In conversation earlier today someone asked me about how to come up with a title for their talk. What’s the best kind of talk title, they wanted to know? Does it actually matter what you call your talk?
Anyone who’s been to a teachers’ conference knows how difficult it is to choose which talk or workshop to go to when there are a number of concurrent sessions. Everyone who’s ever spoken at a conference knows how horrible it is when too few (or sometimes too many) people come to your session.
There is nothing worse for any presenter than to have prepared a talk for ages and ages and then to arrive at a conference nervous as hell, only to have almost no one come to your talk. This has, by the way, happened to all of us. I once met a speaker at a conference in the UK who had flown in from Hong Kong. She is an impressive figure in her field, and I have enjoyed her articles. But when I met her she was almost incandescent with a mixture of rage, frustration and disappointment. Only one person had come to her talk. All that effort. All that pre-talk adrenalin! Funnily enough, at that same conference, on the suggestion of my friend Alan Pulverness, I attended a session on maritime English by an Italian presenter whose name I can’t ‘get’ right this minute. Alan and I were the only two people who went but I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable session I went to at that conference, and I think the presenter enjoyed herself too.
So how do you make the right session choice – or, for a speaker, how do you try to make sure that people do come to you talk? Of course if you are a ‘name’ you will probably get an audience of sorts (though even that is not always the case, and the feelings of insecurity, of having failed some kind of popularity test when you see your colleague’s session full – but not yours – is no less painful for the ‘experienced ones’ than for less well-know speakers). Perhaps it is WHAT you are talking about. Or perhaps it is what you CALL your talk.
Some time ago in the ELT Journal the editor, Keith Morrow, noted that the style of talk titles had settled into a kind of convenient ‘colon’ (my words, not his). You know the kind of thing ‘Bird on the wire: using telephoning in language teaching’. Would you go to a session like that? Would the title engage you? Would it entirely depend on the topic (i.e. whether you are or are not interested in telephone teaching – it’s big in France by the way).
I think that the best talk titles are ones that make you sit up and think. They’re punchy and intriguing, but at the same time they give you a clear hint about the content. But they have to draw you in somehow – make you laugh, challenge you, interest you etc. They can’t be too long (conference organisers don’t allow it anyway), but in those few words you have to make people want to poke their heads round the door to see what’s going on.
Let’s try a little experiment:
My first conference in the new year (well only’ mine’ in the sense that I will be speaking at it – along with many other rather more amazing speakers) will take place (this IS rather fun) on HMS Belfast, an ex-navy ship moored on the River Thames in London, close to Tower Bridge. What a great location! Here are some of the titles of the sessions on offer at that conference. My question is – which one do YOU think is the best, and why (try not to guess who the speakers are)? Is it because of the title or the topic? The title? You particular area of interest? Or what?
(I know which my favourite is, and it’s not my title by the way!)
- A quick pron test
- Brave bnew world – integrating IWBs into mainstream teaching
- Choosing and using video resources in the IH campus
- CLIL – What is in it for the language teachers?
- `Coursebooks – exploit and adapt
- Don’t throw things at teachers and other useful management tips
- EUROLTA – European Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
- Integrating Skills in the classroom
- Is managing teachers different?
- Language lab: learning English in virtual worlds
- Organisation, teaching: which is the odd one out?
- Six Big Ideas and One Little One
- Speak the speech I pray you: where fluency comes from
- SPEAK TO SOMEONE ELSE! The Problem with DoSes.
- Stress Relief for a Busy DOS and Staff
- The CLIL Band Wagon. Are we jumping on or off?
- The curse of creativity
- The Thief of Time – Organisation and Time Management
- Virtual language travel
- World Cup Winners – Making the most of South Africa 2010
Over to you!