70 comments on “What’s in a name? Do presentation titles matter?

  1. Best title: Organisation, teaching: which is the odd one out?
    One I’d be most interested in going to (because of topic): Is managing teachers different?

  2. Actually in response to the wider issue, if it was just on titles, I’d definitely go to the first one I mentioned, because I’d be fascinated to find out what it was about and what angle was going to be taken. In practice I’d probably read the abstract first and that might answer all the questions I had, and I’d end up going to one with a less intriguing title.

    • I agree with Andy, that it’s the abstract that will probably decide. But – given a lot of titles and abstracts at any one conference – it’s the snappy, fun title that will draw you on to read the abstract. Of the list that you cite, I’d be flicking through to find the abstract for “The curse of creativity”, if only because it flies in the face of logic.

      On another note, I’ve noticed that whenever I do a talk with the word “grammar” in the title, I get a surprisingly good turn-out. I’ve also noticed that when colleagues give a talk with “motivation” in the title, they also get a queue round the block. The obvious thing, then, might be to combine the two, e.g. “Motivating grammar activities” or “How to increase motivation through grammar” or some such. Any one else noticed any other buzz words that always seem to draw a crowd?

      • Yes…

        Fun, Games, Practical, Young Learners, Monday mornings… Something like “Fun & Practical: Games for Young Learners” would get a large audience, I think…

        It depends on the overall conference audience, of course. I always presume that people at conferences probably have a bag full of ‘grammar’ and ‘activities’ and things in their repertoire, but that may not actually be the case.

        At the end of the day, of course, audience numbers are driven by a huge variety of variables (time of day, conflicts of interest, parallel speakers…


      • Hi Scott,

        yes, that’s absolutely my opinion. Catch them with a title and then perhaps they’ll read the abstract (and with the design of some conference programmes that’s quite an issue!)

        Yes, the curse of creativity appeals to me too (as a title).

        Congratulations on your modesty, by the way 🙂

        Looking forward to other buzzwords! Is that a matter of fashion, do you think?


      • Scott, I think grammar might be a better draw for you for three reasons.
        1. How to Teach Grammar.
        2. Uncovering grammar.
        3. Natural grammar.

        All three books would make excellent titles for talks, and shouldn’t surprise with success: grammar is to native teachers like pronunciation is to non-native teachers. (a source of fear of inadequacy.)

    • Thanks Andy, snow-bound!

      Yes, I guess that’s the next thing to consider; how do you write a successful/attractive abstract?

      But at least one of these titles (2) caught your attention, and that’s good.


  3. Hi, Jeremy, and thanks as always for a thoughtful and considered post. I was a little disconcerted, however, to reach the end and see that the title of a talk I am also giving at the IHWO DoS Conference [which I am also looking forward to, hope I get my sea legs…] is included in a sort of popularity / ranking exercise. This is now making me very nervous indeed, and will have the same effect, I imagine, on both experienced and novice speakers were they to be readaing this. After the [somewhat heated] discussions on your earlier posting, I’m rather surprised to see that the ‘popularity contest’ aspect has not really gone away as I had hoped it would. Or perhaps I am being over-sensitive?? [better get that in first…!!]

    • Hello Maureen,

      I really didn’t mean this to be a ‘populariry’ contest. I mean my title is in there too, and not likely to win any favours!! Actually already in an an hour or so people are tlaking interestingly about what good titles are for. I will of course take the post down if you feel I should, but I thought a kind of ‘blind tasting’ would be a good place to get the conversation started without givint the speakers’ names – both well-known and not so well-known. I wouldn’t have posted the list if I wasn’t, too, up there for ‘not winning’!!

      But my motivation IS more serious than ‘popularity. Honest.


    • I didn’t see it as a popularity/ranking exercise, Maureen. Just an investigation into the power of titles. I think if we’d been asked to say which of them was the worst one, then maybe it would start to get problematic.

  4. I’d go for “Don’t throw things at teachers, and other useful management tips”, not because I’m necessarily into management, but because it sounds like it has the potential to be both useful and entertaining, and I happen to like that combination (useful and entertaining, that is) than the more dry “here’s exactly what I’m going to talk about’ title.

    The ‘colon’ argument is pretty accurate, I’d say – must be over 50% of conference titles these days. I spend a lot of time on titles, and I like a good pun. Next year I’ll be wheeling out a new talk based on a collection of surveys, blog posts and tweets which explores attitudes to technology in various parts of the ‘industry’, from teachers, through trainers, writers, exam bodies, etc. The title I plumped for in the end is “They Just Can’t Handle IT: Attitudes to Technology” You’ll note I’ve got a colon in there (excellent!) and a pun, and a bit of mystery – who are ‘they’? Now, if I could only find some time to sort out the content…

    I suppose I scan conference programmes for titles to begin with, but I’d never decide to go to a session based on the title alone. Tha abstract has to be good, relevant (to me) and promise something. The title helps, but I’d say it’s low down in selection criteria, at least for me.

