Do your talks’ titles bore people? Use “ABCD” headlines to grab attention – and keep it

Bored-looking young manIn this post, you’ll find 4 simple tips to make your presentations’ titles much more engaging than the ones most other speakers use. So people’ll turn up eager to hear your talk.

Plus, your clear and compelling title’ll help you too, by keeping you focused and on track.

As well as for a presentation, you can also use the tips from this post to improve the title of a training event, blog post, or e-book.

To skip to the tips and examples in the post, you can click these links Or, just read on.


What’s wrong with typical titles?

When you write the title for your presentation, do you usually just state what the content is, and maybe who it’s for and the date?

If so, I’d say that’s a big mistake! To help explain why, let’s look at a specific example

Imagine you’re presenting to some managers about a new process for claiming expenses. In that case, would you tend to write something like the following on your title slide?

“New expense process – Manager update, February 2018”

As with most titles, that’s mainly about thingsnouns like “expense”, “process” and an “update”. So it seems lifeless because it:

  • Just hints that the audience will take action. (After all, it doesn’t use any verbs.)
  • Focuses on the content – the “New expense process” – rather than the audience.
  • Mentions the speaking event itself (the “Manager update”, and the date that’s held) – which is often far less important to your audience than it is to you as the speaker. (Naturally, preparing for a talk’s a big deal for the speaker. But for the audience, the big deal is the effect (if any) that the talk has on their work or life – after the event.)

If you think about it, there’s another drawback with that title about the expense process:

Given that it says the process is new, and it mentions the date, if you use the deck many months later, you’d most likely need to update the title slide. And that’s something you shouldn’t need to worry about – or need to risk forgetting to do.


Improve your talk’s title – it’s easy as “ABCD”!

To overcome all those issues, how might you reword the title? Before you read on, see if you can come up with a better version – or 1 or 2 ways you might improve the original:

“New expense process – Manager update, February 2018”

Focus on what people should do with the content after the event

Here’s what I suggest

To engage people far more, focus on what people should do with the content after the event. That’s a lot more compelling to people than fixating on the topic and the speaking session.

So here’s a much better way you might word that title above:

“3 tips you can use for
hassle-free expense claims”

Do you think that version’s better? Livelier? More interesting? I know I do.

Make your talks’ titles audience-centred

Here’s how to apply a similar makeover to your own content – in a nutshell:

Make your talks’ titles audience-centred.

More specifically, try including any (or all) of these 4 items in your titles:

  1. Action: Focus on how people can act on your talk, not just listen passively. (So in our example, the title mentions “tips you can use”.)
  2. Benefit: Say how their lives’ll be better, like by being “hassle-free” in this case.
  3. Conversation: Use short, conversational words (especially “you” or “your”) – and maybe ask a question. That way, people’ll feel you’re talking directly to them.
  4. Digit: Mention how many takeaways you’ll give people – “3 tips” in our example.

So when you write your talk’s title, see how many of those 4 items you can include.

(Because Action, Benefit, Conversation, Digit begin with the letters ABCD – and end with either “-tion” or “-it” – hopefully that makes them easier to remember!)


Like to see another example?

Let’s look at a 2nd presentation title:

“Introduction to time management – March 2018 training session”

Why not see if you can reword that using the ABCD technique? After you’ve finished, compare your wording with what’s below

You might rewrite that title as something like this:

“Make more of your time – 5 awesome hacks”

Here’s how ABCD fits into that example:

  • Action: A verb like “make” is a good choice, as it’s so short and punchy. What’s more, being the 1st word in the title puts plenty of focus on it.
  • Benefit: “Make more of your time” presents a crystal clear value proposition. Plus, the phrase “awesome hacks” makes the content sound intriguing and helpful.
  • Conversation: Through the word “your”, the title speaks directly to the audience. It also omits the long words, notably “introduction” (which has 4 syllables) and the phrase “time management” (which is as long in total, and is all nouns).
  • Digit: There’s no doubt how many tips this talk includes – “5 awesome hacks”.


Over to you

So, I hope you find ABCD helpful as a quick way to improve your talks’ titles. Why not try it now, with one of your own talks? I’d love to hear how you go with it.

Or, how did you go with the examples? Got some ideas for how to word them differently?

If you’ve any suggestions, questions, or other feedback, please feel free to let me know in a comment below.

P.S. Are you working on a title for an upcoming talk? If you’d like some ideas, by all means say so, and I’d be happy to suggest some options.


Also check out

For more ways to title your talk (plus lots of examples), see Olivia Mitchell’s great post:
“How to write a presentation title that gets people flocking to your session”


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