While Shakespeare may have famously had Juliet ponder, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet,” the truth is, a creative and well-worded title potentially wins over an audience’s collective attention span before the speaker even begins. The speech’s title may act like the cover to a book, and like it or not, most people (despite the famous advice not to judge books by their covers) decide what books receive further attention based on their initial impression. In most cases, speakers will get introduced by someone, who will, at the very least, tell the audience the person’s name and speech title, though visual aids could sometimes serve this purpose. Providing the audience with that first taste of what the speech promises to deliver—and doing so creatively—sets the stage, so to speak. Have fun with it.
One student creatively titled his 6- to 8-minute speech to inform with visual aids, “How to Make a Baby in 8 Minutes or Less.” Before the speaker reached the podium, his title already invoked laughter and giggles from his audience, thanks to the title’s double entendre. However, his speech went on to inform the audience about contemporary fertility approaches for couples having difficulties getting pregnant. In an extremely well-researched presentation on medical science, the speaker found a way to use wry humor to win over his audience before he even spoke, but then followed that up with a charismatic, fresh, and innovative presentation that maintained their attention throughout the speech.
Another approach to developing a speech title involves looking at key phrases that may appear throughout the speech. If the speech contains a key phrase that gets used repeatedly, such as “I Have a Dream” in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s infamous speech, consider using a shortened version of that phrase to reinforce it before the speech begins. Speakers could also turn a phrase into a provocative question, such as using “Could You Save a Life?” as a title for a speech providing instructions on the basics of CPR.
The next chapter offers a closer look at how speakers can get to know their audience, including methods for collecting data about their knowledge level, attitudes, opinions, and beliefs, all with respect to the topic covered in the speech.