6 Ways to Hook Your Audience


Introductions are tricky because they are so incredibly important to the success of a presentation.  As we covered yesterday, there are 3 no-nos for speech introductions.  Today, I wanted to give you the alternatives, the ways to engage your audience.  Often called “the hook,” an introduction should be catchy, but not gimmicky, interesting, but not absurd.  These 6 approaches are guaranteed to work, as long as you use these while taking the 3 no-nos into consideration.

First, you can open with a shocking statement.  In “The 6 killer apps of prosperity,” Niall Ferguson begins by giving startling statistics.  (Please ignore his death-by-bulletpoint visual presentation).

Metaphor is a powerful tool because human beings think in metaphor.  James Geary discusses metaphor in his TED Talk, “Metaphorically speaking.”

Though not in his introduction, the Earl of Spencer used a sad metaphor in his eulogy for his sister, Princess Diana: “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.” Listen to the entire speech here.  The metaphor comparing Princess Diana to Diana, the goddess of hunting, appears in the middle.

Asking your audience a question is a sure-fire way to get them sucked into your speech right from the start.  This doesn’t mean you need to receive answers from all of your audience members; your question could be rhetorical.  In “Does democracy stifle economic growth?,” Yasheng Huang begins with a question.  In Erin McKean’s speech, she asks the audience a direct question relating to her presentation on redefining the dictionary.  (On a personal note, I love that her “y’all” snuck in there).

Telling a story is an amazing way to get your audience leaning forward and really listening.  In my presentation courses, we always begin with the narrative speech because knowing how to tell a good story is absolutely crucial if you’re going to be a good public speaker.  Ric Elias begins with a story: his story of surviving a plane crash.  Sir Ken Robinson’s “Schools kill creativity” is a fantastic example of incorporating story throughout a presentation.  You can find the link in the “Inspiration” section of my blog because it is one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen in my life.

For more information on the narrative, see Duarte’s short video on storytelling.

Beginning your presentation with a quote is thought-provoking because it makes your audience recall the quote and the original speaker of that quote.  This can lend itself to your ethos as a presenter because you are aligning yourself with the famous presenter and the famous quote.  In his eulogy at Richard Nixon’s funeral, Bill Clinton opened with a quote.  Clinton said, “President Nixon opened his memoirs with a simple sentence: ‘I was born in a house my father built.'”

Ahh, humor.  Keep this in mind: humor is not about telling jokes.  Your humor should directly relate to your thesis, the main point of your speech.  Humor is quite tricky because you don’t actually know what your entire audience thinks is funny.  Do they laugh at slapstick humor or chuckle at wordplay and puns?

Use humor with extreme care.  Remember that self-depreciating humor is always best because it allows you to develop your ethos as a presenter.  Some examples of light humor are Patrick Chappatte’s “The power of cartoons” and Morgan Spurlock’s “The greatest TED Talk ever sold.”  These work because the speakers aren’t telling jokes.

It’s always helpful to view presentations to learn how to be a better presenter.  I would suggest checking out TED.com, my favorite website about speeches.


2 thoughts on “6 Ways to Hook Your Audience

  1. Alex, I talk about “starting with a bang” with my public speaking students and clients, and have always had a -note to self- to look up some specific kinds of openers they can use. Thanks for providing it!

    I’ve spent a few hours on your site this weekend preparing for a workshop next week and I will recommend it to others. You have a clear, direct way of writing that I admire.

    Keep up the good work!


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