Have you ever heard someone try to hook the audience with “Hello, my name is X and today I’m going to talk about Y”? What was the impact? There probably wasn’t much excitement in the room and you and the rest of the audience settled in for 60 minutes of tolerating whatever the speaker’s topic was. You see, in most cases audiences don’t really care who you are until they have a reason to care.
Using that same strategy, imagine an episode of the TV show “Law and Order” that starts off with “This is ‘Law and Order’ and today you’re going to watch detectives solve a crime.” You would probably agree there’s not much excitement or intrigue in that introduction. When the introduction to the show doesn’t catch you with the opening scene there’s a strong chance that you’ll change the channel in search of something more exciting and interesting.
But what about the episode that starts with a clip of the crime being committed and then cuts to the opening credits? If you’re like most people, you want to stay tuned in to find out who committed the crime and how the perpetrator gets caught. We are intrigued by the anticipation of hearing the story and learning what is next.
This is the highly successful introduction recipe that we see on TV, in movies, in stage shows, at concerts…in nearly every public event where the performer is successful at engaging the audience from the very beginning.
So, if your goal is to “hook” your audience, always start your presentation with an exciting attention-getter that captures the audience’s interest and compels them to hear “the rest” of your story.
Here are 4 ways to hook the audience every time (there are more, but try these first):
Using a statistic that startles or impresses the audience is a powerful attention-getting tool. Make sure the statistic has something to do with the topic you will be presenting and always site the reference from which you got the statistic. This strategy looks like this when, for example, the speaker is talking about food consumption trends in the US: “According to a 2013 study by the US Department of Agriculture, bananas and apples topped the list of the most popular fresh fruits, with bananas at 11.4 pounds per person per year, beating out apples at 10.7 pounds.”
Quotations that are related to your topic are powerful because they get the audience to think AND they provide the credibility that people need in order to believe what they just heard. An example of starting a presentation with a powerful quotation is: “Babe Ruth, the iconic baseball player, once said ‘Never let the fear of striking out get in your way’.” This is interesting if you add the fact that Babe Ruth, as is the case with many others who have home run records, had a lot more strike-outs each year than home runs. This quote and “back story” are relevant to many life situations today and relate well to audiences.
Question: Actual and Rhetorical
Asking the audience a question that causes them to raise their hands is a great way to start a presentation. “How many of you have ever flown in a helicopter?” might be a great opener for a presentation about trying something you’ve never done. It also gives you an idea of how relatable your topic is to the audience. Likewise, a rhetorical question, such as “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the first person on Mars?” could get the audience thinking about something other than parking the car or what they are having for dinner. Again, make sure the question has something to do with your topic.
Anecdote or Personal Story
Starting with a story is a great way to quickly connect with your audience because humans of all ages and cultures love stories. Cave people told stories through pictures. Cultures and societies without a written language passed their histories down to subsequent generations through stories.
Scientific studies tell us that stories activate all the parts of our brains that would be engaged if we were actually experiencing what’s happening in the story. That’s why stories work to “hook” audiences. Try it…you’ll like it…and so will your audiences.
Now, most people who try a new “attention-getter” strategy want to first tell the audience they are going to share a statistic, quote or anecdote, or ask them a question. Resist that urge and just start with the attention getter. The impact will be very powerful.
Of course, once you’ve hooked the audience, it’s your job to keep them engaged throughout your performance. That’s another topic for another post!