The Tyranny of the Or…

Your best speech title

What’s the best speech title you ever came up with?
Whilst you’re thinking about it I’ll carry on.

My best title was… “The Tyranny of the Or”

“The Tyranny of the Or” is a concept discussed in the book “Built to Last” published by the Stanford Business School.
In the Authors words…

“The tyranny of the or moves people to believe that things must be one way or another… but never both.

You can be either conservative or bold, work for purpose or profit, be a low-cost producer or offer a high quality product… but never both.”

I took that idea and applied it to the lives of everyday folk, pointing out how we limit our potential and pigeon hole ourselves.

“As toddlers we’re shy or precocious, independent or clingy…..

Yes, I can see a few mummy’s boys out there.

At school we’re lots of things, sporty or academic, dunce or swot,

doing well….. or could do better.”

I gave that speech at the Association of Speakers Clubs National Finals in 2008 and even now, people quote the title back to me.

Seems that titles are powerful things, so let’s delve a little deeper.

The secret of a good speech title

According to Laura Rozakis author of “The Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking” speech titles have two purposes:

“They suggest the general content of the speech while simultaneously grabbing the audience’s attention.

Think of the title as an advertisement. If successful, the title should make the listener want to hear more.”

So there you have it, follow the lead of the advertisers, make your titles punchy, catchy, and memorable.

Who knows, perhaps your next speech title will be:

“Lip smacking, thirst quenching, ace tasting, motivating, good buzzing, cool walking, high talking, fast living, ever giving…..PEPSI!”

Too long?

OK try the Renault advert:

“Rain? Kiss my glass.”

Ooooh, now that is naughty, but it’s a title you won’t forget.


Write your title last

Because titles come at the beginning, people assume that you have to write them first, but you don’t.

When you write your speech ideas will come in thick and fast and those ideas will include speech titles.

Keep a record of the titles you come up with and take a fresh look at them once you’ve finished writing your speech.

“Write the title last, after you have finished the entire speech.

Creating a title that is both intriguing and suitable will be easier after you have written the rest of the speech.”

Laura Rozakis, Ph.D.

There’s no rush to decide on a title.

It’s not needed until your speech is finished, so write it last.

To create closure… finish on your speech title

When you deliver your final line, the audience has to know that it’s your final line and they will start clapping… hopefully.

If they don’t know it’s your final line, they won’t clap and you will be forced to say… “Thank you” the audience will then clap and you will be taken away by the “Speech ending” police and shot.

“The conclusion must give your audience a feeling that your presentation is complete.

People have a psychological need for closure.

They want a presentation to have a beginning, a middle and an end – especially an end.

They don’t want to be left hanging. Your conclusion must address this need.”

Malcolm Kushner

A sure fire way to let the audience know that you are delivering your final line, is to finish on your Speech title.

I gave a speech whose purpose was to persuade people to go on a skiing holiday.

The title was “An Alpine Aria.”

During the speech I said…

“You’ll make lots of pals skiing and they’re all slightly odd.

I used to ski with a guy called Marko.

During the summer he worked at Glyndebourne opera house, and when he skied he sang an alpine aria to the whole mountain.”

I finished with…

“And so madam chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me.

To see those mountains, to ski those slopes, and to sing your own, alpine aria.”

Do you see how it puts a full stop at the end of the speech?

It gives a marvellous sense of closure and cues the audience to start their standing ovation… if only.


Ideas for great speech titles


It can be difficult to come up with a good speech title, so here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Adapt a book title“The Unbearable Darkness of Seeing”
  2. A film (movie) title“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”
  3. Use a pun“Product Pricing: Now Makes Cents!”
  4. Ask a question“Now I’ve got a Computer, What Do I Do with it?”
  5. Be surprising“Say Yes to Stress”
  6. Be a little naughty“Discipline without Bondage”
  7. Adapt a saying“Sedimentary My Dear Watson”

Hope that those help, but if they don’t, there is one method of finding a speech title that never fails….


Your title is in your speech

The truth is, your title is often hidden in your speech.

A phrase, a sentence a little flash of rhetoric.

Lincoln, in his first inaugural address said:

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched… by the better angels of our nature.”

The phrase “mystic chords of memory” would have made an eloquent title of that speech if custom didn’t dictate that it be simply labelled “Inaugural Address.”

Thomas Montalbo

So write your speech in full then read it through and find that magic phrase that sums up your speech and then you can go with “Inaugural Address” or you can use your own “Mystic Chords of Memory”.


