Start a Speech With a Strong and Respectful Hook!

I got some amazing advice this past week from a seasoned communicator.

I delivered a speech at my friendly neighborhood Toastmaster club (The Plaza 400 Club) and decided to begin with a hook opening. A hook, in this context, is where you say something to grab the audience’s attention before continuing with acknowledgments, salutations and the rest of the speech opening.

A quotation, a statistic, a question, or a strong statement are all great hooks.

I chose a bold statement:

Each of us has a distinct travel style – just as we have our own writing style, singing style, and presentation style. However, very few of us pay attention to that travel style – and that is a mistake!

My speech evaluator, the Distinguished Toastmaster Fred Punko, noted that while this statement opened the speech strong, it also distracted. As a experienced traveler, he does think about how he travels and found himself reconciling an unintended slight. His point was that a presenter needs to avoid the possibility of offending audience members in their opening because it will distract them and impair their ability to listen to the message; much like a poor first impression.

With that in mind I rewrote this hook for my next delivery:

Each of us has a distinct travel style – just as we have our own writing style, singing style, and presentation style. And; Paying attention to how we travel, is just as important as where we travel.

Small tweak that I hope will pay dividends. I may loose the lost opportunity bite that the original brings but I trade that for reducing the risk of disrespecting and alienating audience members right of the bat. In other words, I’ve started bold – not brash.

Another win for the immediate, mutually supportive feedback that a Toastmaster environment can provide. That said, I’m interested in your additional suggestions on how to make this hook opening even better.

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4 Responses to Start a Speech With a Strong and Respectful Hook!

  1. Actually, I liked the original opening. I think commenting that very few people pay attention to their travel style is accurate, and that “very few” could include evaluator Fred as well.

    If there’s anything I’d refine about that opening I think it’s the fact that “style” is used in the sense of “preference”. That is, if I talk about my writing style generally then it’s how I physically write, whereas your opening reads as it’s your preference of writing to read. I am making the assumption that by “distinct travel style” you mean that each of us has a preference for how we travel – i.e. I prefer air conditioned hotels with nice beds over action adventures in the mosquito filled wilderness.

    An alternate way of approaching this:

    “You’re trapped on a deserted island and you can only pick one book, one CD, and one movie to spend the rest of your days with. If we went around this room do you think you would make the same selection? When I asked my niece she told me she’d pick Harry Potter, One Direction, and Hunger Games. Left to those choices, I might throw them all into the sea.

    As individuals we have a unique sense of taste and what we think is automatic and intuitive is not always so. If we don’t have the same sense of what is good listening then why would you assume that we have the same sense of what is a good vacation?”

    etc. That is, starting with some form of rhetorical device, make a point, lead into examples, close with stating your actual desert island preferences.

    That’s how I’d approach that intro but then again that’s my own writing/presentation style. 🙂

  2. gsjonuk says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Mike. It sparked another alternative. Ask the audience to think about o one word that would describe their travel style and then ask them to share it. This would take a few extra moments to develop; however, it might add levity and certainly engage.

  3. avocatessa says:

    I disagree with the DTM’s critique. I don’t think the first opening was insulting. You did say that VERY FEW of us reflect on our travel styles. If he actually does, then he ought to be pleased with himself to be in the minority. I agree that you need to know your audience, but overanalyzing each sentence to avoid “offending” someone who might take things too personally is taxing and (likely) counterproductive.

    I do think the second intro is better, but for different reasons. The juxtaposition of “where” and “how” is more dramatic than the statement in the first intro. Furthermore, boldly stating the importance of travel style is more direct than saying it is a mistake not to pay attention to travel style.

    I recommend striking the “And”. You don’t need it. Your intro will be stronger and more concise without it. Brevity is your friend. (As the girl who has a tendency to babble like a Gilmore Girl on helium, I have to pay extra attention to these things!)

    I agree with the statement above that there might be a way to make the intro more engaging. You could draw an amusing dichotomy between the person who blows the entire budget on a five star hotel and spends the entire vacation in the (beautiful) room, and the person who blows the budget on over-priced tourist attractions and sleeps in an ATM vestibule. You could even set it up as a narrative : two travelers, Sam and Paul. The use the narratives to highlight your points. I guess it depends what you want to say.

    Wish I’d heard the speech! I really did have the best intentions of coming to that club, but for some reason Thursday was always the day that something or someone hijacked my day.

  4. gsjonuk says:

    I agree with you Avocatessa, removing “and” may not be necessary. I also like the idea of the comparative narrative between 2 opposite travelers. That would esp. work if I wanted to take a dramatic or comedic angle on this material. I have since thought of another way to open: “Ladies and Gentlemen, everyone in this room has style.” Better put, we all have style(s), as in writing styles, speaking styles, style of dress, etc. We even have our own travel style Paying attention to how we travel …”

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