Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What's Your Hook?

We hear the term 'Hook' bandied about a lot in marketing circles - usually it refers to your theme, your brand, your 'One Big Thing'. For me, it's Win Anyway! Don't worry, I won't go into that topic here today, I've got a whole different blog for that philosophy.

In your speech, your 'Hook' are the words that fill the first 30 seconds to 3 minutes of your speech. The first taste the audience gets of who you are. They decide in the first 30 seconds whether you are:

- credible
- interesting
- personable
- intelligent
- funny
- and - most importantly - worth listening to!

They can make the wrong choice, but that is usually our fault. You can change their mind as you go into the speech, but more people change their minds for the negative than the positive, simply because if they've already tuned you out, they usually have no reason to tune you back in.

Your 'Hook' has to do just that to the brains of your audience members - stab and grab their mentality, so their gaze doesn't wander to the ceiling, their neighbor, or their smart phone. Below are a few do's and don'ts for the beginning of your relationship with the folks waiting with baited breath for you to bring them what they ultimately sat down for - your solutions to their problems.


- Say thank you, how happy you are to be there, or wish them a good morning afternoon or day. You may think you're being conversational, but you're just making yourself more comfortable, while wasting valuable time, and giving the audience a great reason to ignore you immediately.

- Talk about A. your trip, your luggage, your hotel, B. the weather, C. how fantastic the buffet was that morning - unless it ties directly into your speech (say, A. customer service, B. dressing for success, or C. your name is Gordon Ramsay)

- Start with a joke. Seriously. I don't care how funny it is. Just don't do it.

- Try to get the audience to interact, with each other. Getting them to shake their neighbors hand or smile at them, or, shudder, give them neck messages is so 1992, and again, wastes their time.

- Try to get the audience to interact with YOU. "Repeat after me..." - umm - NO! I don't know you, like you, and I don't really feel like having you put words in my mouth unless it's "Time for Lunch!"


- Start in the middle of a story. You're freezing to death. You just got fired. You're about to start a race. The first time you used their product (though not quite the way Don Draper does). Then tell us how you got there and where you're going - quickly - and transition to your Premise. (Caveat Don't: Don't tell a story that doesn't either relate to the topic or build your credibility)

- Use humor. This is not the same as telling a joke. Using humor in your story, particularly self-deprecating humor, will help open the audience's mind to you as a person they might actually like enough to listen to for the next 45 minutes. (Caveat Don't: Don't make fun of the company, someone in the company, or really, anyone else but you.)

- Use a shocking statement. This used to be a 'startling statistic' - but frankly, that's way overused, and shocking statements are catching up as well. Make sure it is either extremely shocking or somewhat humorous, or BOTH, before going this route. (Caveat Don't: Don't be so shocking as to alienate the audience - so know your audience!)

- Build an image in their mind. By engaging their imagination you'll be engaging them, and creating questions in their mind about where you're going. The more creative the image, the more curious they'll be. (Caveat Don't: Don't make them close their eyes. You may risk them not opening again)

- Ask a question. This one is also a bit overused, but the right question to the right audience can create curiosity and arouse emotions that will bring them closer to you and your topic. A question that makes them question their own behavior or skill set, without being insulting, can be particularly effective. Asking "Did you see the game last night" usually is NOT. (Caveat Don'ts: Don't be surprised if someone answers you - particularly if you ask a trivia question or a question easily answered, and Don't ask for a show of hands - not this early in the speech)

- Parachute onto the stage. If you're good at it. And it relates to your speech....

Kevin Burkhart, one of two one-armed skydivers in the world.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and yes, a lot of successful speakers do all the wrong things. This falls under my old English teacher's rule about why e.e. cummings didn't use capitals, and it was OK - because he knew the rules, and when, and WHY to break them.

For now, set yourself, and your audience up for success. Use those initial few minutes to "Hook" them, and spend the rest of your speech reeling them in. Ultimately, it's for their own good as well as yours.

Speak & Deliver - from the very first second.

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