Most people have never given the idea of a “hook” for their speech opening any thought at all. The vast majority of speakers start by introducing themselves, say what they’re going to talk about, and then launch into their presentation.  But a hook—such as a story, a quote, a visual, a prop, an anecdote, a question—has great advantages for your speech opening:

Advantages of a Hook:

  • It makes the audience sit up and take notice.
  • It intrigues them and makes them want to listen.
  • It’s a great device for moving into the talk in a way that’s interesting and logical.
  • It sets the stage, gets the audience’s attention, establishes your credibility and creates rapport with the audience, and…
  • It gets your momentum going. This is important—getting out of the gate. Since we’re usually our most nervous at the beginning of a talk, having a solid speech opening that accomplishes all of the above means you’ll find your stride quicker and easier and overcome any early-talk jitters that much sooner.

Here are some ways you can “hook” your audience in your speech opening—get their attention, reel them in, make them sit up and take notice and think, gee I want to listen to this:

Examples of a Hook:

  • A startling statement or statistic: “Every 10 seconds. That’s how often a woman is battered by her partner in this country.”
  • A story or anecdote: “One beautiful summer day in my youth, my grandfather and I set off to go fishing…”
  • A prop or visual aid: One of the advantages of this option is it gives you something purposeful to do. Having something to do with your hands, something to focus on, can help you get centered and allay your anxiety.
  • A question, which can be literal (you want a response to it): “How many of you are parents?”, or rhetorical: “Have you ever wished you could see into the future?” Just a little tip here. When you ask a question that you want a response to, make sure you word it so that you do, in fact, get a response. Instead of saying, “Who here hasn’t experienced any stress in their life?,” a better wording would be: “How many of you have experienced stress in your life?”
  • A quote: “Thomas Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

You may have noticed I didn’t include telling a joke. A joke is a highly risky way to open a talk. If it bombs or offends someone, you have a lot to overcome. It’s safer not to open with a joke. That doesn’t mean humor isn’t appropriate. A humorous story or anecdote that happened to you personally can be a very effective opening.

Ben Franklin said “Well begun is half done.” Which is why an attention-getting, intriguing opening is so important!

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