“Thank you for coming. My name is … Today we are going to cover … As you can see from today’s agenda…” At this point, my eyelids are getting heavy. Narcolepsy is setting in. I want to pay attention, really I do. I want to be good. I peel my eyelids back and concentrate. Must … tune … back … in… “and then we’ll wrap up with Q&A.” Gentle snoring from the back row.
Faced with a presentation, most presenters seem congenitally compelled to make everyone in their audience snooze through the scenario above. That timid, safe start of a simple good morning and an agenda just sets up all the problems that follow. They set a hook*, but it’s a weak insipid little thing.
When you are giving a presentation you are speaking to people. People like Stories, so tell them one. All great stories have a great beginning. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Or, “Call me Ishmael”. You probably won’t get to the level of Charles Dickens or Herman Melville but you can take a page from their books.
Give the audience a Hook that puts them on the edge of their seats and give them a sense of what’s coming.
George Lucas** is a master at this. I was 11 years old when Star Wars came out. I can still remember the excitement as the opening notes of the soundtrack piped through the theater and I read about a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was hooked. It drew me in and set the stage with the opening crawl:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…”
That crawl, the music, and the imagery of a massive spacecraft being pursued by an even bigger one in the opening effects are still, over thirty years later, a powerful Hook. The dissonance he set up with the fact that you knew you were going to see a science fiction movie – so were surprised when told it was a long time ago.
George Lucas drew me into the world of Star Wars and set the stage for a saga that millions of people around the world have seen and continue to see. You may not be George Lucas and you probably won’t get to the standard of Star Wars but you can and must work hard on getting a good Hook.
If there is only one part of your presentation you practice, it has to be the Hook. A smooth and engaging start will calm the nerves and pull your audience in. It’s your big chance to make a great first impression.
*Set your Hook is the first of a three-part post. Look for the thrilling sequel frame the Meat and the satisfying conclusion What’s the Payoff
**Having seen Red Tails recently and sat through all the Star Wars movies, I can certify that you don’t have to be great at dialog to set a great hook.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.