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December 2000 - Setting the Hook

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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December 2000

Setting the Hook

One of America's best-known speakers confided that he spends more time on what he refers to as his opening "hook" than any other part of the speech. He explained that if he could hook the audience's attention at the beginning then he only needed to keep their attention.  "Keeping it is not as difficult as gaining it," he said.

How do you set the hook?  Obviously the audience, subject, and setting for the speech all make a difference.  But here are a few things to take into account.

  1. Consider that if the speech is to be given to an audience that you have never spoken to before, you have to sell yourself.  Therefore, don't come across at the beginning as conceited, arrogant or self-important. Research and experience show that audiences are more positively inclined to speakers who come across as warm, friendly individuals.
  2. Know your audience.  Knowing the backgrounds, education, intellectual level, and beliefs of your audience will help you adapt your hook to them.  Georgia agricultural leaders, Air Force general officers, and executives from an Eastern based fortune 500 company will each most likely require a different hook-or at least a repackaging of the same hook.
  3. If you plan to use humor make certain that it is appropriate to both the situation and the audience.  Humor with sexual innuendos, racial overtones, or off-color themes loses the respect of the audience.  If you don't know if the joke is appropriate, be safe.  Don't use it.
  4. Plan how to transition from the hook to the body of the speech.  Many speakers fail to capitalize on the hook by not relating it to the body of the presentation.
  5. Finally, practice the hook till you get it right.  Try it on your spouse or friends who will give honest and helpful feedback.  Better to "bomb out" in practice than at the start of the speech.

Good luck in setting the hook. 

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

December 2000 - Setting the Hook
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