How to create a hook that will engage your audience
One of the quickest ways to improve your presentation skills is through storytelling.
Whether it’s persuading them to approve a new plan or persuading them to pay attention to a particular problem, most presentations are created with that in mind.
And one of the easiest persuasion methods is telling a story: they easily engage the audience, and they’re easy to remember.
However, if we’re going to take a story-based approach to presentation, we need to understand how to use one of its’ most important elements: the hook.
Hooks and attention
If you’re not familiar with hooks, they’re among the most important elements of any writing piece.
“While supply of content of all types is going to infinity, the total amount of available Attention remains essentially static”-Kevin Kelly
As a result, most writers have to fight to get people to pay attention to their content. If you’re lucky, most readers will read a couple of sentences or maybe a page before deciding whether to continue or not.
And that’s where the hook comes into play. A hook is a statement, usually in the opening paragraph or sentence, that tries to capture the reader's attention right away.
A good hook can invite users to explore more, and it’s a vital part of getting your audience engaged with what you have to present. And this applies even if you’re not in a creative field.
If you’re presenting in a meeting, you might not have to deal with your audience suddenly walking out on you as they find another interesting thing to pay attention to. But it would help if you had a hook for another reason: people tend to forget things after a meeting.
If your audience is not fully invested and paying attention during a meeting, will they remember the important things you want them to afterward?
Or is it likely that they’ll forget?
In presentations, the hook is to make sure that they know what you’re trying to say and keep their attention long enough to convince them possibly.
So how can you make sure that you hook your user’s attention? By establishing the common ground.
The first step: Establish common ground
The two words “information” and “communication”’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
– SYDNEY J. HARRIS
No matter what you do, you can’t just jump into the hook as you might with creative works. The first thing you need to do is make sure we’re starting on the same foot.
Ensure that your audience knows where we’re at: perhaps you need to summarize the last meeting or show a timeline of where we are at the project. Maybe you need to talk a bit about what the project is if your audience is new. Maybe you need to introduce your meeting goal, such as asking for specific feedback on an issue.
No matter what, make sure that you’re not presenting things out of the blue.
For example, imagine that you’re rolling out a new feature, being able to filter into your product, and you’ve been doing some user testing with a prototype to see if it tests well.
Given that the project team has discussed this for weeks or months, it might seem like this has been there forever, but this might be the first time that your users have ever seen this feature. We want to establish that this presentation talks about your user’s first-time reactions to a new feature.
After that, though, comes the hook.
Creating a presentation hook
There tend to be five types of hooks that get your audience’s attention with writing. Let’s take the basic idea that your users didn’t know what to make of this feature when starting, and show how you can present it as these different hooks.
“60% of users thought this was a search bar instead of a filter.”
This is likely the most common hook to use with presentations, and it often requires the least amount of effort.
Usually, no visualization elements are required as we tend to be focusing on one or two elements, which lends itself to using simple text. The only other thing to mention is that we may want to be a little careful with percentages: it may be slightly misleading depending on the number of users, so we might want to consider other options(6 out of 10 users, for example).
“Am I supposed to search here? I think that you need to make the search button more visible then.” — Participant 7
If you’ve found that one of your participants told you something exciting that seems to match the overall message that you got through user testing, then you might want to consider using that as something to focus on.
Make sure to anonymize the participant in some way (using participant numbers is common), but this is an obvious way to show a problem coming straight from our users' mouths.
“Our users are well-educated, technologically-savvy power users. Many of them have more than five years of experience working in this application. But they still didn’t understand that this feature was a filter, not a search bar.”
While this is probably an uncommon response, it can sometimes be useful to call attention back to your users' persona or demographics to try and point out that this problem isn’t due to a lack of experience on their part.
“Why are users not happy with the new system? For starters, it’s because they’re confusing a search bar with a filter.”
This type of hook starts by asking an open-ended question at the start, which allows the audience to begin exploring the topic in depth. This tends to be useful when there are multiple points that you can expand upon throughout the presentation.
“We need to re-design how the filter feature works: users have too many problems with it right now.”
The statement hook can be thought of as the conclusion hook. You start by essentially providing your conclusion and then continue the rest of the presentation by providing your arguments as to why this is the case.
Even if your audience doesn’t entirely agree with your point initially, they will be paying attention to how you attempt to back up your points. However, while you can make bold statements with this, be sure not to appear too aggressive with your conclusions: your audience will not be too happy if you say that something was a waste of time or effort.
Writing a good hook takes practice.
Writing a good hook is one of the hardest skills that writers have to learn, so don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to learn.
However, just by practicing writing hooks, your presentations can improve drastically, as your audience is more likely to pay attention when they see something that hooks them.
So spend a little time crafting something that hooks your audience’s attention. You may be surprised at the results.