Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

The Power of the HOOK

by Guila Muir

Capturing Your Audience in the First 30 Seconds

What’s wrong with these pictures?

1. Helen begins her presentation by introducing herself and telling the participants at some length how happy she is to be with them. She then launches into her content.

2. Bill kicks off his training session by explaining where the bathrooms and telephones are. He then asks people to go around the room and introduce themselves.

If you said the problem in each example is “They aren’t using a ‘Hook!’” you are correct! Both Helen and Bill have squandered their one-time-only opportunity to immediately get their participants involved. Inadvertently, they have both weakened the power of their presentations.

What is a Hook?

In the literature on learning and presenting, hooks have many names. These include “opening gambits,” “advance organizers”, “ideational scaffolding” and “motivational sets.” (Weissman, 2003, Shulman, 1986, Bruning, 1995.) A hook is “an umbrella statement, activity or question that provides a conceptual link between the learner’s existing knowledge and the new learning.” (Ausubel, 1968.) By using a hook, the trainer or presenter gives participants the opportunity to use their brains immediately-and when their brains are engaged, so are they.

In any training or presentation, the hook should precede introductions, course overview, and even the statement of learning objectives.

Essential Guidelines for a Great Hook

Great hooks are not “fluff.” When you use a hook, you must desire more than just getting an easy laugh. To design a good hook, you must ensure that it:

  • Has a clear relationship to your topic;
  • Elicits the past knowledge, emotions, and/or experiences of most people in your audience. (This demands, of course, that you have done your homework and know some basics about the participants.)

Developing a hook that imbeds both criteria takes careful preparation on your part. However, if either criterion above is left out, your hook will suffer, and so will your audience’s interest and involvement.

Three “Never-Fail” Hook Types

Questions are perhaps the easiest type of hook to create. Just make sure that your questions imbed both of the criteria above.

“Would you be willing to…
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever…
“How many of you have ever…”

Note that asking participants to raise their hands forces an immediate response. Asking several questions in a row can work well.

Provocative Fact or Statistic
An effective hook often combines a question with a follow-up piece of data that shocks or moves participants in some way.

“Raise your hand if you hate cancer.
“It’s shocking to think that, statistically, (%) of the (#) of us in this room today will die from cancer in the next five years.”

Ask the participants to recall an experience that had emotional meaning for them and that is relevant to the topic. You can request that they close their eyes for an even more evocative experience.

“Remember your first day on the job…your thoughts and feelings as you met the people in your office for the first time. What worries did you carry in the door with you? What did you feel confident about? What did you want to know? (Please open your eyes…”)

“Your new employees are experiencing those same emotions as they arrive. Let’s focus on some ways to orient and train them effectively.”

In Conclusion

Developing a great hook is a creative act that may take time and careful thought. Yet you can use almost anything as a source for an effective hook.

Here is a short list to get you going:

  • Newspaper articles, trivia pages and cartoons
  • Publications both related and unrelated to your field
  • Riddles, proverbs, myths and stories
  • Experiences gleaned from the group itself, gathered in pre-meetings.

The bottom line: All great presenters and trainers use hooks. (Just watch them!) If you are truly serious about your audience “getting” your message, you must take the time to develop and use a hook every time you train or present. Creating hooks stretches your mind and enhances your delivery. Have fun!

Read more articles about Training Development. Learn about Guila Muir’s Trainer Development Workshops.

Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter:

© Guila Muir.


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