“The next three minutes will determine whether you succeed or fail on your next presentation.”
Every presentation has three main parts – the beginning, the middle, and the end. And among these, the beginning is easily the most important. You have about 30 seconds to get the audience interested in what you have to say. If that doesn’t happen, anything else you do afterwards will soon be forgotten. You need a hook to grab their attention. Here are 12 tried and true ways to hook your audience and get your presentation off on the right foot.
Why You Need to be Captain Hook
At the beginning of every presentation, there are two main things going on.
- You are trying to introduce your topic and convince people why they need to hear it.
- Your audience is trying to decide whether this will be worth their time.
A good hook is one that quickly gets everyone oriented and engaged, introduces your topic, and makes them willing to listen to more of what you have to say.
There are lots of effective ways to do this. The main thing is to do something interesting.
It’s hard to think of a quicker way to shut down the audience than to begin by mumbling,
“Hello, my name is Bob Smith, and for the next 45 minutes I’m going to be talking about the importance of socks.”
I don’t know why Bob’s talking about socks, and I don’t know why I should listen. I’m already lacing up my track shoes and getting ready to sprint for the door.
So if it falls to you to give the next presentation on the importance of socks (or any other topic), here are 12 ways you can use to engage the audience from the very beginning. I’ll continue with the sock example to help out poor Bob.
Note: If you would like a one-page condensed version of these 12 hooks, plus presentation tips to help them work for you, hit this button:
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12 Pretty Good Hooks About Socks
1. Make an Outrageous or Provocative Claim . It’s the same way I started this post. Hopefully it caught your attention and made you want to read more. The same goes for presentations. Be bold, original, challenge common beliefs, then back up your claim.
“Socks are more important than food.” That’s what a man named Kiwi said recently. Kiwi was a homeless man living on the streets of Toronto, Canada. He said that he knew of many pantries and shelters where he could get food, but there was no way he could walk the streets of his city without socks. Socks meant everything to this man and many like him. And if you think about it, socks are very important to all of us…
(Got this quote from The Joy of Sox, a charitable organization that donates socks to the homeless.)
2. Tell a Joke. This is a classic technique that can work well as a way to relax and make the audience receptive. It’s a good idea to try the joke out on some friends first, to make sure they think it’s funny too. Keep it clean, and be ready to move on if you don’t get the laughter you thought you would.
On the first day of summer camp, the director informed all the little campers that he expected them to put on a fresh pair of socks every day. Two weeks later, Johnny failed to appear at the morning flag raising. The director found him still in his cot.
“Why aren’t you lined up with the other boys?” He asked.
“I can’t get my shoes on over fourteen pairs of socks!”
Clearly the boy knew that it was important to have his socks, but didn’t understand why or how the socks were important…
This site at ajokeaday is clean and has a long list of joke categories and a pretty good search function to help you find just the right joke to get started.
3. Tell a Story. Stories remind your audience that you are human, make you relatable, and take down protective barriers people will erect when they think people will be talking at them. Start immediately with the story. You can back up and introduce yourself later.
“Change your socks” the instructor ordered. We had just forded a river in the middle of the night and our feet were soaking wet. We were carrying three pairs of socks on this mission. The first was already dirty, and now the second was soaked. But we didn’t want to change our socks. Because in two miles we were supposed to cross another river and we would get wet again. But the instructor didn’t want to hear that. He wanted to make sure we knew he was in charge. Presenting him with the facts only appeared like a challenge to his authority, so he simply said slowly and more deliberately, “Change. Your. Socks.”
So we changed into our last dry socks by moonlight, he checked every one of us, then we marched on. And we crossed that next river and got wet. Our feet were soaked and sore for the next two days. For a while, it was all I could think about – the foolish order to change our socks. It was the maddest I had ever been. Because when it comes right down to it, the simplest things are the most important in life. The trust of a loved one; food; and dry socks. Most of us take socks for granted…
The best stories are personal ones from your own experience, but you can also find good ones on the internet. This page at businessballs.com indexes their stories by title and topic.
4. Show a Video. Let someone else break the ice for you with a video. It’s an unexpected way to begin, so people will be instantly interested, plus people just like to watch video. Keep it brief and related to the topic in some way. It can be a great way to show the audience what you are talking about, not just trying to describe it. Absolutely double check and rehearse to make sure the video works wherever you will be presenting, and be prepared to react if it fails anyway.
So, who knew you could make a smart phone holder out of an old sock? Well in fact there are lots of good uses for socks, and some actually involve putting your feet into them. Socks are one of the most underrated items of clothing…
5. Ask a Couple Questions. Some people will want to answer, but even if they don’t do it out loud, they will be considering the answer in their minds, so they will be engaged. Asking several questions in a row will stretch the audience’s mind further while also serving as an introduction to your topic. Be sure to pause after each question for best effect.
What do you think is the most important piece of clothing you own? What makes it important? Is it the protection it provides? How often you wear it? The warmth it offers? The way it makes you look? How it makes you feel? For me, there is nothing more important that having on a nice clean pair of dry socks…
6. Show a Picture. This can be a variation of the story method. Share a picture of a person and talk about him, or of a place and why it is important, or of something else related to your subject. People will look at the picture instead of you, so it takes a little pressure off. And the picture itself serves to introduce your topic. Half the job is done before you even open your mouth.
