When delivering a presentation, the first few minutes are crucial for capturing your audience’s attention. This is your chance to build intrigue around your topic and give listeners an idea of what’s to follow.
The best speakers use powerful hooks for presentations to introduce their topics, build suspense, and spark curiosity. These hooks are sharp and quick to grab attention — the kind that sticks around until the end of the presentation. They can be a surprising statistic, a thought-provoking question, and even a short personal story.
Drafting excellent hooks for presentations is essential to building anticipation and sowing the seeds for your audience’s growing interest. And with a limited window of opportunity to gain your listener’s interest and trust, your hook needs to be as substantial as the rest of your presentation.
What’s a good hook?
A good hook introduces your subject matter, engages your audience, and sets the tone for the rest of the presentation.
Capturing listeners’ attention can be challenging as a presenter, especially if they’re attending out of obligation rather than individual interest. Although it’s wonderful to present to a room full of people eager to hear what you have to say, this won’t always be the case.
Knowing how to make a good hook can set you up for a successful presentation, no matter who’s in the audience. It engages listeners from the very beginning (and might even ignite a disinterested party’s curiosity).
Consider who your audience members are and what they want to learn. Their background should inform the tone of the presentation and lay the groundwork for building an angle.
When giving a presentation on ocean acidification to an environmental board, you could deliver a thought-provoking statistic on coral bleaching or provide a personal story that illustrates ecological changes that have taken place in your lifetime.
Remember: the hook should hint at the value your listeners will gain from your presentation without giving away too much too soon. Don’t spoil the plot twist, but make sure you start foreshadowing.
The importance of a good hook
Impressions are formed quickly, making it crucial for the start of your presentation to kick off on a high note.
According to psychologist Alexander Todorov and researcher Janine Willis, it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. During this brief moment, we evaluate qualities such as likability and trustworthiness.
Although coming up with a hook idea that appeals to listeners within a tenth of a second may be impossible, your first few words are important. Knowing how quickly we form perceptions may be intimidating, but with the right intro, a short time frame can work in your favor.
8 good hooks for speeches and presentations
The hook is a key opportunity to show why your topic is exciting or worth considering. Here are eight types of hooks and hook examples to stimulate your audience’s interest, no matter the subject.
1. Make a surprising claim
Starting your speech with a surprising statement or statistic is an excellent way to grab your listener’s attention. A person giving a presentation on the benefits of coaching services to a company’s top executives could share the increase in employee productivity that teams experience after implementing coaching in the workplace.
Example: “Productivity increases 63% in workplaces that provide employees with group coaching services.”
The trick to making a surprising claim? It needs to shock your audience. If you create a statistic-based hook, it must be substantial enough to be of value to your listeners and persuade them to learn more about your topic.
Imagine that the example above only referenced a 5% increase. The executives would likely view the number as too little to invest in coaching services, making them less eager to pay attention during the presentation.
2. Start with a story
Stories are an excellent way to enhance information retention, making them a great tool for leaving a lasting impression on your audience.
According to organizational psychologist Peg Neuhauser, we recall what we learned from a well-told story more accurately than we do from facts and figures. So, if there’s a piece of information you’d like to impart to your audience, consider wrapping it in a short but compelling narrative.
When selecting an anecdote to share, ensure it’s relevant to your topic and resonates with your audience. A story that excites a sales team will likely differ from what an engineering team finds compelling.
Example: When delivering a presentation on the benefits of sleep on mental clarity, the speaker provides a story from your personal experience. They describe a period when construction outside constantly interrupted their sleep and how that negatively impacted several areas of their life, including their career and relationships.
This story uses vulnerability to earn the audience’s trust and segues into the rest of the presentation: breaking down how deep sleep is vital to performing your best.
3. Reference a historical event
This extra creative spin on the storytelling hook relies on a fascinating historical moment rather than your personal experience. The odds that your audience understands the wider context and thus the relevance of your presentation makes historical references good attention grabbers.
A person giving a product pitch to potential investors could start with an anecdote about when they developed the first iteration of their product.
Example: “Did you know that jeans were invented 150 years ago? On an ordinary day like today, Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis combined metal rivets and denim trousers to create durable work pants for gold rush miners.”
This historical hook creates a captivating opening for a pitch about stylish and wearable apparel. The speaker can lean on this historical reference to introduce a product that’s even more universal than jeans.
4. Ask an intriguing question
Finding a single starting sentence that hooks readers isn’t always easy. But incorporating participation into the start of your presentation is a fun way to hook your audience, even if it’s with a rhetorical question that encourages them to participate mentally.
Your question should be as captivating and intellectually stimulating as possible to pique the interest of each of your audience members. This approach works great for introducing products, services, or projects, as you can present what you’ve been working on as the answer to the question.
Example: “What if there was a way to fight the climate crisis while you cook dinner?”
Remember to pause after asking a question to give your audience time to brainstorm possible answers and stimulate their curiosity.
If you’re giving a business presentation, conduct research beforehand to ensure your question is relevant to your clients. The answer should mean something to your audience or solve a pain point they experience.
5. Contradict expectations
Contradicting a widely held belief is a compelling way to grab your listener’s attention. Do this by starting your presentation with a statement that challenges your audience’s presumptions.
Example: “Hydration isn’t all about how much water you drink.”
This presentation hook intrigues audience members to learn what else is needed other than water to stay hydrated. You can then lead your presentation through several methods for staying hydrated, like incorporating electrolytes into your diet and eating fruits and vegetables with high water content.
6. Show a captivating video
Starting your presentation with a video allows someone else to break the ice for you. Choose a short video related to your topic that easily transitions into your slideshow.
Example: A graphic design team manager wants to introduce new software into their department. They show a video from the product designers that provides an in-depth and visually engaging overview of the software’s features and benefits.
After the video ends, the speaker can move on to slides that describe how the team can leverage the software to improve their workflow and creative outputs.
7. Use a quote from a famous figure
Find a quote from someone admirable that relates to your presentation and impart wisdom to your audience.
Example: Someone’s administering a presentation on professional networking. They use Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Although this quote can apply to a number of topics, in a networking context, it emphasizes how important it is for people to consider how they make others feel when they first meet. This tells your audience that a critical networking component is connecting with others personally rather than focusing solely on what they do professionally.
8. Show an object
An object can promote interaction and help your audience visualize what you’re talking about. This is especially helpful if you’re pitching a product and want to show listeners what the product looks like in real life and how it functions.
Example: A salesperson presents a new lamp design to a furniture store. They enhance the pitch by bringing the lamp to the presentation and demonstrating its ambient light features.
This strategy also works in contexts when you’re discussing the gravity of a statistic. For instance, if you’re aiming to communicate the dire levels of microplastics in the ocean, you could illustrate the severity by showing the audience a container filled with plastic fragments.
Leave a lasting impression
It’s not always easy to grab your listener’s attention when speaking publicly. Using hooks for presentations is one of the most effective ways to fan your audience’s curiosity and earn their engagement from start to finish.
The key is to keep your hook brief, relevant, and engaging. Remember to take the time to know your audience and set up your presentation to deliver valuable information from the start.