Think of a movie you enjoyed watching or an article you liked recently. What do you remember?
Chances are you might not remember as much as you think, and it is likely that you remember the beginning better than the middle bits. This is what psychologists call the serial-position effect, a tendency for people to remember information presented earlier rather than later. People also make quick conclusions based on the first information they receive—otherwise known as first impressions.
This is why, in any form of communication, and especially when communicating science-related content, starting strong is crucial. If the opening lines of your talk (or article) is boring and unclear, the first impression people will get of you (and what they will ultimately remember) is that what you want to share is boring and unclear. Once they have made that conclusion, it is difficult to win them back from the phones that they will inevitably turn to.
To make a strong first impression, devise a good opening line or a hook. The key to a good hook is that it is easily understood, it is relatable, and it piques the audience’s interest. However, a hook should not be something said just to grab attention without any relation to the rest of the talk, as this will cause an audience to later ponder perplexed about your opening line and what it has to do with what you actually want to talk about. The best hooks set the right tone and work as an anchor to later return to at the end of your piece!
Here are some simple types of ‘hooks’ you can use to grab your audience’s attention:
1. A thought-provoking question – either a rhetorical question, or a question that you later answer in the course of your talk / article.
2. A short interesting anecdote – this is a good way to set a casual tone and increase your relatability to the audience.
3. A provocative or alarming statement – some people are triggered by shock and awe. This type of opening can be strategic if the topic has an urgent call to action.
4. A humorous statement – if you have good comedic timing, use it! Similar to an anecdote, this type of opening disarms an audience and makes you seem more personable.
As they (don’t but should) say, a good hook in the hand is sometimes worth two talks in the bush! Just like a good title, sometimes a good hook only comes to you once you’ve figured out how to end your talk. One hook can work amazingly for one talk, but not a slightly different talk. As always, try things out and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or a second opinion in figuring out whether a particular hook works for your piece.