Whether you’re writing a speaker proposal, an article, or simply an everyday email, creating an eye-grabbing, though-provoking, can’t-ignore title might make the difference between catching the reader’s attention or having your precious words fall into a vacuous, bottomless pit of communications.
Your title (or email subject line) is your first salvo in the battle to break through the endless clutter and rise above the white noise that assaults us each and every day, fighting to gain our attention. In the case of a conference proposal, consider the fact that the selection committee will be sifting through hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Are your eyeballs parched and aching yet?
Some see a title or subject line as utilitarian, simply a prelude to the much more important content to follow. Nothing could be further from the truth. A killer title demands attention, sets the stage, whets the reader’s appetite and, when possible, creates intrigue.
Getting the Words in the Right Order
So, what makes a “killer” title? When contemplating the words that make up a title, I immediately think of one of my favorite Monty Python sketches. In the “Great Actors” sketch, John Cleese plays famous Shakespearean thespian, Sir Edwin, who is being asked to describe the most challenging part of a performance. Sir Edwin quotes Sir Peter Hall, acclaimed English director and founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, claiming that once you’ve got the words down, now all you’ve got to do is get them in the right order! (Here’s the sketch, in case you’re curious to hear it for yourself. I promise a good chuckle!)
Well, a great title or email subject line takes a bit more skill than simply putting the words in the right order, though that is admittedly important. Developing a cracker-jack title requires a bit of creativity. A clever turn of phrase, double entendre, catchy play on words, or pop-culture reference can amp up interest in your session, article or email. A good title describes what the reader can expect, while a great title will tell them what they’ll learn in an intriguing way.
A great title should build drama, yet still communicate what the presentation, article or email will cover. Yes, this can be a tall order, but if you nail it, you will have a considerable leg up on the competition. Remember, being clever just for clever’s sake won’t help you get selected if your title doesn’t actually describe what the session will be about. It’s important that a title be impactful, compelling and concise.
Click Bait: It Works
While we’re on the topic of great titles, I’d like to take a moment to focus specifically on email subject lines. In a way, they’re really just titles and should be accorded the same attention. In the case of an email, the recipient might never get past the subject line if it isn’t intriguing enough to get them to click through. Let’s face it, we just don’t have time to read every piece of mail in our inbox.
Ray Edwards, copywriter extraordinaire and online marketing guru, is a master of the fine art of email subject lines. He recently put out a list of his 100 best email subject lines and here are just a few of my favorites:
- Can we talk? (really)
- Worst email. Ever.
- How to write a swimming pool…
- Today I reveal my secrets…
- I’d like to bribe you. (time-sensitive)
- The excuses stop now. (time-sensitive)
- Do you feel weird today?
- More important than Tax Day? [URGENT]
- Is this what you struggle with?
- What if this is as good as it gets?
Personally, I’d click through on any of those subject lines. Take the time to create a really great title or subject line. It will make all the difference in the world.