A trick for your blog post titles

Blog post titles are a little trickier than speech titles because not only are you writing for people, you’re writing for the Search Engine bots and in particular Mr Googlebot.

That means that your title has to be a great advert and contain your keywords… seems like an impossible task.

So here’s my solution:

When you first publish your post go with that punchy eye-catching headline.

Once the interest drops off and the comments stop coming in, change the title to one that contains your keywords.

Works for me, hope it works for you.


Time to have your say

So what’s the best title you’ve come up with?

What gems have you crafted over the years?

Please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or pass on tips of your own.

About Keith Davis
A Yorkshireman who now lives in Solihull in the West Midlands about half an hour from Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’m a member of the Association of Speakers Clubs and I’ve appeared in both their Speech and Evaluation National finals.

My CommentLuv profile describes me as…

“A passionate Public Speaker with a mission to help you overcome your fear of Public Speaking.”

Hope you enjoy the post.


My thanks and gratitude to the following from whose books I have learnt much and quoted often.

Laura Rozakis, Ph.D. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking”

Malcolm Kushner “Public Speaking for Dummies”

Thomas Montalbo “The Power of Eloquence”

Stanford Business School “Built to last”

And thanks to the following whose graphics add something that words never could.

UggBoy via Flickr for the Meaning of Life graphic.

J from the UK via Flickr for the Mariah Carey graphic.

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  1. May I ask please ,Keith, when are you opening your charm school? Your posts are utterly charming..and useful – and I don’t know how you do it..

    You’ve also inspired me – have a talk coming up causing concern and now know I will call it:

    Memoirs of an Expelled Brownie

    Please keep delighting us and all best to you

    • Morning MrsM
      Charm school?
      I studied for 3 years at the “Geoff Boycott” school of charm and was fortunate to have Geoffrey as my tutor. LOL

      “Memoirs of an Expelled Brownie” is a brilliant title.
      That title lets the audience know straight away that they are going to have a fun time.

      “Please keep delighting us…”
      I shall consult Geoffreys notes for guidance.

      Can’t thank you enough for coming over and leaving a fabbo comment.

      BTW – please let us know how the talk goes.

  2. I love that the title is in your speech 🙂 that’s so true. I hack up titles all the time, by the time the post is finished it generally is nothing like it started out.

    I am more intrigued those by the Charm School and the Expelled Brownie Memoirs. Both have great potential, and great titles 🙂
    Sarah Arrow´s last great post ..5 things I’ve learned from coaching bloggingMy Profile

    • Hi Sarah
      “I love that the title is in your speech”
      Yes, I think that 90% of my Speech Titles have come from the speech content.
      Just seems to work like that.

      “…the Expelled Brownie Memoirs.”
      I’m with you on that one.
      I hope that Mrs M will give us a little more info.
      Don’t think I’ve ever met an expelled Brownie before. LOL

      Thanks for coming over Sarah and I hope that the video gets you back in the groove.


  3. Ooooh, this piece is luscious, Keith — downright delectable!

    You probably saw this coming from a mile away, however …

    I’m one of those quirky people who MUST write the title FIRST.

    I know. I know. It goes against the grain of everything “logical” and the sensible advice the all-knowing experts dole out.

    For some twisted reason, I can’t write word one without having settled in on a title first — firmly settled in. Everything I write stems from that little grouping of words. I can’t explain it. It just has to be.

    Not certain I have a “best” title to share with you or a “gem”, for that matter. But I’ll pin up a few that sparked responses and a fair amount of banter:

    “Are You A Level 10 Procrastinator?”

    “Light Yourself On Fire And People Will Come To See You Burn”

    “The Agony And Victory Of Taglines”

    “Climbing Up The Learning Curve With Blistered And Callused Hands”

    “Looking At Life Through Blog-Colored Glasses”

    Thanks for another awesome post. I got immersed in every line and I love your blog post title “trick”. From here on out, I’m leaning on you for SEO coaching. 🙂

    Speak On!

    • Hi Mel
      I know that you are busy on your project so extra special thanks for coming over and leaving another “blow me away” comment.

      “I’m one of those quirky people who MUST write the title FIRST.”
      That’s fine.
      In fact the Tyranny of the Or came before the speech.
      Once I had that title, the speech was easy.

      “Not certain I have a “best” title to share with you…”
      All great examples of titles that act as mini adverts.
      Thanks for sharing.