    As for talks with small audiences, yes – we’ve all had them. One of the best talks I ever went to was at an IATEFL years ago. Two of us in the audience, and the speaker had us spellbound for the while period, and aching to ask questions. Which brings me back to an ongoing point of mine recently – it’s not all about the numbers… quality, not quantity.

    Nice post!


  5. I also like the “Don’t throw things at the teacher…” title. But I agree with others here that it’s the abstract that decides me, and the speaker’s context (either that I know them and want to see/support, or they are from a context that is interesting to me or so completely alien that I go just to be educated).

    Gotta say that Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly have always been very good at the clever puns in titles or workshops or articles, often to do with technology.

    One of my favourite talk titles was at IATEFL Cardiff a few years ago when English as a Lingua Franca was breaking onto the stage. It was called “Dobby or Legolas: What kind of ELF do YOU want to be? or something similar. I missed the talk though, regretfully.

  6. Hi Gavin,

    glad you are still around (after taking a vow of omerta over Christmas).

    I like your punning title for next year. But I think that ‘useful and entertaining’ sounds good to me. Then it’s down to the abstract.

    Now what makes a good abstract? That’s going to be the next question.


    • Ah well Jeremy, my vow of omerta is more about keeping my own blog and tweeting and being obliged to sit in the shop window in the Reeperbahn of the blogpsphere showing enough intellectual cleavage in order to get as much attention as the ones lifting their tops up… never said I wasn’t going to comment on other blogs…

      Ho, ho, ho – as they say (it is Christmas, after all – and there’s another pun…)


  7. Dear Sirs,

    I hope you won’t mind my reminding you that you’re speaking from the (here we go again!) NESTs’ and plenary speakers’ point of view, which differs a lot from that of most of the non-NEST participants’ – workshop presenters or not… (Very few non-NESTs would have a plenary presentation, but that’s a different discussion.)

    The average conference participants would choose the workshop they want to see mainly based on:
    – the name of the presenter: NESTs would always have larger audiences than non-NESTs, irrespective of how appealing the title sounds
    – the presenter’s reputation: the higher his ‘position’ in world ELT, the larger the audience (to be seen in concurrent sessions with two or more NESTs and non-NESTs presenting at the same time)
    – previous experience with certain presenters: some use very appealing titles but their workshop is disappointingly improvised while others have really good workshops with not so inspiring titles, in which case it’s the name of the presenter that matters most
    – (last but not least,)the presenter’s charisma – I know this is not a solid criterion, but it’s there all the same…

    Going back to the topic of your post, Jeremy, if the title is the only criterion to apply when choosing the workshop to see (and we had no other clue about it i.e. abstract, presenter etc), participants would have a hard time making their choices, all of them for the most unexpected reasons…

    I agree with Scott, ‘motivation’ and ‘grammar’ sound appealing and I would add ‘ICT’ (be it ‘teaching with or without’). I have also noticed that, the more ‘humane’ (unsophisticated) the title sounds, the larger the audience.

    My pick from your list: ‘Organisation, teaching: which is the odd one out?’ – intriguing, I would expect to find out new (to me) tips on class management and/or long term/lesson planning.

    Oh, I forgot! The successful combination for a plenary speaker or workshop presenter is: NEST + male + reputed + charming + organised + to-the-point. The title wouldn’t matter that much! I suggest you try this: give your next presentation the title “…” and see what happens.

    So what’s in a name? A hint, an idea, an expectation. What’s in presenter’s name? Well, that’s a totally different perspective!

    Thank you for the post!


    • Hi Melania,

      thank you so much for your comments. You raise a number of big issues.

      The first, of course, is the prominence of NEST (usually male) speakers who dominate the presentation world of EFL. How depressing that is.

      No, wait; I will have to clarify that. I have certainly benefited personally from being a male NEST (I mean in the sense of giving talks). And it is certainly true that I have sometimes chosen a ‘name’ to go and listen to because, frankly, I am too lazy to really hunt out an interesting presentation.

      And of course, past experience has a lot to do with it. If you decide that someone is a really good presenter then you tend to go and listen to or him again.

      But (to come back to your original point), I hope and believe that teachers are becoming more discerning and hunting out interesting talks and topics rather than just a bunch of ‘familiars’.

      But of course this is a difficult area for me because I quite like being a ‘familar’ – and no one wants to speak to an empty room!

      In the end I think teachers’ conferences around the world need a judicious balance of outside experts and internal knowers; between (this always concerns me) men and women, Maybe we should write a ‘conference charter’ about this.

      Because in the end there is absolutely no guarantee that a NEST presenter is going to be any good! It all depends on the pedagogic abilities and their ability to engage with a group.

      Thanks for raising all thse issues.


  8. Dear Gentlemen,

    You are all ‘names’ so let me tell you what a regular teacher attending conferences takes into consideration while choosing a talk.

    First goes the abstract and the target audience. I usually choose something I’m interested in or can benefit from. The title is of secondary importance.

    What is crucial is how it’s written. Having read an abstract, I’d like to know what I can learn by choosing a particular presenter’s seminar. Practical solutions to problems or ideas is what most regular teachers look for.

    Sometimes it’s good to experiment and choose something with a catchy, intriguing title but then if it turns out to be different than you expected, disappointment follows.

