Book A Call

How to Title your TEDx Talk

By Dr. Steve Hayward

As you might guess, one of the most frequent questions we get asked by clients has to do with how best to title their TEDX talk. As anyone who has scrolled through the seemingly endless TED website will tell you, deciding whether to click or not, the title of a talk plays a huge role. What that means is having a catchy and effective title is absolutely essential. In what follows I explore different types of titles that you can use to make your TEDx talk stand out and get the attention it deserves.


"How to" Titles

One of the most effective ways to grab a viewer's attention is to use a "How to" type of title. The “How to” approach lets people know exactly what they can expect to learn from your talk--particularly if they are asking themselves the same kind of question that your title presumes to answer. Note that there are subdivisions within this category including a) the surprising, counterintuitive ("How to Make Stress Your Friend" by Kelly McGonigal) and, at the other side of the spectrum, those titles that provide a recipe for solving the sort of question that everyone is looking to answer at some point ("How to Speak So That People Want to Listen" by Julian Treasure). This is the real virtue of the “How to” title--it mirrors the way that people actually look for information when they sit down in the wee hours of the night and google. Also remember that your TEDx talk is first uploaded to the TEDx YouTube channel and YouTube, you guessed it, is also a search engine where people are constantly entering “How to” searches. A "How to" title can also improve your talk’s search engine optimization (SEO--more on that below).


Curiosity or Questions

Another type of title that can capture attention is one that poses a question or piques curiosity by posing the type of question that we not only don’t know the answer to, but which we might not think has an answer. Examples of this kind of title range from the deeply existential and philosophical ( "Can We Choose to Fall Out of Love?" by Dessa), to those suggesting an untapped treasure trove of information  ("What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness" by Robert Waldinger), and also include the wacky and unconventional that draws you in through asking a question you didn’t know had crossed your mind until you saw the title, such as “What do goldfish see when they look at the side of a bowl” (not a real TEDX talk, but I’d like to know). This type of title gets people to engage with it--and share it--by creating the sense of intrigue that it then responds to.


“10 Things”

Another popular way to title a TED talk is through the use of lists of "10 things"--or five, or three (though probably not less than three). These titles are effective in conveying the content of the talk with clarity and concision, while also offering the added bonus of a sense of structure and organization. This is the power of lists--on the one hand, they provide a roadmap that you hand your audience at the start of your talk and which the two of you can follow together.  For example, a talk titled "10 Ways to Make Your Meeting Actually Effective" provides your audience with a clear idea of what to expect and what they are going to get from it--takeaways that are actionable and applicable. However, remember that TED talks are idea centric and not just a tool for teaching.


Brave New Words

The introduction of a new word is perhaps one of the best ways to differentiate yourself. An excellent example of the “new word” strategy--what English professors like myself call a neologism--is Emilie Wapnick's TEDx talk on "multipotentialites" which introduced a new term to describe people who have multiple interests and passions. Technically speaking, Wapnick’s term is a “portmanteau” word, which is created by blending two or more existing words together. Another kind of new word is a “coinage”--a new word that emerges in response, well, to something new, such as Google which led to the new verb googling. That’s an excellent technique you can use to come up with your new word, by the way: take a noun and turn it into a verb. The primary reward with this strategy is that you will own the term and will be the first (and perhaps the only) person who comes up on a search. The downside, of course, is that people are not searching for it, so you will be responsible for getting the word out. 


Make a Word Your Own

If it seems a little too big of a bite to create a new word, there’s also the strategy of staking a unique and “sticky” claim on a word that already exists. To point to an obvious example, Brene Brown's talk on "vulnerability" did a lot to popularize the idea that being open and accepting did not equate to weakness and that unexpected connection--the power of vulnerability shifted our traditional understanding of a familiar word in a way that made it uniquely her own.


Whatever title--or titles--you land on (and we recommend coming up with at least three) what’s crucial is that you test it with your network. Try doing this in person, and pay attention to the first reaction someone has when hearing your proposed title--people are generally not good at hiding what they feel. 


Once you’ve done that, the last step is running it through a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) checker, which will tell you how well it’s optimized for search engines--and may also identify relevant keywords to include (or exclude) so that it shows up in the most searches for the most people.


- Dr. Steven Hayward is our head writer at GoodOne. Co. He is an English Professor at Colorado College, bestselling author, renowned filmmaker and has a great head of hair. 


Subscribe to our newsletter
Stay in touch