How to Write Business Storytelling Titles that Grab People’s Attention
Why should you care about the title for a story? For oral storytelling, it really doesn’t matter because the title is mainly a memory aid for you only. Probably most story titles are thought up solely for this purpose.
On the other hand, if you’re a blogger, journalist, professional writer, small business owner, or a branding or marketing expert who’s responsible for placing stories into a story bank or into various media, what you use as the title for a story is very important. An effective story title is all about three outcomes: getting people to read it, having it pop up in online searches (which means the title needs to be short and include useful keywords), or getting others to remember it and its key message.
Given that the story may be housed within a longer article, newsletter, report, website, or blog post, you have two titles to worry about: The title for the story and the title for the larger piece. The following ideas focus on the story title, but they could also work for the broader headline title if the piece is going online.
Use numbers or lists in story titles
Despite how overused they are, using numbers in a story title draws attention to it. When you use this approach, though, at all costs resist the urge to reduce your story to a bulleted list. If you use a story title such as “My Amazing Adventure: Learning Five Tips for Better Storytelling” or “Ten Things I Keep Forgetting When Crafting Stories,” make sure you’re actually telling a story.
Start your story title with curiosity words or a question
Write a phrase that piques readers’ curiosity and makes them feel as if they’re going to miss out on something if they don’t read your story. Here’s one example: “My Discovery of the Hidden Truth About Business Stories.” Use grabber words in the title that offer a rationale for reading, such as: secrets, ways, methods, techniques, principles, reasons, lessons, ideas, and similar enticements — such as The Reason I Started a Business With $36.
When crafting a two-part title to a story, have the first half create an emotional connection with your reader and the second half give a reason using words such as how/how to and why. An example is the book Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over: How Organizations Use Stories to Drive Results (Jossey-Bass, 2006). In a story title, when using how/how to and why, these words might be used in the following ways: “Why My Business Stories Spark Change” or “How I Doubled My Profits with Business Storytelling.”
Questions are another way to trigger curiosity. When asked a question, people often want to know the answer. Frank Sherwood’s story “What’s It Going to Take?” is a good example. If it were used as a story title online, consider adding a few words to it to target readers and search engines. Something like “What Does it Really Take to Make a Sale?” might work.
Use adjectives when writing the name for your business story
Ask yourself whether your story title would benefit from interesting adjectives such as awesome, wonderful, beautiful, excellent, free, powerful, valuable, unique, easy, fun, and the like. For more ideas, check out Richard Bayan’s book Words That Sell: More than 6000 Entries to Help You Promote Your Products, Services, and Ideas (McGraw-Hill, 2006).
Create urgency with your storytelling
Would your story title benefit from creating a sense of urgency? Try a title like “A Surprising Way to Quickly Close a Sales Deal.” Using a title like this suggests to your reader that they read your story before they engage in an activity.
Share benefits in your business story
If you want someone to read your story because you want to convert them to a point of view or into a customer, consider writing a story title that includes a benefit. The story about grassroots homelessness action called “It’s Not About Shelters” could become “It’s Not About Shelters: How to Save Millions on Homelessness.”
Use a line, metaphor, or theme when storytelling
If there’s a line from the story that’s catchy and fits these suggestions, incorporate it into your title. Or use the theme of your story to help you write your headline.
Limit story titles to 65 characters
Book, article, and story titles are often longer than 65 characters. With social media, if you want the entire title to show up in Google search results and be quickly and easily shared on Twitter (think going viral), creating short punchy titles is important.
Google truncates long headlines when posting search results, which means 65 characters is all you have to play with. If you want to entice people to read the story, they need to see the full title. With proper Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the full title can become searchable within a longer article. Moreover, 65 characters can easily fit into an e-mail newsletter subject line.
What not to do in your business story name
Never write a headline or story title that contains your key message because doing so telegraphs the ending of the story. Also never write a headline or story title like “Jane Doe Speaks About Storytelling.” That’s boring. Instead, write “Jane Doe Shares How She Learned to Create Raving Fans with Stories.”
Additional resources for business storytelling
To help you title your stories, check out the book POP!: Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything by Sam Horn (Perigee Trade, 2009). You can also use a title generator, such as Tweak Your Biz Title Generator..