Take a look at this…Anybody recognize them? This is a picture of the earliest known surviving pair of knit socks. They date back to 300 AD. They were excavated in the town of Oxyrhynchus on the Nile River in Egypt. That means that nearly 2,000 years ago, man had already figured out that he needed good socks on his feet….
7. Ask a Rhetorical Question. It’s a question that can’t necessarily be answered, but it gets people thinking, and helps you point them in the direction you want to go.
Are socks what truly define us as human beings? Are socks what differentiate us from all the other forms of life on the planet? After all, nobody else on earth is wearing them except us. Can they be that important? These are clearly questions for the ages, and well worth our consideration…
8. Set an Expectation. Not only is it a good idea to let people know what you will be talking about, you will engage their attention much better if you give them something interesting to look forward to.
By the end of this presentation, not only will you know how important socks are in our lives, you will have ten fun facts about socks that you probably didn’t know, and four new sock jokes that you can use to amaze and amuse your friends.
9. Show Them an Object. Bring something with you that you can hold up and talk about. This is a good way to quickly capture the attention of the audience and introduce your topic at the same time.
Does anyone know what this is? (receive answers). Correct – it’s a sock monkey. Does anyone know how many socks it takes to make a sock monkey? (receive several answers). Well, those are all good guesses. The actual answer is two. And sock monkeys are a pretty cool way to use socks that makes them very important in our lives. But did you know that there are several other important things about socks that you should be aware of…?
10. Reference an Historical Event. If the day, week, month, or year is unique in any way that you can relate to your topic, that can be another way to make the topic seem more real or relevant.
Did you know that it was only 135 years ago, on a day very like today, that John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant to the United States, patented the sock-knitting machine? And that one invention was enough to not only change the history of footwear, but lead to the development of a child’s toy as well. Socks have had a huge impact on us…
At this New York Times link, you can see what happened today in history, or pick any other date and see what was going on.
11. Use a Quote. Find a quote from someone recognizable, then think about how you can tie it into your presentation, or turn it on its head.
Maybe you have heard this quote from Albert Einstein: “Long hair minimizes the need for barbers; socks can be done without, one leather jacket solves the coat problem for many years; suspenders are superfluous.” Well, Einstein was smart about a lot of things, but I take exception to his views about socks….
Over at Brainyquote.comyou can find lots to choose from and can even search by topic. Another good source is thinkexist.com
A variation on this idea would be to make the quote your first slide – nothing but the quote in giant words; possibly with a picture of the person who said it.
12. Ask, “What if…?” or “Imagine…” Ask them about something that changes their perspective, like what if you could fly, read minds, be debt-free, go backward or forward in time. You can adapt this to nearly any presentation and it will immediately cause your audience to engage their minds. Ask the question, pause, ask it again for best effect.
Imagine a world without socks. (pause) Imagine… a world without socks. What would it be like? What would change? How would your life be different? (pause) When you think about it, socks are critically important….
These are just 12 possible ways to hook your audience, and there are infinite variations on these ideas. You can even combine them – tell a funny story while showing a picture or turning a quote on its head. The keys are to keep it interesting, original, and fairly brief. Remember, you only have about 30 seconds before they decide whether or not they want to keep listening. Use that time well, and you will be on your way to making a memorable presentation.
If I was able to help Bob get you even the least bit interested in something as mundane as socks, think of what you can do with a far more interesting topic!
With that, since we’re on a sock “thing” today, I’ll leave you with an ode to socks I came across by Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda. Maybe if I had quoted this to my instructor so long ago, he’d have let me save my last pair of dry socks for after the final river crossing…
Ode to my Socks
Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.
Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
as learned men collect
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.
The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.
Question: What hooks have you seen recently that seemed to be very effective? How could you combine several of the methods above to make a high impact hook?
Egyptian Socks photo; no changes made – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Early_socks.jpg
Sock joke – source: http://www.jokebuddha.com/Socks/recent/4#ixzz3fJpmAwQ7
The Joy of Sox charitable organization donates socks to the homeless http://www.pointsoflight.org/blog/2014/06/04/when-socks-are-more-important-food%E2%80%99
Sock Monkey photo; no changes made – https://www.flickr.com/photos/poplinre/2153204704/ –
"When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire," says advertising executive David Ogilvy. You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial to grab attention. The same applies to a presentation. The first 30 seconds of your talk is crucial. This is the time your listeners form an impression of you, and of what's to follow.
Like a fine thoroughbred, you need to hit the ground running by starting strong. Instead, many presenters are more like old, tired workhorses—they start weak by wasting those first precious seconds with platitudes and pleasantries. Brain research shows that we don't pay attention to boring things. Surprise your listeners with a hook that immediately grabs their attention.
The key is to make sure that the hook is brief, well-rehearsed and pertinent to your topic. What follows is 12 hooks that will grab your audience's attention—and keep it.