    It’s a great idea to talk about something nobody else does i.e. about some sort of a niche subject. I attended one in Hungary and here I am now – posting a comment on Jeremy Harmer’s blog 😉

    Also, if an abstract grabs your attention, it doesn’t matter whether the speaker is famous or not. Personally, my first option will be somebody I listened to before and whose talk gave me a lot food for thought.
    So if a ‘name’ fails, the chance is I won’t attend his session again.

    Hope you find it helpful 🙂


    • Hi Anita,

      I am very pleased that a ‘niche topic’ presentation brought you, indirectly, to this blog!

      well you will be pleased to see (as I am) that the gender balance is improving on these comments pages!!

      Secondly you send a shiver through me (if a name ‘fails’….aaaaahhhh)

      But I am very pleased indeed to see you (as others here) focus on the abstract, and who the session is for. I certainly do that except when I am being really lazy (see my answer to Melania).

      Still the title (like the first line of a novel) has to draw you in to WANT’ to read the abstract, I think?


  9. Aye Aye Captain! On a ship no less – hope you don’t get seasick. Word of caution: don’t dance on a ship that’s moving. I did it once and my legs were unusable for days! If they try to make you – just jump overboard and save yourself : )

    Now back to the serious question in hand. I would say I’ve gone through a sort of phased development on this. As an NQT, the title of the talk was much more important to me. When I started going to conferences and I would say that I selected things purely on those grounds because I didn’t know any of the presenters and was a newbie plus my needs were much more orientated towards classroom practice – so I would have been in all the sessions on skills, grammar etc. Plus I was only ever there for a day – sort of rushing in and out. And I always went to any talks that were on critical topics like racism and sexism (which in those days were almost absent so that wasn’t difficult!).

    Then I moved on to reading the abstracts and selecting things based on a deeper look at my favourite issues (i.e. something a bit quirky about the way said issue was examined) and the excitement of the expanding critical input at EL conferences, developments in ELF. I always follow, for eg, the GISIG thread at IATEFL, but might not go to all the sessions, but the SIG identification was a sort of guide (though not always ‘accurate’ and therefore the abstracts were/are still important). I also went to talks of those speakers I had previously enjoyed, even if the topic wasn’t one that really fired me up. Because I figured they would do something interesting with it – which they normally did. And I still do that. So if I saw Bonny Norton doing something on “100 uses of the phone book in teaching”, I would still go because Bonny would make that work I am sure : )

    Now I would say that partly though having exhausted myself at a few conferences through trying to attend too much, and having refined my interests, I am much more preoccupied with the precise nature of the talk and mostly use either the abstracts or pre-conference research to make decisions. I spend much more time with the pre-programme than I used to and try to get a balance between practice and theory – I still use the SIG tracks at IATEFL. But I also always do a kind of one per day wildcard which is a talk that is off the track of my interests. Just like others have mentioned here, sometimes these can be the best talks of all.

    So all in all, I guess titles are not that important to me (sorry for such a long preamble). Though I do struggle when deciding titles for my own talks. Always feel trapped in the need to sound zappy but also not wanting to do a disservice to critical subject matter (which is what I tend to do these days I guess). Its a hard balance to strike! Where titles are more important is in perhaps things lik discussions forums, symposiums etc because there I would want to know what is pulling it all together.

    Hope that is helpful.

    • Hello Sara,

      thanks for shipboard advice!! I think I’ll probably pitch up at the beginning for a welcome cocktail – and that after flying in from Mexico that day. So even though the ship is moored, I will have to be extra careful.

      Your comments – especially your ‘progress’ – are really interesting. I am interested in two ideas, especially: firstly the fact that conference-goers bring their own interests to a programmer and sometimes the speakers can do their best with titles and abstracts, but they will always miss some of the people who just aren’t interested their topics. Secondly, I love the idea of ‘one wildcard’ per day. Some of the best talks I’ve attended (like the maritime English one I mentioned in the original post) have been like that.

      Of course the ability of the speaker/workshop leader is absolutely vital too. I always find myself at foreign conferences asking people to tell me who the speakers are to help me inform my choice.

      But in the end I guess it always the topic (and that comes from the abstract via the title?)


      • Yes I think it’s the title and the abstract – I wouldn’t be good at deciding just on title anymore. And then it’s how well the abstract expresses what’s going to be covered (as you said, what makes a good abstract is a whole other discussion). Speaking personally I am more in favour of summaries. Not because I want to cut short what people might want to say, but because a summary provides me with the ‘essence’ of a talk that perhaps the title can’t as a title can’t include all, but an abstract can sometimes lose its way and get too ‘baggy’. As your ship is going to be in dock, sounds like you can dance your socks off with no ill effects (or maybe the cocktail sounds more relaxing!)

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    “The curse of creativity” stays in my mind after a quick glimpse. There is a “hook” in that title, which somehow conflicts with your perception or expectation. That kind of title works for me and will draw me to the abstract in no time. I think if i can find something really relevant to my own experiences or doubts in the abstract, or if the presenter promises i can have some take-aways after the presentation, i will turn up in time.

