“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:
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….
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/ –