Create a Conference Proposal the Conference Wants and Accepts, Part 6: Hook Your Reader with a Great Title

You might wonder why I don't start writing a proposal with a title. In my experience, a great title is something I need to ponder and experiment with. I do often start with a placeholder title.

When I developed this multitasking talk, I used this title:

Stop the madness. End the multitasking.

That was a good title to help me form my thoughts. It might not be such a great title for inviting people into my session—either the program committee or the participants at the conference. Why? I'm too close to telling people they're stupid for not being able to stop multitasking.

And, I find that what I plan to say changes as I work through the pieces of the proposal.

Titles Invite and Connect

The title is the single most important piece of the proposal. That's because readers see the title first.

A great title will:

  • Grab the reader's attention.
  • Invite the reader to read the abstract.
  • Connect with the reader in some way.
  • Help the reader remember your session when they get to the conference.

That's a lot of work for a title for a conference talk. And, it's a lot of work for less than a dozen words.

I've heard speakers say the title should be like “clickbait.” That doesn't fit for me.

Clickbait often uses hyperbole to get people to click on a link. Here are some examples:

  • Cutest kitten!
  • Groom can't believe what bride looks like…
  • Take this quiz to see what character you are…

I don't want my conference proposals to sound like or look like clickbait. I want people to click on my title because they want the content. Not because they can't help themselves.

I select a title to help people identify with the problems I can help them solve.

Titles Help the Reader Identify with the Problems You Solve

Because you've identified the problems people have and who those people are, you're already partway to a title.

I separate the title into two parts:

  1. Part 1: What problems do people want to solve?
  2. Part 2: What will they get if they solve those problems?

My current title for the multitasking talk is only okay. The first part, “Stop the madness” doesn't say much about multitasking. My current second part, “End the multitasking” is still part of the problems people want to solve. I'm not saying anything about what people get if they solve the problems.

That said, “Stop the madness. End the multitasking” isn't horrible. It's okay. Let's see if we can make it better.

I use title analyzers to see how good—or bad—my title is.

Check Your Possible Titles with a Headline Analyzer

I use two headline analyzers to check my titles. There are many more, but I've had good results with these:

Advanced Marketing Institute checks the “Emotional Marketing Value (EMV)” of your words. Here's what they say on the results page:

“… English language contains approximately 20% EMV words. And for comparison, most professional copywriters' headlines will have 30%-40% EMV Words in their headlines, while the most gifted copywriters will have 50%-75% EMV words in headlines.”

CoSchedule looks for word balance between Common, Uncommon, Emotional, and Power words.

The two analyzers return different results. That means I look for a balance between both of the analyzers.

As long as you check your headline, I suspect it doesn't matter which headline analyzer you use.

Create a Table of Results

Because I often discover I don't start with great titles, I create a table to track my ideas.

Here are the results for “Stop the madness. End the multitasking”:

  • CoSchedule gave it a score of 66. Not bad.
  • AmInstitute gave it a score of 33%, evenly split between Intellectual and Empathetic. Again, not bad.

I could stop there and have a pretty good title. However, I want to see my other options. I brainstorm between three and six more options before I start analyzing them. Here are the options I originally developed for the multitasking talk:

  • Say Yes—or Say No? What to Do When Faced with the Impossible
  • Say No to More Work
  • Visualize Your Work So You Can Say No
  • Measure Your Costs of Multitasking and Learn to Say No
  • Rationalize Your Work and Stop Multitasking
  • Say No to Multitasking and Keep Your Job

As I checked these titles, I also added this possibility:

  • Say No to Multitasking and Keep Your Job if You Want

And, here is the table that compares the scores:

I have a clear winner, “Say No to Multitasking and Keep Your Job if You Want.”

Was I surprised? Oh, yes. I thought some of the others were much better. I was wrong. And, I hadn't considered either of the “Say No to Multitasking …” alternatives until I looked at the two parts of the title again.

You might consider what I do: as I see what the headline analyzers say, I generate more options. That's how I got to the winning title.

I often set a 25-minute timebox to generate and check titles. That's because I sometimes get lost generating titles and I want to finish the proposal.

If you keep trying to generate titles and you can't create a title with a good score, try these ideas:

  • Use synonyms for the words you're currently using.
  • Use CoSchedule's prompts for the various kind of words, especially the power and emotional words. I tend towards the intellectual words, which doesn't grab people.
  • Contact a friend or colleague with this problem and ask this question, “What will you get if you solve this problem?”

I also take breaks and walk if I'm stuck.

Troubleshoot Your Titles

You generated a title. You love it. You're sure it's perfect. And, the headline analyzers don't like it.

Put that title into another document. Save and close that document. Yes, I'm telling you to save it somewhere else. That title if off-limits now.

When you talk to your friends or colleagues—or even when you deliver the session—you can ask people, “What do you think of that (off-limits) title for this session?”

If your friends and colleagues are like mine, they might actually say, “What were you thinking? I don't understand how that title links to what you're saying.”

Keep those friends. That's valuable feedback.

And, you might find that the title you can't use might be a catch-phrase of some sort. One of my original titles for the multitasking talk was, “Multitasking: the fastest way to slow everything down.” That's a great sentence for the presentation or the workshop. It's a horrible title. But, once people are in my session, they can see why multitasking slows everything down.

Consider These Prompts

When I'm under pressure and I need to get a title fast, I've used these prompts:

  • Some Number of Tips or Secrets to the problem people have. I try for an odd number.
  • Mistakes to Avoid When…
  • How to …
  • Some number of Laws. Again, try for an odd number, such as five.

Now, take another look at the problems people want to solve and what they will get if they solve those problems. How can you craft a title that might use Secrets, Tips, Mistakes, How to, Laws?

Titles are copywriting. The more you want to persuade people of something, the more it's worth your time to learn copywriting.

Write This Down

If you have trouble titling the way I do, consider creating a separate document or spreadsheet to track your title possibilities. Then, once you have a title that's at least good enough, add it to your proposal document.

  1. Make sure you generate at least six titles before you settle on one of them.
  2. Check the headline analyzer before you settle on a title.
  3. Select your “best” title, based on the headline analyzers and what you think. Be wary of overruling the headline analyzers. Add the title to your document with all the information.

One reminder about titles: Perfect is the enemy of the good. I recommend you spend not more than 25 minutes generating a title. With any luck, the program committee will offer feedback if they don't like the title.

Now you've got everything ready. You know which conferences you want to submit to. It's time to be ready for feedback.

The entire series:

I'm in the midst of collecting these posts and a few other words into a short book. The book (and the course) are not yet ready. I'll announce them when they are.

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