, as you leave the elevator, you should turn and wink as the door closes.

Last updated: Apr 9, 2014

SIMS WYETH | Columnist

I'm a speech and presentation coach. I write speeches, work with executives on their content and delivery, run presentation skills workshops, and give speeches about speaking. My most recent book is The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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