March 17, 2010 by Jeff Hurt
This is the second in a series of posts on writing better conference session descriptions. Read the first post Conference Descriptions That Whet The Appetite, an overview of the four elements of a successful conference description.
What is the primary purpose of most conference session titles, descriptions and learner objectives?
Did you say, “To get a conference participant to attend a session?”
If you did, that’s wrong.
The primary purpose of a session title is to get the reader to read the first sentence of the session description. The primary purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read. And, so on through the learner objectives.
By the time the reader has read the title, description and learner objectives, the goal is to get the reader to attend the session. Ultimately, the goal of the conference organizer is for the session titles, descriptions and learner objectives to accurately match the presentation that is delivered.
So why is so little time spent on crafting the best session titles, descriptions and learner objectives? Most conference organizers depend heavily on session titles, descriptions and learner objectives provided by speaker proposals which usually are not written very well. Or they depend upon the marketing department to craft titles and descriptions with a lot of flash but often don’t accurately correspond with the presentation.
Attractive session titles, clearly articulated descriptions with a dash of pizzazz and well written learner objectives increase the chance that conference participants will attend the session. Let’s spend more time on the session title.
The session title is the first, and perhaps only, impression you make on a prospective attendee. On average, eight out of ten will read the session title, but only two out of ten will read the session description and leaner objectives. So it’s fairly obvious that if people stop at the title, you’re already dead in the water.
Without a compelling promise that turns a browser into a reader, the rest of your words may as well not even exist. So, from a marketing standpoint, writing a great session title is a critical skill.
The American Writers & Artists trainers teach The Four Us approach to writing titles:
Consider the following conference session headlines?
Position For The Next Market Shift
Get Rid Of The Great-Recession-Thinking And Position Yourself For A Shift
A/V And Production Technology For The New Meetings Era
Little Known Ways To Save Money And Enhance Your Meetings With Innovative AV And Production Technology
Plenary Session — The State Of The Meetings And Travel Industry (This is probably the most overused title in every industry and can be seen at most hospitality and meetings-related conferences. Blech!)
What Everyone Ought To Know About The Macro Trends Affecting Meetings And Travel Industry
Which appealed to you more in each example the first or second title? The first title in each example is an actual session title from recent association annual conferences. Yet, the second title makes you want to read more. It piques curiosity. With just a little time and thought, these titles could be rewritten to attract more eyeballs.
Consider the following titles:
While these titles got your attention, do you trust them?
Bimbo titles, as copywriter John Forde labels them, over-promise and under-deliver. They have an inherent flaw. Either they betray trust up front, when the session copy confesses the deceit. Or they betray it on the tail end, when the session proves it can’t live up to the challenge.
If people attend your sessions based on a great title and your speaker under-delivers, attendees lose trust in the speaker and the conference organizers. Your session titles need to be honest and authentic to the presentation. Improving that trust, means increasing attendee loyalty and retention.
Ultimately, the better your session title, the better your odds of beating the averages and getting what you’ve written read by a larger percentage of people and thus getting people to attend your session.
Next, Part 3 in the series on crafting better conference session descriptions focuses on individual session descriptions.
What appeals to you in a conference session title? What unusual session titles have you seen that have failed or worked? Share some your thoughts and experiences with us.
Filed Under: Conference Education, Event Planning
Thank you *so* much for this. Just what I need.
I’m quite bad at creating titles that lack the real buzz and killer instinct – so thanks for this!
Thanks also for the chat today on my article, much apprecaited.
Thanks for the comments and it’s always a pleasure to chat with you.
So then who is the best team to write the session descriptions? The speakers sending in the proposals? Or a marketing department?
Or, better yet, maybe the conference organizers could actually include these suggestions and some education in their call for papers. That would perhaps lighten the burden on a content team of having to rewrite hundreds of session descriptions…
Can’t wait to read #3!
I admit I’m a little jaded on this topic. While I agree with you, I have recently been disappointed at least 85% of the time that sessions I go to did not live up to their titles and I should have trusted my gut and gone for the boring sounding ones with the better speakers. From now on I’ll go to things where I know and trust the speaker, pretty much regardless of topic (serendipity and all that). I’ll also avoid anything that has “game playing” or “share with your peers” in the description. Yuck. 🙂
Great question. Whose job is it to write the session description? Ultimately, it should be the presenter’s job as he/she knows the content better than anyone else. However, I think whoever is securing the speaker, the meeting professional or the education director should work with the presenter to craft the best title, session description and LOs.
Wow, 85% of the time the title didn’t match the presentation? That would definitely lead to distrust in the speakers and conference marketing material. Ultimately, the conference organizer is to blame for selecting speakers that don’t present what they say they will present. It is a reflection on them and the organization as well.
So how do we stop deceptive conference titles? By asking the conference organizers to include in the evaluations questions like “Ddid the session title, description and LOs match the actual presentations?” Then the conference organizers should stop using speakers that don’t deliver what is promised based on attendee evaluations.
One way around this challenge is to reach out to the speaker before the conference via email, social media or the conference ecommunity. Ask them for a little information on their presentation. Yes, it’s more work on the attendee’s part. Ultimately it is the attendee’s responsibility to control his/her own learning.
Where’s the FTC Bureau of Conference Attendee Protection when you need them? We could use such a group to monitor unfair and deceptive advertising and marketing practices of conference presenters. Maybe it’s a new association committee? 🙂
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I too have cause for disappointment when it comes to generating the interest, easy when it is in house or specific to a content area that is of importance, but fee paying conference are a different matter. The integrity of the facilitator and the organization must be establish in order to gain the attention. Without this, it is just another conference and probably will have family and friends attending. Now this in itself is a good approach to gaining some credibility, but like every business the timing and strategy must be planned and precise.
Hmm! While I agree with you, often your approach is sound if you have gained some credibility with your proposed attendees. If you are establishing your product and or service, it may be worth taking your presentation live. This, combined with online presentations, may be just the right mix of ingredients to create enough interest. Whereas, one stand alone approach will not be strong enough, nor will you gauge a response or any feel for the prospective attendees without pre engagement and commitment. Sure. you may not be able to influence or reach your entire audience. However, you can certainly influence a vast majority during your campaign by taking yourself and your key executives to the street.
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WE need your type of motivation at our conference;do you have any availabilty in August 2012? This is fantastic information.
Olivia Mitchell has a great post about writing presentation titles: http://www.speakingaboutpresenting.com/content/presentation-title/
My own contribution is this: Involve your audience in the title by using a 3-word model called Question/Action/Mention.
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Thank you for this article, am about organizing a conference soon, and this would really help me.
“Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. This is a classic copywriting saying. Answer the ‘what is in it for me?’ question and trigger their Fear of Missing Out.
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