    One big difference between a conference presentation and a institution lecture, i think, is that the audience expect a “click” from the presenter’s special interpretation of some idea they misunderstand, ignore, or take for granted.We may feel the sign of a “click” in the title and the abstract if we are lucky!

    Thank you for this topic!

    • Hello Xiaobing,

      yes I like the creativity title too – precisely because it has the hook that you mentioned. It sounds wrong (as Scott says above) and so intrigues. Of course, as others have been saying, you then read the abstract and try and think about who the presenter is.

      I like the idea of being able to find something ‘really relevant to my experiences or doubts’. Plus you want ‘take-aways’ too. That’s quite a big ask!

      I am hoping to have a guest blogger here in the new year talking about her first semester’s experience as a university lecturer. How important is the ‘click’ factor there I wonder?



  11. Best title: Six Big Ideas and One Little One

    By the way, nice advert for Braz-Tesol in July (featuring hi-res pic of you and David Crystal) coming out in Brazilian ELT Mag “New Routes” soon!

    BFN, G.

    • Hi Graeme,

      thanks for your choice. That kind of snappy? Intriguing? title would, presumably, make you want to read the abstract at the very least?

      High-res pics of David Crystal and me? I am not worthy, frankly. He is still (and will probably remain) the best university lecturer I ever had. But I am looking forward to Braz-Tesol!


    • Catchy, yes, Graeme, but aren’t these titles beginning “7 things I like about X” or “My 6 favorite Ys…” getting a bit over-worked? Especially since the success of Lindsay Clandfield’s (darned) blog. 😉

      • I think what’s appealing about the 6 or 7 things titles is that the talk is divided up into manageable segments rather being a long monologue about one thing. It also has a list quality to it which is very appealing to the over-worked mind of a conference-goer.

  12. I like the “Don’t throw away things at teachers’ title and the “Six big Ideas” one but I would probably not go to the first one and would look at the abstract of the second one really carefully just to see if the content is of interest to me and if there is something new being presented that I should pay heed to. I see conferences as places to air new ideas; not places to rehash teacher training sessions which we do on a CELTA or some such course. That’s what we do every day, not what we should be presenting at conferences.

    So, new ideas or new perspectives are important and I look for them in the abstract.

    Certainly the sense of humour of the presenter implied by a title like this is intriguing. There is an assumption that the speaker just might have a good sense of humour and the the talk might be entertaining as well as informative.

    Having said that, if some important applied linguist or presenter did not have a catchy title but I thought a lot of their work, I would go anyway (again, given abstract indicated interesting content).

    As a conference goer who has seen many well-known as well as lesser known speakers at conferences, I think that very good speakers are not the rule, they are the exception, and when I find one, I follow them around! Staying power in my memory is one indicator! I have been rummaging around in my brain for the last few minutes and the pickings are rather thin.

    I have no idea how Jeremy’s question turned into a discussion of NEST vs NNEST speakers. If that is how it’s going, I fear for my safety in a NEST full of male, well-known, native speaking well, erm… people.

    Coming from the low end of that spectrum, female, non-native, Greek and very Unfamous, I wonder if there is time for me to change the title of my talk at Harrogate with something catchier, snappier which would draw at least five people, six would be OK too, into my talk!

    I now find it so very boring! Help!

    • Marisa I will be at your talk because of who you are – you are *not* at the low end of any spectrum that I know of! Your profile is exactly the kind of thing that would attract me to come and see you – so it works both ways : )

    • Marisa,

      I’m sorry, I seem to have broken some rules here and I need to reassure everyone that it was not my intention to hurt anyone’s feelings! I’m so sorry!

      Jeremy, if you think it necessary, please remove my comment.


      • Hi Melania,

        I don’t tink you have broken ANY rules. Your comments were really interesting – and raised the difficult issue of male NESTS and their/our ‘over-preponderance’ as conference speakers.

        Everyone knows, however, that while some MNs (see above) are entertaining etc you ofetn find the purest gold in other places!!


      • Melania,

        I was merely jesting…please rest assured that all these surface shortcomings,have never actually stopped me from standing up for the great cause of NNEST’s against NEST’s (short for nasties)…

        Marisa 🙂

        P.S. And for anyone who didn’t get it this was supposed to be a joke. You can laugh now.

    • Unfamous? You? Mais non Marisolde! Certainly not to those of us who inhabit SL! I agree with all your comments and wish I could come to the conference, even as an ‘outsider’! The collection of titles sounds great. (Gosh – hope my grammar is correct given this erudite company!)

  13. Hello Marisa,

    I can only echo Sara’s comments – in that your profile is exactly the kind of interesting one that should make people come and listen to you. I do not think you are any lower end of any spectrum – and I have to say the Twittersphere and the Blogosphere, despite everything that happened last week (!!!) is wonderfully liberating in that sense.

    I completely agree with the idea that a catchy title indicates a speaker with some spark, with some sense of humour. But then the abstract. I think that’s the next post (i=unless something else gets in the way!)

    I also like to follow speakers who have previously engaged me. A bit like following on Twitter, perhaps!


