12 Ways to Hook an Audience in 30 Seconds

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12 Ways to Hook an Audience in 30 Seconds

The attractive mid adult woman teleconferences to meet with her diverse colleagues. She is social distancing due to the coronavirus epidemic.


“When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire,” says advertising executive David Ogilvy. You have only 30 seconds in a TV commercial to grab viewers’ attention. The same applies to a presentation. Knowing how to hook your audience in the first 30 seconds of your talk is crucial. This is the time your listeners form an impression of you and of what’s to follow. The success of your talk depends upon grabbing your listeners’ attention and keeping them engaged.

How do you make a good hook?

For example, let’s say you are delivering a presentation on investments. Instead of an obvious and trite question such as “How many of you would be unhappy to hear that your house is worth less than you paid for it?” consider using a catchy or thought-provoking question such as “How many of you thought that your home would be your safest investment?”

1. Use a contrarian approach.

One of the best attention grabber examples is to make a statement of a universally accepted concept, then go against conventional wisdom by contradicting the statement. For example, a market trader starts by contradicting the commonly held advice of buying low and selling high. He says: “It’s wrong. Why? Because buying low typically entails a stock that’s going in the opposite direction—down—from the most desired direction—up.” This tactic is a provocative attention grabber for speeches and it can help engage the audience right away.

2. Ask a series of rhetorical questions.

One of the most common hook ideas is to start with a rhetorical question. Better still, start with a series of rhetorical questions. An excellent example of this tactic is Simon Sinek’s TED presentation on how great leaders can inspire action. He begins with: “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assumed? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? For example, why is Apple so innovative? . . . Why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement?” A series of rhetorical questions stimulate the audience’s mind as they ponder the answers.

3. Deliver a compelling sound bite.

Top hook ideas include using a catchy phrase or sound bite that perks up the audience. To create your sound bite, consider your message and package it in a brief and compelling statement. Then explain how it fits into your overall topic or message.

Take inspiration from speakers such as innovation expert Jeremy Gutsche who once used this sound bite in a keynote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is a sign that is on Ford’s strategy War Room. And the lesson from it is not how good your PowerPoint slide deck is; what it really boils down to at the end of the day is how ready and willing your organization is to embrace change, try new things and focus on when you find an opportunity.”

4. Make a startling assertion.

When you’re stumped for ideas on how to make a hook, use a surprising or amazing fact. That’s an easy and sure-fire way to gain people’s attention. Take the time to research startling statistics that illustrate the seriousness of what you’re going to talk about. For example, a presentation about conservancy can start with: “Every second, a slice of rainforest the size of a football field is mowed down. That’s over 31 million football fields of rainforest each year.”

5. Provide a reference to a historical event.

Good attention getters for speeches include mentioning a historical event. There are times when the day you present may have some significance in history that can be tied to the subject of your presentation as an opening gambit. You can quickly look up what happened on any day in Today In Sport or a more general site such as This Day In History. You never know what pertinence the day might have that will add some pizzazz to your presentation. It’s worth a look.

6. Use the word imagine.

Another effective attention grabber for speeches is the word “imagine.” It invites the audience to create a mental image of something. Ever since John Lennon’s famous song, it has become a powerful word with emotional appeal. A good example is Jane Chen’s TED talk. She speaks about a low-cost incubator that can save many lives in underdeveloped countries. Chen opens by saying: “Please close your eyes and open your hands. Now imagine what you could place in your hands, an apple, maybe your wallet. Now open your eyes. What about a life?” She displays a slide with Anne Geddes’ image of a tiny baby held in an adult’s hands as she says this. Combining a hook with a visual is one of the most engaging speech attention grabbers.

There is power in asking the audience to conjure up their imagination, to play along. You can easily adapt this tactic to any topic where you want the audience to imagine a positive outcome or a vision of a better tomorrow. You can also use this opening gambit to ask the audience to imagine being in someone else’s shoes.

7. Add a little show business.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to make a hook that’s entertaining, consider the world of movies. Movies occupy a central place in most people’s lives and a well-placed, pertinent movie quote at the start of a presentation can perk up your audience. Perhaps you have your own inspirational quote from a favorite film. You can also find some classics here: The Best Business Wisdom Hidden In Classic Movie Quotes.

