Speaking: Pick a Vague and Specific Title for Your Talk

Your title should be both vague and specific.

First, vague. You generally have to commit to give a talk months in advance of the actual event. You do not, however, generally have a talk written several months ahead of the actual event. You may also have a particular talk accepted, and then arrive at the conference and realize that what you had planned isn’t ideal for that audience. A vague title offers you a lot of flexibility in altering the content of your talk as conditions change without betraying the expectations of the audience based on the materials published earlier.

And then, specific. If your title is too vague (“Stuff and Junk”) people won’t be excited for your talk, and you’ll lack an audience entirely or won’t make it through the CFP process at all. Be specific about the frame of the talk, but leave the details vague.

For example, I recently gave a talk called “Human Behavior and the Social Web”. The title gives you a good idea what the talk will be about, but doesn’t commit me to sticking to any particular set of stories or material.

A particularly excellent example of this is Paul Graham’s PyCon 2012 keynote titled “Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas” (which was also a really fun talk). That title gives you a specific frame to get very excited about, while leaving him with complete flexibility to alter the content up until the moment he got on stage.

This article is part of my series of speaking hacks for introverts and nerds. Read about the motivation here.