Preparing a Technical Session Part 2: Coming up with a Title

Earlier this month I began a blog series on preparing to do a technical talk. In that first post I discussed some strategies for coming up with a topic, which is ultimately the first step in your preparation.

In this post I’ll walk you through some tips for coming up with a title for your presentation. Just as a reminder in this blog series on preparing a technical session I’ll cover the following steps:

  1. Picking a Topic
  2. Coming up with a Title
  3. Writing an Abstract
  4. Building the PowerPoint
  5. Building the Demos
  6. Delivering the Presentation

Coming up with a Title

You may be thinking once you’ve come up with a topic you’ve got the title nailed down too but I actually see these are two different things. The topic is the general idea of what you’ll be talking about.  This gives you a guide one how you’ll work out the details. The title is one of those details. For example, my topic might be “Intro to SSIS” but I make the title “Getting Started with Integration Services”. This title is very clear on what the topic is and what depth the audience can expect.

Why is it important to have a good title? Well let’s be honest many people attending conferences probably only look at a small version of the schedule that doesn’t include the detail abstract so the title is all they have to go off. If your title is not clear on what you’ll be discussing then why would someone attend.  Let’s go a little deeper and look at some tips you may want to use when naming a session.

Don’t be too Cute

Do you consider yourself a creative person? Do you like to be unique and stand out in a pack? Good, now stop it! I’m kidding to some extent. You want your session to stand out and if the only thing people have to go by is the title than you may want it to be a little more creative or zany with your session title. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as it’s still very clear what your session is about. Here’s a couple good examples of being creative with your session title while still being clear and interesting:

  • Help! I’m a new DBA, Where do I start?!
  • DBA Mythbusters
  • Triggers: Born Evil or Misunderstood?

These sessions stand out but are still very clear what the talk will be about. On the opposite end of the spectrum here some session titles that are certainly unique but I have no idea what to expect if I were to attend.

  • SQL Server: We’re not in Kansas Anymore
  • Kill “BI”ll Quentin Tarantino Style

These sessions tried too hard to be cute and went past being unique to just being confusing.

Short and Sweet

I’ve often made the mistake of wanting to be so clear about my session that my title starts to look more like a poorly written paragraph. The intent is to eliminate confusion but what happens is without knowing it you begin talking people out of your session just by them reading the title. Here’s one I wish I could have back:

  • Using SQL Server 2014 to Build Analysis Service Multidimensional Cubes

Good topic, but a poorly written title. Way too long and complicated when it really didn’t need to be. If I could rewrite it I would simply name it “Building Analysis Services Cubes”. All of the other details that I decided to put in the title should have been saved for the abstract section. That way if someone was wondering which version of SQL Server I would be demonstrating then they could read the abstract to find out more.

Use Active Language

Using active language is a good method for making certain that your session topic is clear. This helps your potential audience know in many cases the kind of demos (if any) to expect. Words like “Building” or “Developing” tell your audience that they can expect demos. For example, if I went to a session titled “Developing Reporting Services Reports” I would expect demonstrations not PowerPoint slides that show me how to develop a reports. Here’s some examples of session using active language:

  • Building Dashboards with Your SalesForce Data
  • Overcoming Data Warehouse Design Challenges
  • Getting Started with Indexes

I don’t think it’s mandatory that you use this tip for every session you do but if you’re struggling for a title then this may help.

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