      “I love your blog post title “trick”.”
      Give it a try.
      I used to spend ages looking for a clever title with the right keywords.
      Don’t even try, use that little trick.

      Now that I’ve had your fabulous comment, I shall sleep the sleep of a happy man.

      Can’t thank you enough, now back to your project.


  4. Keith, gotta tell ya man, this was sensational. Really sensational.

    Some of the examples you used here had me smiling ear to ear, as I could envision the speaker, and hear the words in my own head.

    Love your stuff mate, I learned quite a bit with this.

    Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion´s last great post ..A Tale of Two Bloggers: Our Individual Journey to Online SuccessMy Profile

    • Marcus, let me tell you a story.

      You’ve probably heard it already but eh, indulge an old man.

      When Jimmie Hendrix first played in the UK he was watched from the wings by Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend.
      When he’d finished his first number Eric Clapton turned to Pete Townsend and said… “Better get home and practice.”
      And that’s exactly the way I feel when I watch you speak.

      What I’m trying to say in my own clumsy and inelegant way is….
      Coming from you, that is one huge compliment.

      As a little Halloween treat, check out Mr Purple Haze himself…

      Thanks Marcus

  5. Hey Keith,

    After the thuderous applause dies down a bit, I’ll share my comment.

    *waits* *waits* *Keith bows*

    *catcalls* *”Encore! Encore!”*

    *Keith bows* 😀

    I don’t remember any speech titles off the top of my head but I can think of at least one blog post whose headline I really liked when I “named” it. It still makes me smile:

    Dance A Jig: Build Your Own Unscientific Blogging Scorecard

    I think I came up with the title somewhere about halfway through writing the post.

    The words are sort of incongruous and conjure up strange images. Kinda like “Or” being tyrannical. LOL
    Vernessa Taylor´s last great post ..Virtual Assistant Comment SpamMy Profile

    • Love it V
      I’ve just said in a reply to Roz that both you and Mel would be great at table topics and a super comment like this proves how right I was.

      “Dance A Jig: Build Your Own Unscientific Blogging Scorecard”

      I remember that post and I think that I said something like… “I’m dancing, I’m dancing”

      Loved that one.
      Almost impossible not to click on a title like that.

      “I think I came up with the title somewhere about halfway through writing the post.”
      Strange how that so often happens.

      Thanks for coming over V and thanks for your support on twitter.


  6. I’m glad you shared where that came from. One of my mentors always used the expression, but I didn’t know what it was based on.

    I’ve always been a fan of the “AND”, and there’s almost always a third alternative. I’ve also heard the “OR” choice called “the Sucker’s Choice.”
    J.D. Meier´s last great post ..30 Day Boot Camp for Time ManagementMy Profile

    • Hi JD
      Good to hear from you.

      “I’ve also heard the “OR” choice called “the Sucker’s Choice.””
      Sounds like a good name for it.

      I’ll pay you a visit and link up on twitter.


  7. Simply Wonderful, Keith! Not that I’m surprised. This write up gave me all sorts of new insight into the world of title creation.

    As for myself, I often joke that I “think in titles.” Being a writer, it is those bite-size phrases that catch my attention, sit on my shoulder and remind me of their presence mercilessly. When I finally have the time to explore what is beneath the title by researching it’s foundation (merging my creativity with writings from great thinkers past) I come to find that the title has led me to a whole new interest area, separate from the thought on which it was founded.

    Hmph… Such is the life of a writer. Even though the title must be changed in some instances, I am finally able to let go of the catchy phrase or quip that’s been following me for so long. But not much time passes before another grabs my interest. That is always certain.

    Thanks for everything, Keith. Always a pleasure.

    • Hi Courtney
      Your comment was number 13, unlucky for some, but not for me.

      “Being a writer, it is those bite-size phrases that catch my attention”
      Shows how powerful those mini adverts are – they catch our attention and we remember them.

      “…the title has led me to a whole new interest area, separate from the thought on which it was founded.”
      That is so true – funny how the brain works or sometimes, how it doesn’t work.

      “Thanks for everything, Keith. Always a pleasure.”
      And it’s always a delight to hear from you Courtney.

  8. Hi Keith, great to connect with you! I became a red coat toastmaster after discovering the profession while looking for resources for my public speaking club. It’s lots of fun and I couldn’t have done it without the skills I learned through public speaking. If you like, visit me at my other blog. I talk about non-wedding stuff there, generally things to do with my for main interests – motherhood, being a speaker, singer and a toastmaster.

