Hook ‘Em Everytime

By Heather Baldwin
There’s nothing more promising than that first moment of a presentation when the audience’s attention is focused on the presenter. It’s only after the presenter starts droning on about the 50 text-laden PowerPoint slides that people tune out; at the beginning they’re full of hope. So this is the time to hook them, says Tony Carlson, author of The How of Wow: A Guide to Giving a Speech That Will Positively Blow ‘Em Away (AMACOM, 2005). Here are three ways you can do it.
The Metaphorical Hook. An image is worth a thousand words if you can come up with one that captures your main point. Carlson’s boss once gave a speech explaining that while telecom technology was getting more and more complex, its main purpose was to make life simpler by making it easier for people to stay in touch. He used a falcon as a metaphor for his message. His point: Just as the falcon’s biological complexity made simpler its fundamental need to hunt for food, complex telephony technology was making simpler the fundamental human need to communicate. Carlson’s boss opened his speech with the falcon metaphor and continued it throughout the presentation. For years, people who heard the successful presentation referred to it as the Falcon Speech.
The Location Hook. The town or state in which you give your presentation can be a great hook because it’s a sure thing you and the audience have in common. To make it work, however, you must (1) make it relevant to your speech and (2) find an interesting, little-known fact about the location in which you’re presenting that lets the local audience know you’ve done more than localize a canned talk. If, for example, the town in which you are presenting once was the only stop on a railroad line and the main point of your presentation is about how your firm is a one-stop solution for the client, there’s your location hook. Begin the presentation discussing that interesting tidbit about the town and then link it to your message.
The Historical Hook. If the anniversary of an interesting event falls on the day you’re making your presentation, it could be a powerful hook. Like the location hook, however, you must ensure the historical reference is relevant and incorporates an interesting new angle. Carlson once had a client who was due to deliver a talk on April 3rd about disruptive technologies. After some digging, Carlson discovered April 3rd was the anniversary of the inauguration of the Pony Express. To his surprise, he also learned the service existed for a scant 18 months. After that, the telegraph line to San Francisco was complete, rendering the Pony Express obsolete. For its time, the telegraph was “the quintessential disruptive technology,” says Carlson. The angle was on topic, was not one Carlson had seen used before and incorporated the fact that the Pony Express existed for only about 18 months – a fact most people don’t know. The client had his hook.

“Being memorable means exercising your imagination and creativity. Creativity, like innovation,” says Carlson, “is not about coming up with something entirely new every time. More often than not, it’s about putting well-known things together in a new way.”