Tonya Harding’s Guide to Speech Titles: The importance of a good speech title

In my sports viewing over the last few weeks there has been a lot of promotions for the ESPN Films: 30 for 30 documentary on the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan saga of 1994 titled “The Price of Gold”.

I have heard a lot of good things about the ESPN Films: 30 for 30 series, but this was the first one I have actually watched. I do recall seeing advertisements and showing interest in the documentaries on the Baltimore Colts’ Marching Band and another recent one on former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett and head coach Jim Tressel, but I have never taken the time to actually view one.

I don’t want to spend much time critiquing this documentary other than to say that I thought it was very interesting. What I do want to spend time on is how intriguing I found the title.

Apparently the original title of the documentary was “Tonya and Nancy” during production, but was changed to the much more poetic “The Price of Gold” in the last few months.

While I feel like I am ignoring E.B. White’s advice when it comes to explaining jokes, I love how they take the phrase that we would normally only associate with boring commodity training (apparently around $1259.40 per ounce at the time of this blog post) with the massive amount of blood, sweat and tears that athletes exert towards winning an Olympic gold medal.

I am only one chapter into a book recommended by a fellow Toastmaster that analyzes and deconstructs the speeches of the past 25 Toastmasters World Champions of Public Speaking as well as the nine finalists of the 2012 World Championship. “How to Win the World Championship of Public Speaking” by Jeremy Donovan recommends short titles that “trigger an insatiable curiosity”, because the average title of a world championship speech is only three words long.

This is not a policy I have always subscribed to. My most successful 4-H speech in high school was the wordy “The Berenstain Bear’s Guide to Immigration Policy in the United States and Israel” (for which I won a $1000 college scholarship in the 4-H Communications Contest) and my best placing in the Toastmasters International speech contest was with the similarly themed and almost as long “Simon Cowell’s Guide to American Democracy”. My last two contest speeches “I Hate My Wife’s Cat” and “Confessions of a Corn Detasseler” have been slightly shorter, but still probably aren’t intriguing enough to get the job done. I know one of my weaknesses as as speaker has been my tendency to want to sound smart instead of actually communicating a valuable message to the audience. Lengthy, complex titles is only another symptom of that.

My only real problem with the documentary title is that neither of the subjects of documentary ever received a gold medal. While Harding famously underachieved during the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer with an extremely disappointing 8th place, Kerrigan lost by the slimmest of margins to Ukrainian Oksana Baiul (but the documentary implies that Kerrigan gave a gold medal performance in the critical free skate, but that the infamously political figure skating judges punished Kerrigan for the negative publicity that her and Harding brought to the Olympics). I understand the sentiment that this title is too good not to use, both of the subjects unarguably paid what you would normally think would be “the price of gold”, but the fact that the title medal is held by someone who who received about two minutes of coverage in the film still bothers me.

While the title is still not as important as the message, we have a lot to learn on the best way to start a speech even before we have hit the stage.

Image credit: Andrew Parodi, 1998.

Question: What is the best speech title you have ever heard?

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One comment on “Tonya Harding’s Guide to Speech Titles: The importance of a good speech title
  1. […] problem for me lately that I come up with a title, before I actually come up with a speech. While titles are important, it will not make up for a deficiencies in the body of the […]

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