    I like your article about titles. My Icebreaker title was ‘Only going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse,’ which seemed to get a giggle from the audience, but I think the one that had people hooked before I started speaking was ‘Keeping the Love Tank Full.’ 😀

    • Hi Vanessa
      Thanks for coming over and introducing yourself.
      The “red coat toastmaster” sounds like great fun – well done.

      “If you like, visit me at my other blog…”
      I’ll head over there later and so what you get up to.

      “Only going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse,”
      That is a clever title, made me smile.
      I think my ice breaker title was “Fly like an eagle”
      Reference to Eddie the Eagle and skiing – I used to ski with Eddie.
      That’s my claim to fame. LOL

      Thanks for coming over V.
      I’ll see you on your other site and on twitter.


  9. I enjoyed this blog, great insight, there so many thing people can do with a speech title, and it works great if the title is in the speech it makes the message stick!
    Malachi Talabi´s last great post ..Ready, steady, speak – Five strategies for impromptu speakingMy Profile

    • Hi Malachi
      Thanks for your comment and glad you like the blog.

      “…if the title is in the speech it makes the message stick!”
      Good point.
      Sort of a little repetition.

      Hope to see you back on easyP in the future.

  10. The most simplest and best speech title for me has to be ‘Chocolate’! Infact, this speech was a competition winning one for me!

    In general, I love speech titles which are just one word.
    Hiten´s last great post ..Meditating is not about falling asleepMy Profile

    • Hi Hiten
      I may have heard you give that speech.
      Did you give it at an area Speech contest?

      Like the title “Chocolate” what’s not to like.

      Thanks for coming over Hiten.
      Good to make contact again.

  11. Keith

    I enjoyed your blog post. You gave good examples of how to create attention-getting titles.

  12. So in essence a speech title is every bit as important as a blog post title. You use it to capture your audience attention and then the speech or post is used to real them in.
    Sire´s last great post ..Making A Header For Your Blog Is EasyMy Profile

  13. Hi Keith .. great post .. love the ‘OR’ part .. always an Or .. or an Ehm .. or er – er – er …

    Titles – certainly I’ve made some mistakes with my blog posts – that are very obvious to me .. but not others – usually I’m ok.

    I write my title at some stage! Depends how the post unfolds as I go .. sometimes the title has come because I have some ideas brooding away – which then get drafted up.

    I know that sorting through my blog is a nightmare – as I can’t do it – so heaven help anyone else .. not sure what I do without masses of work sometime!!

    I liked that you said you left the blog post and title up and then in due time changed the title to let the SEO catch up.

    Also end the post with the title .. I tie the post up and once realised there was no connection .. so suddenly added a round up – someone commented they were glad it was there – as suddenly the whole made sense!

    Wonderful read .. when that charm school’s up and running let me know!! Cheers and have a mellow week – still like that down here .. Hilary

    • Hi H
      Brilliant comment as usual.

      “I liked that you said you left the blog post and title up and then in due time changed the title to let the SEO catch up.”
      Worth doing H.
      If you’ve slaved over a post you want it to Rank well.
      A little SEO goes a long way.

      “.. when that charm school’s up and running let me know!!”
      I’ll be sure to do that and glad to hear that the weather is still mild down your way.

      I’ll pop over later and email you a comment.

      Thanks for coming over H.

  14. Hi Keith,

    After chatting with you on Twitter I had to come over and check out your place. By the way, thanks for commenting over at my humble little hangout.

    Thanks for the advice on titles. I should focus more on titles, as mine are usually pretty straightforward. I usually drop in a title at the last minute. Not good practice, of course. I gave a speech in Toastmasters titled, “Woe is me, no more.” The talk was about my past OCD tendencies, anxiety and the crazy habits I have (well, had). I tend to write about this stuff on my blog too. Past worry and all. 😉 Not the most creative title, but I thought it worked.

    Oh at that little tidbit on blog titles: “Once the interest drops off and the comments stop coming in, change the title to one that contains your keywords.”

    Never thought of that one, so thanks for the advice. I guess I do need to start paying more attention to SEO, but I’ve only been at this for two months. 😉
    Craig McBreen´s last great post ..I love my dad and my mom is my heroMy Profile

    • Eh Craig you made it

      “Woe is me, no more.”
      Pretty good title. I like it.

      “Once the interest drops off and the comments stop coming in, change the title to one that contains your keywords.”
      Just a few changes can make such a difference to how you rank in Google.
      I know we should all be doing our own creative thing and not writing for Googlebot… but even Googlebot needs a little loving.
      Mix in a few keywords.