How to Start a Presentation: Attention Getters

Pre-hook: interact with the speakers first

When you speak at a conference, it’s very rare that you are alone. There might be other speakers like you, and you might not be the first one to talk. I like not being the first speaker, as this allows me to listen to the others carefully and improve on my own presentation.

Every time I’m invited to give a speech at a conference, I always request to join from the beginning, even though I’m not the first speaker. By doing so, I can listen to the other speakers, take notes and prepare my hook.

By connecting your intervention to the others, you show respect to the other speakers and you demonstrate that you have been an active listener while you were in the audience; you’ll give a good example on how you expect your audience to behave during a speech.

Moreover, you create a connection that contextualizes your intervention into the flow of the conference and you turn the separated speeches into a dialogue that you trigger by commenting on the other speeches. By creating a dialogue atmosphere, the audience will wake up from the previous speech and connect with you.

How to Make a Good Hook: Presentation Hook Examples

1. Storytelling

Storytelling is a good hook for a speech because it shows you are human and shows you have feelings, emotions and reason. It is even more powerful if you start with a personal story.

Normally when you start talking, people are tired from the other speeches, and their attention level is not ready for your core message or your call to action. You will need to start slowly and take them in gradually. A story is common to everybody, and it’s easy to follow.

In most cases, it’s very effective to start with a story. You don’t really need to introduce yourself at the beginning. Your introduction can be postponed to when the audience will be really listening to you.

If you start telling them why you’re good, you’ll immediately build distance from the audience, you won’t be perceived as one of them, so it will be harder for the audience to connect with you.

Psychologist Shawn Achor explains that the happy secret to better work starts straight away with a funny personal story about his childhood and keeps going until 2 minutes fifty, until the audience sympathizes with him, and so gives the audience his message.

Shawn shoots the message when he is sure that he has 100% of the audience’s attention, not before. He only gives information about his prestigious background (“When I applied to Harvard […]”) at 6:32, after he has passed the core message.

Still, he feels normal and empathetic to the audience when he shares the feeling of being an average guy surrounded by smarter guys, in such a great university. Therefore, he makes sure that his background does not bring him away from the audience.

Therefore, all you need is just a sequence of beautiful full-screen pictures. If you are telling them a personal story, show personal pictures. This will make them feel how real your story is, and it will catch their attention.

After all, we have plenty of pictures on our social media channels we can leverage to invent an ad hoc story. The most important thing is that your story appears real, because if the audience thinks you are tricking them, they won’t trust you and you’ll lose any chance to connect with them.

Taking in consideration the audience of my client that day, the story was the only possible solution for a manager who needed to share her experience in front of millennials at the university.

If you have no creativity, you could even take inspiration from websites that offer stories by keywords like BusinessBalls. In BusinessBalls, for example, stories are characterized by keywords:

BusinessBalls site search

2. Questions and audience interaction

Questions turn on people’s curiosity. Their brains will begin figuring out the answer. If they know the answer, they want to know if their answer is correct. If they do not know the answer, they might get involved and focus on the speaker in order to get the answer.

In any case, answering a question works like a reward, because people feel satisfied by the fact that they canceled one more doubt. People’s curiosity will make them focus on you to find the answer.

Child pointing at the camera

When you ask question, you pair up with your audience as they feel like they’re in your position, and they want to help you answer the question. If you are perceived as one of them, you’ve won their trust and therefore their attention.

Yes/No questions

These questions help you interact with the audience. Having just simple answers, all you need to do is to ask people in a sequence to vote for “Yes” by raising their hands and then you can ask people to vote for “No” to do the same.

Audience raising their hands

This is a good technique to use for checking the audience responsiveness. When you ask a Y/N question, people naturally answer loudly, so you’ll immediately know if most of them are still awake.

Open-ended questions

Using open-ended questions, you expect the audience to develop an answer. This is the typical situation of a Q&A session, and can be useful in those situations as a presentation hook example.

However, this technique enables you to open a real discussion with members of the audience. However, people may answer what they feel without a filter, so they can impede you if you are uncomfortable with their answer.


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.

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,
Violent socks,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
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
keep fireflies,
as learned men collect
sacred texts,
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.



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