How to hook an audience; Don’t Bury the Lead

Don't bury the lead

Start with your most attention-grabbing information

Too many times we see a brilliant speakers with compelling content who have their audience listening politely for the first ten minutes. If we are lucky, we discover their brilliance, and end up taking photos of their powerpoint and scribbling down notes in the last ten minutes of the presentation. How can we avoid the same trap in our own presentations?

What if we could plan to ‘hook’ our audience from the outset?

There’s a term from journalism called ‘burying the lead (or lede)’ It’s when we put vital information in the second or third paragraph, rather than ‘leading’ with that information in the headline and first paragraph.

Our biggest trap is that we experience events in chronological order, and our default approach is to re-tell events in the same way we experienced them.

Don’t get stuck in chronology

Just because something happened first, it doesn’t make it the most interesting part of your presentation.

The lead is often referred to as the hook; what will hook your audience in?

Aristotle organised the elements of how we persuade in three categories: ethos, logos and pathos.

Ethos is our reputation, logos our logic, and pathos is the emotional content of our communication. The most likely place for your lead is to be anywhere you can find the pathos. Find the emotional moment in your presentation, and you are more likely to hook your audience.

What is the easiest way to identify you lead?

Summarise the information for your presentation, and ask yourself, ‘What is the most important, or compelling part?’ You can always circle back to how you got there, but if you want to get your audience’s attention from the beginning, start with the juiciest information.

It’s easy to lose perspective on what is most compelling about our own stories. We often think of all of the information as having equal importance. How can we get some perspective?

Ask a friend

  • Present for a friend and ask them to tell you what the most compelling part of the presentation was.
  • If there is a presentation you deliver repeatedly, ask a friend to sit in the audience. Get them to pay attention to when the audience is most interested.
  • Create a twitter friendly headline to tell your story. Having the discipline to fit your message into 140 characters can help you hone in on what is most important. If you want to take this a step further, create a message map.

Pacing is important when we are telling a story. The more we can plan how we will pace a presentation before we share it with others, the more we can take our audience with us from the very beginning.

When planning your next presentation, how will you identify your lead?

What do your surroundings to to your communication?

Business Meeting

We may make harder negotiators when we sit on harder chairs

Have you ever wondered if you hold more of a ‘hard-line’ if you sit on a hard seat?

Probably not.

Neither had I until I read something on a new area of research called embodied cognition.

Dr Thalma Lobel has researched extensively in the area of how what we do with our body impacts on how we think and behave. In her book, ‘Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence‘, Lobel details studies that show that we perceive someone to be a warmer person if we are holding a hot drink in our hands, than if we are holding a chilled drink. Although the entire area is interesting, what is most pertinent for us as communicators, is the impact that language has on our audience.

When we communicate with language around texture, our brains process the information in a similar way to when we experience that sensation. What that means, is that tactile metaphors have a much bigger impact than we could have imagined. We engage the senses of our audience when we use those words. That’s much easier than handing a hot cup of coffee to everyone in our audience.

Are there ways you can add sensation and texture to your language in your next presentation?

For extra information on embodied cognition:

In the first five minutes of this video, Dr Lobel talks about metaphors.

This short article is a great overview (and might explain how magicians can influence us when guessing a number from one to ten); ‘Embodied cognition: thinking with your body’

Voice 101

Cat yawing and singing

Even cats use a variety of pitches to communicate their needs.

How can we use our voice to influence?

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Great Gatsby

 “Her voice was like a bagpipe suffering from tonsillitis.”

Our voices are capable of a broad range of expression. The voice is designed to reflect our inner-state to the outer-world and has the capacity to invite or repel an audience.

One of our main challenges when we are presenting is to keep our audience interested. Think of your voice as a musical instrument, and your presentation as a piece of music, and you will be well on your way to engaging your audience.

  • Think melody: if a piece of music consisted of one note, it would get boring very quickly. Experiment with varying the melody in your vocal range.
  • Music is sound and silence; leave room for the pauses. A drone, like a bagpipe, consists of the one sound uninterrupted.
  • Vary the rhythm; think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the Rolling Stone’s Jumping Jack Flash. It’s the rhythmic stops and variations that get our attention

One easy way to get a clearer picture of how you are using your voice is to record yourself. Try recording yourself giving a presentation. It is going to sound weird- not because you sound weird, but because we experience our sound differently than everybody else. When we hear our own sound, it’s like we are in the middle of a speaker. As you can imagine, we get a clearer ‘sound-picture’ in front of a speaker. If you are behind (or inside) a speaker it will sound muffled.

Use the points below to guide your listening.

  • Are you varying the melody or speaking in a monotone?
  • Are you leaving space for words to have their impact by pausing?
  • Are there places you might speed up, or slow down to underline what you are saying?

What can you do this week to raise your awareness of how you are using your voice? Are you matching the same melody and rhythm in your presentations as your conversations?