      ” but I’ve only been at this for two months.”
      How depressing to know that. LOL
      You write well and you’ve got a great blog.

      Thanks for visiting.


      • Yes, I finally made it over.

        That was a great piece of advice and I’m happy to entertain the Googlebot. Nothing wrong with that 😉

        Depressing, ha ha 😉 Thanks for the kind words, Keith. This place isn’t so bad either 😉 Well, it’s great!

        As Arnold said, I’ll be back.
        Craig McBreen´s last great post ..I love my dad and my mom is my heroMy Profile

  15. Thank you so much for all those advice ! I am a person who stutters, and public speaking was a tru challenge for me until not so long ago !

    Keep up with the good work !

    Bérenger from France
    Bérenger – Je Bégaie´s last great post ..Maîtriser son bégaiement grâce à Bouddha ! En direct live de Hong KongMy Profile

    • Hi Berenger
      Thanks for your comment.
      Sounds as though you have worked through your problem, but if you need to chat with someone, please visit my friends site:
      The site is run by a very capable young man called Hiten.

      Hope you’ll visit easyP again.


  16. Howdy Keith, as you know I’m writing my Icebreaker speech at the moment and I keep changing the title. You’ve now made it ok to park that problem till it’s finished and also given me some great ideas.
    Roz Bennetts´s last great post ..Toastmasters Public Speaking Group Post #3My Profile

    • Yes Roz
      Do it at the end.

      At the top of my draught speech, I always wrote… the purpose of this speech is….
      Stops you forgetting what you are trying to achieve.
      Never bothered with the title until the end.

      Everyone from easyP will be thinking of you on Thursday.
      Go for it girl.


  17. Excellent advice, I don’t do speeches but I do lecture. I will start using more punchy titles with my lectures.
    I also really like your advice for blog titles.
    Chris Richards´s last great post ..What everybody ought to know about motivationMy Profile

    • Thanks for coming over Chris
      What do you lecture on?
      Let us know and I’m sure we can come up with a few ideas for titles.

      “I also really like your advice for blog titles.”
      Works for me and it only takes a few minutes to do.

      “What everybody ought to know about motivation” Sounds good. I’ll pay you a visit.

      Cheers Chris

      • Keith,

        Thanks for the return comment on my blog. Your example was exactly what I was talking about. And it was a perfect addition to the post.

        I lecture in electronics, mathematics and renewable energy. Thanks for the offer but the topics change every week.
        Chris Richards´s last great post ..Why you’ll never win an argument and what to do about it.My Profile

        • Welcome back Chris

          I once gave a short speech about a guy called Ian Watts who was an Electrical Engineer.
          I remember using the line…

          “Ian is an Electrical Engineer and as you all know… volts times amps equals Watts.”

          As soon as I saw “electronics” I thought…
          “There’s no place like ohm.”

          Sorry Chris. LOL

          I’m sure that some of my readers will do better than that.

      • Great inspirational article. In this case it’a title for a speech but you can use this for more purposes
        Michelle´s last great post ..Ultrabook vergelijkenMy Profile

  18. Thanks for sharing this. It really is hard to come up with a good speech title but thanks to you I hope I will make one. Thanks for sharing!
    Linda´s last great post ..parkeren schiphol goedkoopMy Profile

  19. Hi Keith!
    …I’ll remember all your suggestions to find a title for my posts!

    Just to let you know: I had an interview in Bristol a fiew weeks ago!! I don’t know if they’ll give me the job, they’ll let me know in about two weeks…but I’m proud of how I managed the interview!! Fingers crossed!


  20. Hi Keith, I hope you’re well? Long time no speak.

    Well I finally got around to posting up my Ice-Breaker speech on my blog. I went far too quickly which was because I didn’t rehearse enough but I’d be honoured if you’d stop by, have a look and leave me some feedback!
    Roz Bennetts´s last great post ..My Ice-Breaker Speech Video at Toastmasters Stanmore/HarrowMy Profile

  21. Heyka Keith
    How are you doing? I haven’t heard from you for quite some time, you must be busy with something exciting!
    Thank you for the article above
    all the best
    Martyna Bizdra´s last great post ..Who do you surround yourself with?My Profile

  22. hey Keith 🙂

    I have visited your new site. Is this company yours? Looks very interesting.
    and the photo, is it Marcus McAdam?

    I am also very cautious with my time, and concentrate on one project at the moment.