1. Use a contrarian approach. Make a statement of a universally accepted concept, then go against conventional wisdom by contradicting the statement. For example, a market trader starts by contradicting the commonly held advice of buying low and selling high. He says: "It's wrong. Why? Because buying low typically entails a stock that's going in the opposite direction—down—from the most desired direction—up." This is a provocative opening that engages the audience right away.
2. Ask a series of rhetorical questions. A common way to engage the audience at the start is to ask a rhetorical question. Better still, start with a series of rhetorical questions. A good example of this tactic is Simon Sinek's TED presentation. He starts with: "How do you explain when things don't go as we assumed? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? For example, why is Apple so innovative? ... Why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement?" A series of rhetorical questions stimulate the audience's mind as they ponder the answers.
3. Deliver a compelling sound bite. Use a catchy phrase or sound bite that has pungency and watch how the audience perks up. Innovation expert Jeremy Gutshe opens his talk with: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is a sign that is on Ford's strategy War Room. And the lesson from it is not how good your PowerPoint slide deck is, what it really boils down to at the end of the day is how ready and willing your organization is to embrace change, try new things and focus in when you find an opportunity." To be effective, the sound bite needs to be brief, interesting and compelling.
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4. Make a startling assertion. A surefire way to gain people's attention is by starting with a startling or amazing fact. Take the time to research startling statistics that illustrate the seriousness of what you're going to talk about. For example, a presentation about conservancy can start with: "Every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That's over 31 million football fields of rainforest each year."
5. Provide a reference to a historical event. There are times when the day that you present may have some significance in history that can be tied to the subject of your presentation, as an opening gambit. You can easily look up what happened on any day in Today In Sport or a more general site such as This Day In History. You never know what pertinence it might have that will add some pizzazz to your presentation. It's worth a look.
6. Use the word imagine. The word imagine invites the audience to create a mental image of something. Ever since John Lennon's famous song, it has become a powerful word with emotional appeal. A particularly skillful use of the word occurs in Jane Chen's TED talk. She speaks about a low-cost incubator that can save many lives in underdeveloped countries. Chen opens by saying: “Please close your eyes and open your hands. Now imagine what you could place in your hands, an apple, maybe your wallet. Now open your eyes. What about a life?” As she says this, she displays a slide with an Anne Geddes' image of a tiny baby held in an adult's hands. There is power in asking the audience to conjure up their imagination, to play along. This tactic can easily be adapted to any topic where you want the audience to imagine a positive outcome, or a vision of a better tomorrow. It can be used, as well, to ask them to imagine being in someone else's shoes.
7. Add a little show business. According to research, 100 percent of Americans quote movies, primarily comedies, in conversation. One of the primary reasons is to entertain. Movies occupy a central place in most people’s lives and a well-placed, pertinent movie quote at the start of a presentation can perk up your audience. Here are a couple of examples: "There's not a lot of money in revenge" (from The Princess Bride) and "The first rule of leadership: everything is your fault" (from A Bug's Life.) And here are a couple of sites for movie quotations to start you off: Best Business Quotes From The Silver Screen and The Best Business Wisdom Hidden In Classic Movie Quotes.
8. Arouse curiosity.You can start with a statement that is designed to arouse curiosity and make the audience look up and listen to you attentively. Bestselling author Dan Pink does this masterfully in one of his talks. He says: "I need to make a confession, at the outset. A little over 20 years ago, I did something that I regret. Something that I am not particularly proud of, something that in many ways I wished no one would ever know, but that here I feel kind of obliged to reveal. In the late 1980s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school." Curiosity here leads to some self-deprecating humor, which makes it even more effective.
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9. Use quotations differently. Many speakers start with an apt quotation, but you can differentiate yourself by stating the quotation and then adding a twist to it. For example, "We've all heard that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But we need to remember that a journey to nowhere also starts with a single step." You can also use a quotation from your own life. For example, in a presentation on price versus quality, I have often used a quote from my grandfather, who used to say: "I am not rich enough to buy cheap." There are innumerable sources for online quotations, but you might also consider The Yale Book of Quotations, an app that brings together over 13,000 quotes you can adapt to your purpose.
10. Quote a foreign proverb. There is a wealth of fresh material to be culled from foreign proverbs. Chances are your listeners have never heard them so they have novelty appeal. Here are some examples: "Our last garment is made without pockets" (Italy); "You'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind" (Ireland); "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down" (Japan), and "Paper can't wrap up a fire" (China). Here is a site for foreign proverbs.
11. Take them through a "what if" scenario. A compelling way to start your presentation is with a "what if" scenario. For example, asking "What if you were debt-free?" at the start of a money management presentation might grab your listeners' attention as it asks them to look forward to a positive future. It can intensify their desire for your product or service. Using a "what if" scenario as an opening gambit is easily adaptable to almost any presentation.
12. Tell them a story. Stories are one of the most powerful ways to start a presentation. Nothing will compel listeners to lean in more than a well-told story. Science tells us that our brains are hardwired for storytelling. But the story needs to be brief, with just the right amount of detail to bring it to life. It must be authentic and must have a "message," or lesson, to support your viewpoint. Above all, it must be kind. As Benjamin Disraeli said: "Never tell an unkind story."
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Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.