  14. The Thief of Time – Organisation and Time Management

    I like this title, no colon but there is a dash of something! I expect to learn about “Organisation and Time Management” though and not about stealing time, therefore, I don’t need to read the abstract….. right?

    This is a very interesting post and I have a relevant and recent story to tell about “Titles” for two workshops I attended this year in different countries.

    The first workshop was titled “Freemium something something something” I can not remember the title exactly but, it was basically a best of list of 50 sites with great content for teachers to use. I did not read the abstract beforehand because I knew what freemium was and that was enough to hook me.

    The workshop was great, the speaker was full of energy and pep which is just what we needed for the first workshop on a Saturday morning. I have no idea how many others skipped the abstract but the room was over full and standing room only! It was really great.

    Fast forward to another country in another workshop. Again, I went with the title which was “Twitter something something something”. You might think I am really into workshops called something something something… No, I just remember the keywords. Well it turns out, this workshop was conducted by the same presenter who presented the “Freemium …” workshop a few weeks earlier. I was obviously excited about going to this one too.

    Here is were the train derails….. Within fifteen minutes of the start of this not so full workshop, 3 people stood up at different times and walked out. The speaker was just as dynamic as before, the topic was just as interesting but something was not right. It was the exact same presentation, same gags, same slides, same everything. One person asked when he was going to talk about Twitter. Twitter got about 2 minutes of coverage. Two hand waves a bat of the eye and the workshop continued.

    I think this says a lot about titles, peoples expectations, and how many read the abstract fine print. I would recommend this workshop to anyone but not with the title “Twitter something something something”

    So, the importance of the title stands. It needs to be right-on or have enough mystery to force you to read the abstract.

  15. Hi Kenny,

    (and welcome)

    Yes that story does make a good point. Do ‘what it says on the tin’, otherwise people get a bit fed up.

    But the ‘audience’ have the responsibility to read the abstracts too, I think?


    • Indeed the audience is responsible for reading the program but, fact is, they don’t do it all the time so it should not be misleading.

      If the tin says anchovies it better be fishy and salty. Otherwise, they might just walk out. I stayed because it felt too rude to get up and leave, I suppose others felt the same way too. That is never the impression you want to leave behind.

      • What about the audience responsibly reading the program and choosing the presentation which announced “ICT in the classroom” and ending up with a 50-minute commercial presentation of CD-Roms accompanying the course books on sale by some publishing house? How disappointing can that be? Been there, seen that! Couldn’t leave the room for the same reason you couldn’t: it would have been rude.

      • I feel tricked when I have decided to go to a presentation with an interesting title and abstract only to discover it’s a sales pitch for the latest book by the author. I think this really sucks biiiig time! Especially when I have paid to go to that conference!!!

      • I know what you mean, Marisa… Consider, however, how yuck it is when you’re the author and you’re the one doing the ‘tricking’, because your publisher knocked back the original idea for a presentation you had, and ‘edited’ your proposal and abstract to generate something more sales oriented (without looking like it in the conference book).

        Then imagine doing that 2-3 times a day for a whole week in a foreign country…

        Sometimes you have to fight to get any sense of balance (between genuinely educational/innovative and sell sell sell), and to be fair to the publishing folk: (1) they’re paying the espenses, and (2) most of the time they have to write out horrible swathes of reports proving to someone with an MBA somewhere that the conference presentations they just put on were a ‘good investment’ of the company’s time and money.

        Major international publishers are losing ground in sales to smaller local publishers all over the world (not to mention this online elephant in the boardroom corner), and one of the results is tremendous pressure on their sales and marketing staff to illustrate fairly directly how any event or author they put on will translate to direct sales or market penetration. It’s no longer good enough to say you’re enhancing the company’s brand with teachers – the company wants evidence and results. So long as this continues, I’d say it’s pretty safe to say you’re only going to see more of this ‘bait and switch’ approach. Not so sure it’s a good move, though, as I think it turns more teachers off going with a book or series if they feel they’re somehow being carrotted in to watch something.


      • Yes Marisa and Jason, this is a constant headache.

        I find it so difficult to promote my books. Never been good at it.

        But if you HAVE to I think you have to be able to say at the end that even if the teachers are not interested in your book, still they will have come away with something which is useful for them. You have to be able to say to the publishers ‘yes they do now know a lot about the book and they will probably look at it with more interest now, but they also had a great time and the learned/thought about some issue on language teaching as well’

        Trouble is, it’s really difficult to pull that one off!


      • Hi Kenny,

        yes, I have certainly stayed when I wanted to get out of there – but leaving seemed like too aggressive and de-stabilizing an act.

        But I agree that as speakers we should probably do what we say we are going to do. Otherwise people can get pretty fed up with us.


  16. I like puns and fun in titles but if the pun is too far fetched it puts me off.
    However my interest of the moment mostly determines my choice. So I’ll probably go for “is managing teachers different” ? because we have a new course for French teachers at the moment, and I find it interesting!
    So in fact I would say a good title is important, but eventually, the content prevails.
    Finally I must say I really like both title and content in this post!

    • Hi Alice,

      thanks for coming along.

