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I'm going to a conference in December and I will have a 20 minute talk there. Originally, a colleague of mine was supposed to go, but personal circumstances resulted in my taking part instead. My colleague and I cover the same area, so this is not the problem. But since my colleague handed in the title of the talk we have reevaluated our use of field-specific key words. Therefore, I think the title as it stands is a little misleading. Is it common practice to adapt conference presentation titles? I found one topic covering a similar matter, but it hasn't got much attention.

  • Is your question whether it's okay to contact the organisers to change the title of your talk, or whether it's okay to have a title for your talk that is different from the one in the programme? – Ian_Fin Nov 11 '16 at 13:29
  • The latter is the case. – Ian Nov 11 '16 at 13:41
  • I've seen subtitled used to "clarify" a title, sometimes to such an extent that the meaning changed completely. Maybe a subtitle can help here too? – Roland Nov 12 '16 at 19:12
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Given that, officially at least, the title of your talk will still be the old misleading one, I'm not sure how much there really is to be gained by changing the wording of your first slide, which seems to be effectively what you're thinking of doing. In fact, having a title for your talk that doesn't match what's in the programme could be potentially misleading anyway (for example, if the chair reads your title from the programme, rather than the slide, or if the title on the screen isn't what your audience had expected).

If you feel that your title is misleading then what I think I would do would be to begin the talk by making it clear that the title is potentially misleading, and then clarifying what the talk is actually about. You could even, before the audience's eyes, swap your old title for a new title.

As long as the programme has the old title then to a certain extent the damage is done. I think the best approach to take is simply to make clear from the outset that the title is misleading, and explain what you're really going to talk about.

  • Thanks for your answer. I don't think it is misleading in a way that would throw off 99% of the audience. But if someone happens to know my topic they might challenge the title. It is really about a rather vague definition nobody will have heard of. Given that changing the title might be more damaging than living with the present title, I think I will just leave it and address questions if needed. – Ian Nov 11 '16 at 14:18
  • @ian_itor That sounds reasonable. Playing devil's advocate for a moment, you may want to consider the possibility that someone in that 1% challenges your title and a couple of minutes of your question time (presumably only 5-10 mins for a 20min talk) is spent clarifying it, rather than discussing something more productive to you. Additionally, if the only people likely to pick up on it are the experts in your topic, are these the people you want to "mislead." Ultimately, you know the field and the audience better than I, so you're best placed to weigh up the likelihood of these events. – Ian_Fin Nov 11 '16 at 14:29
  • You have raised a good point, but I think saying that our views on the use of terminology have changed since the submission of the abstract might suffice to clear things up. – Ian Nov 11 '16 at 14:31
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It is quite normal that in a conference with 40 talks, several speakers change the titles of their talk on the spot. Common reasons are that there was some success after registration, or during the preparation of the talk the speaker found out that he cannot cover everything in the prescribed time. Sometimes it happens that a mistake was found to late, so the content of the talk has to be changed substantially. Usually this is not a problem.

However, people either come to your talk because they are attracted by the title, or because they just want to appear polite. It would be unfair against the former if you change the content of your talk, in particular if there are parallel sessions. So if after submitting your title and abstract you find some much more interesting results on some other topic, you should still stick to your original talk.

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