Browsing the archives for the benefit tag.
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14 Patterns for Successful Article, Post, and Speech Titles


I mentioned recently that I’m beginning to do speaking engagements, and one of my steps in preparing for this has been to take the topics I chose to focus on at the start and come up with the strongest titles for them I could find. I didn’t want hype: I wanted to come up with titles that loudly and proudly promised exactly what I was going to deliver, and did it in a way that would get the attention of my target audiences.

I already have an article on titles for fiction (“Luc’s Desiderata of Titling“), which is an entirely different process. It has similar intentions, but uses completely different methods. For non-fiction, I have experience but had never really thought out the possibilities, so I did some research, reading articles other people wrote about titling, evaluating titles I felt were really effective, and experimenting with everything I found.

Two of the most useful articles I found are freely available on the Web: “Presentation Titles That Attract an Audience” by Olivia Mitchell and the section I’ve linked to in “Answer People’s Key Question”  by Craig Hadden.

From this groundwork, I’ve come up with 14 patterns that can be used to brainstorm arresting titles for how-to articles, blog posts, keynotes, etc. For each pattern, I’ve made up an example to demonstrate, although many of these patterns can be used in a wider variety of ways than the single example would suggest. The invented titles are meant to demonstrate how each pattern can work well, so if it’s successful, each one should intrigue you (at least, if you’re in the right target audience for that title).

1. How to ___ (optionally include a benefit)
“How to Stop Micromanaging Your Children for Their Happiness and Yours”

2. How (noun) (verbed)
“How the Dishwasher Changed the Way We Eat”

3. X {keys, ways, requirements, challenges, ideas, etc.} to/for ______
“3 Keys to Never Forgetting Another Name”

4. (New research/information/etc.)
“New Research on the Best Way to Exercise”

5. X Common Mistakes ______
“3 Common Mistakes We Make When Choosing a Spouse”

6. The X Worst _____
“The 5 Worst Ways to Teach Math”

7. (The Truth/Secrets/Hidden Information)
“What Your Child Is Really Doing at ‘Student Council Meetings'”

8. How Can I ____ ?
“How Can I Be On Time, Every Time?”

9. Do (something desirable) by/with ______
“Get Crucial News Faster Using This Smartphone App”

10. (Catchy phrase or intriguing promise): (explanatory subtitle)
“Be Rich Instantly: How to Realize Your Desires Without Paying a Cent”

 11. ______ versus (something similar but suggestively distinct)
“The Successful Novel vs. the Best-Selling Novel”

12. What/How (some enviable group of people) ____ Differently
“How The Most Successful People in the World Learn Differently”

13. (Common thing or phrase) (uncommon contrast or claim)
“Safe Investments –Why They Haven’t Existed Since 1992”

14. (Brief time or other suggestion that this will be quick or easy) (action or role)
“12-Minute Math Boosters”

The general theme is the same throughout: all of these types of titles are promising something that’s valuable and new to the audience or reader. They only differ in how they’re attempting to capture someone’s interest. I’d suggest that this is what a non-fiction article or speech is about: offering new information that has value. We can just slap titles that are pretty or that play with words on if we just need a handle, but that means the title isn’t doing the work it could do. On the other hand, we may have a topic that does all the work itself, for instance “Archbishop Dies In Lemming Attack” or “Exxon to Convert to Worker-Owned Cooperative.”

Some of these title formats are familiar from magazines that over-promise, and I hope that neither you nor I will ever do that with our own titles. Titles like “The 4 Foods That Melt Fat Overnight” and “Make a Killing in Real Estate With These 3 Easy Tips” are hype rather than promise, and fulfilled promises are what it’s all about.

A writer friend pointed out that some titles that use these patterns can come across sounding like hype even if they may have something real to offer. Obviously, we want to avoid that too.

I used this list to brainstorm titles for my four initial speaking topics, and then I asked people in my writing group to review the titles and mark any that they liked or disliked. In the near future, I should have a chance to post those brainstormed titles and the total response each one got. By the way, this survey process has turned out to be very educational: I recommend it for working out especially important titles.

Of course, these options don’t begin to exhaust the possibilities, but they do reflect a healthy percentage of what seem to me the most successful titles of this kind out there. I expect to update this article over time (completely screwing up the number in the title) as I come across more of them. Do you know of any? Suggest them in the comments, if you’d be so kind–or use comments to take issue with any of the above approaches you don’t like.

Photo by Amy

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Deferring and Sharing: The Well-Being of Others and Our Future Selves

The human mind

You don’t have to delay gratification or help other people to be human. Not delaying gratification can lead to a lot of suffering, and not helping others can lead to loneliness and insecurity, but they’re not strictly necessary.

To some extent, though, the better we are at delaying gratification and helping others out, the more we start experiencing benefits out of the blue. Being a dependable and altruistic member of a community creates a network of people who are willing to do things for us, look out for our interests, lend us assistance when we most need it, and support us when we’re recovering from a loss or setback. Handling our own desires intelligently has a similar effect: we continue to reap benefits from things we’ve done in the past.

Yet both helping others and delaying gratification pose a problem: we have to give things up now with a chance that we won’t be paid back. For instance, if I have a box of fudge and I hold off on eating some or all of it, I have to give up the experience of eating the fudge right now and run the risk of someone else eating the fudge, of losing it, of it going bad, etc. The surest way to get all of the “benefit” from eating the fudge is to consume all of it, right away.

The problem with that approach is that taking everything you can get the moment you have it often leads to a cornucopia of troubles. In the case of the fudge, eating a lot of it at once can make a person sick, contribute to unwanted weight gain, create an unpleasant sugar rush and crash, and cause the person to look like a pig to onlookers. To eat all of the fudge, I don’t have to give anything up, but in the end I bring on suffering and fail to experience the same kind of satisfaction I’d get from managing the fudge over time.

In a similar way, if I have a pound of fudge and some people I could share it with, the surest way to get all of the “benefit” of the pleasure of eating the fudge is to eat it myself, whether I do that now or later. Yet sharing the fudge with others makes others more likely to share with me, and over time is likely to yield a variety of benefits that a pound of fudge alone could not confer—especially if I don’t want to eat a whole pound of fudge.

Evolving as individuals, becoming more enlightened and compassionate, and learning how to handle ourselves better therefore means a lot of saying “I’m going to give up on this pleasure I could get right at the moment” and “I’m going to give up on this surer thing for this more uncertain thing.” It’s counterintuitive, and to a large extent we’re not built for it, and yet our lives become much happier the more we learn to defer and share. We can’t experience the pleasure our future selves will experience when we set things by for them now, or directly experience the pleasure others feel when we do things on their behalf. Fortunately, we can experience the immediate goodwill we call forth when we do things for other people and the satisfaction we get from making good choices. While these things don’t give us the immediate animal response we’d get from eating a pound of fudge, they also tend to make us feel healthier, happier, and in better harmony with our lives and environments–rather than making us sick.

If you’re interested in this topic, you may enjoy reading my article “The Difference Between Pleasure and Happiness.”

Photo by Xiangdian

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