hook the audience

More ways to hook your audience

by Elizabeth Toohig
in Blog
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Hook them early!

If you fail to hook your audience with your first sentence, you may find people tuning out before you even start. In my Iast article I explored three ways you can quickly gain their attention with your  opening statement; eye catching image  or action, dramatic statement and thought provoking question or statement. This article explores two more techniques and how the different techniques can be combined to create an opening that will hook your audience more successfully:

Transport the audience

This technique is particularly effective when the subject of your talk is alien to most of your audience members. In her talk about modern day slavery, Lisa Kristine (Photos that bear witness to modern slavery) (TEDxMaui January 2012) spends the first minute of her talk describing her experience of an illegal mine shaft in Ghana.

I’m 150 feet down an illegal mine shaft in Ghana. The air is thick with heat and dust, and it’s hard to breathe. I can feel the brush of sweaty bodies passing me in the darkness, but I can’t see much else. I hear voices talking, but mostly the shaft is this cacophony of men coughing, and stone being broken with primitive tools. Like the others, I wear a flickering, cheap flashlight tied to my head with this elastic, tattered band, and I can barely make out the slick tree limbs holding up the walls of the three-foot square hole dropping hundreds of feet into the earth. When my hand slips, I suddenly remember a miner I had met days before who had lost his grip and fell countless feet down that shaft.

Drawing on different senses adds impact to a description. Interestingly, smell is the only sense that Kristine doesn’t use. Yet, it is reported that triggering the sense of smell (especially smells of childhood) has the greatest impact on creating an emotional connection.

A Confession

Teasing the audience with the indication of an imminent confession creates a close bond. The audience feels privileged that you are going to reveal something that is not common knowledge. We tend to associate a ‘confession’ with things that we have done, but possibly shouldn’t have. It suggests to the audience that the speaker is fallible; human and not perfect. Dan Pink, in his talk about ‘The puzzle of motivation’ (TED Global 2009), gives the confession approach a bit of a twist. This has the added bonus of generating humour that further deepens his connection with the audience.

 I need to make a confession right at the outset. 20 years ago I did something that I regret, something that I am not particularly proud of, and something that in many ways I wish no one would ever know, but here I kind of feel obliged to reveal. In the late 1980’s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school.

Another example

In her talk How to make stress your friend’ (TED Global 2013), Kelly McGonigal combines the confession and question techniques.

I have a confession to make. But first I want you to make a little confession to me. I want you to raise your hand if in the last year you have experienced relatively little stress… Anyone? How about moderate amount of stress? Yeah. Me too. But that is not my confession. My confession is this: I am a health psychologist and my mission is to help people be happier and healthier.

Directing the audience to ‘raise [their] hand if in the last year [they] have experienced […] stress’ is a guaranteed way to get the majority of any audience to participate. She raises the stakes with her second question, then reveals that she, too, is part of this group of stressed people. She builds a connection with her audience by showing her human and vulnerable side.
If you want to hook your audience, these methods are far more effective than a rambling opening giving the audience your life history. Also, they will make it much easier to deliver your message during the main part of your talk.

In my next blog, I look explore different ways you can anchor the points within your talk ensuring your audience stay hooked to what you say!
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