How to Title Your Talk

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Nat Torkington
Feb. 09, 2005 04:35 PM

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There's one consistent mistake I see people making, again and again, when they submit their conference proposals. Here's how to avoid it.

The mistake is that people try to be clever in their session names: "Shh! I Won't Tell If You Won't" might seem like a clever name for a session on implementing translucent databases and group ACLs, but it's not. You like it because it's intriguing and makes people want to read the session description. I say that's exactly what makes it a bad title--it means people have to read.

People don't want to read. And, in many cases, people don't get the chance to read. Many important views of the conference (for example, the grid of rooms over time) don't have space for session descriptions. Your title must tell people what's in your session, because it's your first, best, and often last chance to do so.

It's the same with book titles: I fought tooth and nail to call Perl & LWP by that name, over something like "Perl Spidering". But in retrospect, I think it would have sold better with the other title (sorry, Sean!). If you want to do spidering, you may not know the name of the Perl package you need. It's the same with Cookbook recipe titles: name the recipe after the problem the user has, not the answer you're giving them. They don't know the answer (that's why they've got your book), they only know their problem.

Anyway, please take this advice when you're submitting proposals to OSCON or any other conference. It's not that the program committee won't consider your cleverly-titled proposal, it's just that we'll have to work with you later to figure out a better title for it. Next year I'll make this advice part of the CFP and try to pre-empt the unobvious titles.

Good luck with your proposals!


Nat Torkington is conference planner for the Open Source Convention, OSCON Europe, and other O'Reilly conferences. He was project manager for Perl 6, is on the board of The Perl Foundation, and is a frequent speaker on open source topics. He cowrote the bestselling Perl Cookbook.

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