Your presentation hook: the best way to grab your audience

To grab your audience at the start of a presentation you need a presentation hook. It’s called a hook because it should be short and sharp! And to take the analogy a step further, it should also be the right hook for your audience.

5 presentation hooks to get you started

A short story

I work in IT, and I talk a lot with customers about cloud computing. Here’s my presentation hook:

It’s great to be here with you today. I thought of this presentation last night, when I was playing with my 5-year-old daughter. She was making a little ‘stop motion’ video on her iPad, and with all the pics she was taking she got a ‘storage full’ message. (It’s a pretty old iPad!). I was so sorry for her, because she’d been so excited about making the video. I tried to explain: “sorry my treasure, we’ll have to stop there”, but she just looked at me and said “daddy, can’t we put the pics on the cloud?”. That’s how prevalent cloud is today, even my 5-year-old is cloud savvy. And that’s why now is the right time for us to be talking about your cloud strategy”.

It’s quick, memorable, and it makes a connection to the subject of the presentation. I use it when I’m presenting to key decision-makers that are older (I don’t use it for the young professionals, it wouldn’t quite resonate with them in the same way).

Here’s a video of another opening story:

Build up your own portfolio of stories for the presentation topics that are relevant to your work!

Shock your audience

Here’s an example:

35% of the people who start a purchase through our website fail to complete the purchase. That’s lost revenue of approximately $450,000. I’m here today to talk about how we secure that revenue.

Relevant news

Here’s an example:

I read today that WordPress now hosts over 30% of the web, that’s up 5% in the past couple of years. I’m here today to talk to you about how we can benefit from the growth of WordPress.

A metaphor

Here’s an example:

We’re trying to fight a war against our competitors, but we’re using shot guns and they’ve got sniper rifles. We need to get much more precise and targeted with our marketing efforts if we’re going to win.

A relevant quotation

Here’s an example:

Bill Gates said: ‘Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning’. Well, I’m here today to tell you we have a lot of learning to do!

How do you know you’ve got a great presentation hook?

As you’re rummaging around for ideas, here’s a quick checklist to evaluate your presentation hooks.

Ideally, your hook is:

  • Short and sharp: it’s shouldn’t take up too much time
  • Distinctive: a fresh perspective so it’s easy to remember (and easy to remember you too!)
  • Relevant to the audience: so that it resonates with their worldview and interests
  • Connects to the subject matter: of course, this is a must!
  • Builds your reputation: ideally the hook also builds your credibility too

More presentation hook ideas to explore

Here are more idea sources as you’re looking for hooks:

  • Create a burning platform: “We have to act now, if we don’t, we’ll be out of business within the year”
  • Ask, “what if…”: “What if we could double our profit margins. I’m here to tell you how we can”
  • Make a promise: “I promise by then end of this presentation you’ll have a whole new perspective on…” (make sure you can deliver against the promise!)
  • Use a movie clip: There are movie clips for every occasion, just use the guidance above to search for yours.
  • Quote a proverb: Find a relevant proverb and use it as a ‘universal truth’ to introduce your presentation.
  • “I believe…”: if you have a controversial perspective, sometimes its good to just put it out there, at will create interest in what you have to say.

Two presentation hooks to avoid: humor and questions

These two presentation hooks are often recommended, but in practice they’re dangerous territory.

Using humor at the start of a presentation has all kinds of risks. Your humor might fall flat, it might not resonate with specific individuals (potentially your ‘key decision makers’) and at worst you risk offending someone before you get started. Also, do you really want to build a reputation for being funny, at work? Your presentation is an opportunity to build your reputation. Humor is probably not the right way to go.

Questions are almost as bad. Ask a question that is too simple, and your audience will be thinking “Is this a trick? What’s going on?” and they won’t want to answer. Ask a question that is too challenging, and they won’t want to answer. And there’s often that awkward sense of “OK, so who’s going to answer this?”. Finally, if you have to answer your own question, it sets up entirely the wrong dynamic for discussion later. And if you’re thinking of asking a rhetorical question that doesn’t need an answer, then change it into a statement. It’s much more powerful to make a statement, then pause and hold the room.

Presentation hooks: in summary

Presentation hooks should be short, sharp and grab your audience.

Make sure they connect to your subject matter and build your reputation too.

Avoid opening your presentation with humor or questions, there are too many risks.

Develop a portfolio of hooks for the presentation topics that you cover most!

And once you’ve finished your presentation, here’s are some simple yet powerful techniques for confident Q&As!