You get up on stage. Your heart is racing. Your palms are sweating. In front of you, a sea of faces stare up. It’s your audience, mostly men in suits, anticipating your every word and expecting nothing unique or earth shattering, interesting, hopefully, memorable, perhaps. What are you now going to do? Surprise them.
You stand there, tall and silent, and watch them. You’re enjoying the powerful pause that’s now getting their attention. And then you open your mouth and say your opening words. Did they wake them up? Or did they send them to sleep? The difference is what advertisers and storytellers call the Hook. And it starts with your opening lines.
Taking a leaf out of the advertising and storytelling world, here are a few tips on how you can hook your audience into your speech when all around you attention spans are limited and audience retention a challenge. Used for press releases, storytelling, books, film, TV serials, and also in speeches, the purpose of the hook lies in the first 30” of any speech: How can I grab my audience’s attention?
Your opening words set the tone of your speech, drawing the audience in and capturing their imagination. Think back to the last time you watched a TED speech or sitcom? What was it that made you decide to continue to listen?
Here’s how a storyteller I knew hooked me into his speech:
‘It wasn’t the first night in prison that was the worst. Nor was it the second. It was the third night.’
He had me immediately hooked! What could be worse than prison? Why was he in prison? What had he done? I wanted to hear the end of his story. And he had cleverly drawn me in, hook, line and sinker, and captured my attention.
What’s your hook?
Here are more effective creative devices you can use to hook your audience in.
Ask a rhetorical question: When was the last time you spent quality time with your family? How ambitious are you? What’s your purpose in life? Why do you do what you do?
Make a strong statement: Women are a talent pool you can no longer ignore. Europe is no longer competitive. Education is to poverty like aspirin is to a headache: it eliminates it.
Tell an inspirational quote: Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. If it is meant to be, it is up to me. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again don’t be surprised you get the same result.
Pick an original title: Attracting people to listen to your talk starts with an attention grabbing title. Why do we buy a magazine? Why do we read some articles and not others? What makes us choose which workshop? Headlines sell. And your speech title is no different. It’s your first hook, along with your opening lines.
Listen to how Melissa Marshall hooks us into her speech, first with her attention grabbing title, “Talk Nerdy to Me” and then with Alice in/ Wonderland, and that’s just for starters:
Look out for the sequel in the Speaking Success© series: The Hold.
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