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?

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