      Yes I agree that going ‘too far’ is unappealing. But the content (in the abstract?) is important?

      Thanks for your nice words.


  17. Melania :
    What about the audience responsibly reading the program and choosing the presentation which announced “ICT in the classroom” …


    I thought ICT meant “Interactive Change Transfer” from your coin purse to theirs… That is the best acronym I could create this late at night 😉

    I guess that is one good reason for all the feedback forms that go around at these events.

    • Hahaha, well you’re closer than the presenter himself! In the first 5 minutes of his workshop, he wanted to make the audience distinguish between media and ICT, he showed us this slide and asked: “Does anyone know what ICT stands for?”
      “Yes,” I said, “it stands for Informational and Communication Technologies.”
      He frowned, I had managed to spoil the joke he had prepared for us on the next slide: “ICT – In Computers Trust!” I was stunned at the good joke!
      He then showed the next slide, put things straight about ICT, killed me with a cold glance and announced for the third time: “This is not a commercial presentation, but if you buy these books, they come with these CD-Roms… etc…”

  18. Jeremy,

    I really love that you explore many presentation aspects in your blog posts. I am fascinated to learn more about what makes a great abstract. I tried researching this today and found very little in writing abstracts for presentations versus papers.

    When I pick a topic to visit it is honestly based on:

    1. The speaker- if I paid so much for the conference and I already read their books and blogs and understand their material then the rest really does not matter for me. I know certain speakers I paid to see and if the plenary is giving a workshop I usually attend this as well. This doesn’t mean I necessarily see speakers with published books. I will attend presentations from those in my PLN, because I have read their blogs, like Marisa’s outstanding blog, and am interested in their projects and enjoy what I have learned from them already.
    2. The speakers my ELT companions recommend.
    3. The subject matter and this usually means this will be a technology topic because this is what I am mostly interested in. In these cases, the abstract is what I read.

    In most cases, I have not been disappointed by following these guidelines.

    • Hi Shelley,

      thanks for your comments.

      Yes, speaker + topic is a pretty good combination.

      The best thing is that yu have not been disappointed (much)! I wonder if that ahs something to do with your attitude. There are teachers who walk into sessions with a ‘I’ve seen it all before’ attitude.

      I am now really looking forward to conferences like ISTEK because I will get to meet all these PLN people who have suddenly appeared in my life!!!


  19. Hi Jeremy
    I quite like the “Six Big Ideas and One Little One”. It reminded me of a title called “7 things beginnig with M”.That was by Scott Thornbury at IATEFL Cardiff.It was a great session! I remember he said he could have a series of titles like this afterwards.e.g. 6 things beginning with N etc. I understood he was joking when he said that, but I really like this idea. It would save a lot of time by sticking to a certain “template”.

    I also like “The curse of creativity” too. I agree with all the others who have put their reasons here.

    When choosing a presentation, I have to admit that I go for the presenter name first, and then the suitable audience. After that it is the title and the abstract. Why is that? As Jeremy said,”being lazy” to choose sometimes.

    When I want to try a new presenter,I may do some “detective work”. I ask others who have already attended his/her session. I may get some ideas if it is worth going. It’s “word of mouth” effect.

    My problem with writing a title is that my level of English confines me. I am struggling all the time when I plan a new presentation. I often has the “down to earth” titles like “10 YL classroom activities”. They are rather dull and dry, but that is all I can do for the time being. I’m working on that, you see! I read your blog to learn more from all the wonderful postings and all the great comments from you and other experts here! Thanks!

    • Hi Jamie,

      a template for talk titles. I like that. So does Scott, obviously!!!

      I guess it depends how long you can keep it going for, though.

      I certainly agree with the idea of doing ‘detective work’. That’s what I have to do when I am in a country where I do not know many of the speakers. Ask around. ‘Do you know anything about X?’ etc etc

      As for your level of English – well it seems pretty fantastic to me, and anyay it’s not English it’s what you do with it!!!

      Glad you are enjoying the blog.


  20. Jeremy,
    somehow the ‘Thief of time’ title appeals to me on first glance, and the one with throwing things at second glance. The ones with acronyms don’t even when I know what they mean – there’s something unfriendly about acronyms.
    ‘Speak the speech I pray you’ makes me feel a bit inferior ’cause I know that’s a quote from something I should probably know, but don’t. That’s how a lot of presentation titles make me feel now that I come to think about it – like I should know more about them but don’t, and therefore I’d be wary of going to the presentation.

    • Hi Gemma Anna!

      thanks for this. Really interesting`that ‘between the eyes’ titles do it for you, and slightly ‘prissy’ quoty ones don’t. So it looks like it’s finding that straightforward killer ‘punch’ that matters…


  21. A catchy title is going to make me check out the abstract, so I might look at a presentation topic I otherwise wouldn’t be interested in.

    Still though, for me, the name is first and foremost. Big people are coming from all over the ELT world and I will rarely get a chance to see them. I don’t want to let the opportunity slip by. I agree with others that if I don’t like their presentation, I won’t go back a second time and that name is no longer so important. The topic does have to be relevant too though. I’m not going to go to a talk on young learners no matter who is giving it.

