Chris West from Verbal Identity spoke at a conference I attended last year and opened his presentation by saying he’d been discussing what to say with one of his former colleagues. He told us how the colleague had given him a great NLP tip on presenting. He then didn’t tell us what the tip was.

Only later did the ingenuity of the aside come across because a member of the audience asked him during questions about the tip. And Chris said, always leave an unanswered question, it keeps the attention.

A great hook arouses your curiosity and makes you want to listen carefully. I was reminded of hooks recently when I started listening to some 80’s pop music. Replaying Fine Young Cannibals – Johnny Come Home, or Tears for Fears, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, or Eurythmics, There Must Be An Angel, you can spot within seconds what the song is, and what the hook is doing. It’s so simple and contrived, sometimes it’s easy forget that a speechwriter has to do the same thing in every speech.

Here’s a clever way of arousing curiosity. In his TED talk, ‘Spaghetti Sauce’, Malcolm Gladwell describes a character in hyperbolic terms.

 I would (like to) talk about someone who I think has done as much to make Americans happy as perhaps anyone over the last 20 years, a man who is a great personal hero of mine: someone by the name of Howard Moskowitz, who is most famous for reinventing spaghetti sauce.

Howard’s about this high, and he’s round, and he’s in his 60s, and he has big huge glasses and thinning grey hair, and he has a kind of wonderful exuberance and vitality, and he has a parrot, and he loves the opera, and he’s a great aficionado of medieval history.

This laconic opening sets up one of the most popular TED talks of all time.

Steve Jobs needed eleven words to get us to sit up for his Stanford University commencement address.

Today I want to tell you three stories from my life.

Another way to steer the audience is to replay a conversation. Brené Brown did this in her TED talk on shame.

..a couple years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event. And she called, and she said, “I’m really struggling with how to write about you on the little flier.” And I thought, “Well, what’s the struggle?” And she said, “Well, I saw you speak, and I’m going to call you a researcher, I think, but I’m afraid if I call you a researcher, no one will come, because they’ll think you’re boring and irrelevant.”


And I was like, “Okay.” And she said, “But the thing I liked about your talk is you’re a storyteller. So I think what I’ll do is just call you a storyteller.” And of course, the academic, insecure part of me was like, “You’re going to call me a what?” And she said, “I’m going to call you a storyteller.” And I was like, “Why not magic pixie?”


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