    After that I look for things I’m interested in. The title is of little importance. I’ve also noticed that a catchy title sometimes obscures the focus of the presentation and I’ve missed presentations on things I wanted to go to because the title wasn’t written well.

    So, to sum up. A good title might get some people to look at your abstract and come to your presentation that otherwise wouldn’t have given it a thought. Presentation titles should also clearly indicate what the presentation will be about. Besides that, it’s all up to personal interests and who else is speaking.

    • Hi Nick,

      thank you for these comments.

      it seems that titles are only mildly important. They matter, but if they are too tricksy they fail. That’s what I hear you saying.

      The speaker DOES matter. That’s why detective work (see Jamie’s post above)matters so much – unless it’s a speaker whose reputation you know about and who you have always wanted to hear.

      And then it’s abstracts. I’d better write about them in a separate block!


  22. Hello Jeremy and everyone,

    I’ve decided to come back here and share with you my most recent experience in conferencing:

    Workshop title: The 21st century teacher

    Abstract: “Digital natives” will soon reshape our world in their image. The change sounds scary! Teachers will be losing the old ways, the warmth of routines, getting off the beaten track and … learning???… again???… We have no choice but to adapt to the needs and interests of the “digital natives” and become ourselves “digital immigrants”, speaking DSL (“digital as a second language”). That’s how we’ll be part of the future. Their future!

    The workshop: a step-by-step presentation on how to create and use a Google group, how to create and use a Google doc – i.e. a spreadsheet turned into a questionnaire.

    Number of participants: 6 (one of which had already seen a variant of this presentation at a previous conference, about two months before).

    Open to comments, criticism and suggestions,

    • Hi Melania,

      welcome back!

      well I would have come and seen it! But perhaps people were put off by google group/google doc..spreadsheet etc. Sorry, I am not being in any way critical. Just occurred to me that some techno-nearlyphobes might have freaked out at the actual technical words…

      of course everything depends who else is speaking and what they are speaking about.



      • Jeremy,
        I realise now I failed to make myself understood: the title and abstract were in the conference program, that was all the participants knew before the workshop.
        The workshop content was discovered by those who attended.
        What I meant by posting that example was (I know now…): the title was ambiguous, the abstract thickened the fog, no one had a clue the workshop was going to be ‘a hands-on’ session (except for the friend who had seen it before)…
        Do you still think you would have come to see it?


        (It’s frustrating the reply section in blogs doesn’t have editing buttons for Bold and Italics…)

      • Well you see that’s just the problem (and thanks for clarifying): I think ‘the 21st century teacher’ is a fine title for a talk. But perhaps people still shy away from ICT sessions???

        Or maybe it was just because of this thing of being up ‘against’ other speakers etc. But yes, maybe the abstract should have said something like ‘participants will do X and Y or something? I’m not sure to be honest, and Ill address that in my next blog


  23. I used to think titles were actually really important – conferences are (often) so large these days that the presentations all start to blur into each too much (usually because of the conference organiser’s insistence on very short titles and every presenter wanting to clearly show what area or learner segment they are treating).

    And while abstracts make essential reading, you don’t always have the time to check them out properly, clutching your conference showbag, diving to get your raffle ticket in on the publisher’s stand to win 3 CDs you’ll probably never use, and wondering if you can get a hotdog or something in (notice how the food venues are always MILES away from conference venues? I once suggested free pizza delivered at a small conference I was helping organise, and people later told me it was the best event ever!) before the next presentation starts.

    As some people above have said, I do instinctively go for the ‘big names’, but over the past couple of years I’ve made a point of going to a relatively unknown local NNEST presentation for every big name presentation I went to, and what treasures I have discovered! Somewhat similar to Jeremy’s experience with the maritime English presentation (though there were more people at this one), I remember distinctly a presentation by a local Korean high school teacher about her experience implementing a full-on process writing approach in massive classes of fairly low-level students. She was absolutely amazing, and *ahem* apologies in advance, hands down 10 times better than anything I’ve seen a big name presenter pull off. Her presentation title was pretty bland, but by goodness I was glad I went – she was an absolute inspiration. Her very ‘smallness’ as a ‘name’ belied the grandness of what she’d achieved as a public school teacher in hugely adverse teaching conditions, AND what she was achieving by being willing to stand up and talk about it at an event chockers full of brand name presenters. She actually knew who I was and came up later to thank me for being kind by attending, which I sort of felt was a bit of a travesty! Compared to her and what she’d done, I was a nobody!

    So, while I love some of those titles, Jeremy, and without meaning to be obtuse at all, I’d like to really encourage people to not worry too much about titles or abstracts all the time. Do something different, make a point of watching a presentation you know very little about, and always make an effort to support and encourage the local NNEST presenters. Even if you don’t have an intense interest in their subject matter, by putting your bottom on a seat and listening, you’re doing a whole lot of good for local TEFL/TESOL (and potentially expanding your own mind in a lot of new and exciting ways).

    • Hi Jason,

      your story of the Korean presenter absolutely matches some of my inspiring moments at conferences. I am nervous of saying this in case it sounds patronising, but as a frequently visiting NEST outsider I also do my very best to hear local presenters because whilst I usually go to conferences to present I also go to (I hope) learn.

      And I am more than ever convinced by what Sara H above calls a ‘wildcard’ – always trying to go for something slightly ‘wacky’, because you never know.

      At a conference in Melbourne about 12 years ago I attended a talk on ‘Aboriginal kinship systems’ – just because, well why not? It was different from grammar and activities etc etc. The talk was given by Joy Murphy an elder of the waranjiri (sp?) tribe . She suddenly stopped talking about kinship systems and started telling part of her story – about the sacrifices her father had made to get into boarding school and how she had not been able to stand it and so had gone walkabout, and her mother and her mother’s mother. It is still, to this day, the only conference presentation that has ever reduced me to tears through its sheer humanity and beauty. I am profoundly pleased that I attended it.

      See you started me off there!

      Thanks Jason.


      • It’s great that you do this, Jeremy, and a real credit to you.

        However, a person of your ‘stature’ in the profession should probably also consider a disguise of some sort – even if it’s just a pair of sunglasses or something – if you’re going to start wandering in to watch layman teachers’ presentations… You walked in on one of my mine once at a conference, and I felt like the floor had vanished beneath my feet. Didn’t help you walked in late and right at the point things had hit a small lull (I think one of those slides I’d decided at the last minute that morning to insert, and then forgotten what it was there for!).

        Still, despite the feeling of turning rapidly into a shipwreck, it was impressive and motivating to see you there – not just for the presenter but I think the other attendees as well. So thanks for that!


  24. Dear Mr Harmer,

    Thank you for this topic. I believe the secret of all titles is in the fact that most of us are linguists and we’re constantly looking for something to scratch our ever-itchy mind. That’s why pans serve fairly well to hook the audience. What is still questionable for me is if the speaker will go further and try to cook a delicious talk to satisfy my itchy taste buds. We are keen to be seduced and to be teased by the wrapping but what’s inside…
    In plain English, a catching title doesn’t guarantee informative content. That’s it! One sentence, eight words. No fireworks of the previous paragraph, and I beg your pardon for this exaggeration))
    This is something I’ve noticed lately. We see these billboard-like titles and can’t resist the temptation to visit the seminar. The bitter comes my disappointment every time!
    I experimented with your list. The first idea that flashed through my mind was ‘The curse of creativity’ is what I need. (this was my first reading – skimming) I do have no intention to offend the speakers but now when I’ve studied the list thoroughly enough (reading for detail) I’m at a loss. I can’t understand which one I need and moreover what I am going to learn from each. Perhaps, the abstracts will tell me more but I don’t see why I should read them.
    Really, we’re all doing a very serious job. Teaching is a more than responsible occupation. Every word I say – I say on purpose, every exercise I choose – I choose for a certain reason, every question I ask my students – I ask to teach them answer. My lesson – this is a firework, that’s what teens adore, but this firework is lit by my thorough work (which, thanks God, brings me pleasure), by my professional development and deep thinking over everything I do. I go to the seminar to learn something new, something my students need at this very moment, I want to be guided by a superior professional, I want to share my headaches and get the pills.
    Tomorrow I’ve got a class with a group of advanced adults who seem to lack creativity. I’ve already tried several methods to scratch their imagination, but they are still quite reluctant to enter any creativity activities. And, frankly, by the title I don’t know whether the talk will help me.

    Olga (Russia)

    PS: Mr Harmer, I wonder if there’s any possibility to join your online courses? My boss visited your open seminar this autumn in Moscow and she recommended contacting you. I would be grateful to receive your guidance.

    • Hi Olga,

      thanks for very thoughtful comments.

      I agree that packaging is not everything!! When I stop relaxing (I’m on holiday at the moment) I will post a new blogpost about making the second layer of the parcel (the abstract) more appealing. How does that sound?

      By all means contact me! You can find my email on my website (see the blogroll on this site)


    • Hi Olga,

      sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I have been away on a Christmas break.

      I agree that the title alone will not help you decide whether the talk will be the firework you need!! That’s why abstracts matter, perhaps – and that’s what I’ll be dealing with in my next post.

      (I will tell yu about oline courses in a separate email)


  25. I found your blog post on Presentation titles through a web search when looking for inspiration for people going to talk about exciting careers opportunities in computing, to 14 – 18 year olds in school. Thanks Jeremy and all the others.
    This is obviously a pretty demanding audience with a low boredom threshold, so starting on a high with a good title would be a great start! Unlike conference participants, these school students cannot choose their attendance of the presentations.
    Despite the fact that yours is aimed at Education professionals, these blog postings have been of immense use and inspired me to re-title a Computer Support worker’s talk: “Don’t kick the cat – I can be very useful to you”.

    Please enlighten me though – what is NEST?

    • Hi Claire,


      NEST = ‘native English Speaker teacher’. In the world of English (as a foreign language) teaching, there’s a lot of discussion about the relative merits of native vs non-native speaker teachers.

      Yes, of course 14-18 year-olds are a challenge. But great when the magic works, I think!


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