Public Speaking: Your audience aren’t fish

Man with fishing rod and lake

In the world of public speaking and presenting a word that I find particularly objectionable is ‘hook’; as in ‘How to hook your audience in the first 30 seconds’. The term suggests to me that audiences are more like fish than intelligent, discerning and creative beings.

The moment you stand in front of an audience you have just seconds to capture their interest and curiosity as for the most part you already have their attention. They are not fish by any stretch of the imagination and they will size you up before you even utter a single word. If they don’t like what they hear, see and feel in the first few seconds they will throw you back into the lake so I suggest that rather than try to ‘hook’ them you consider a more mindful strategy.

1. Get to know them

Call or email then before you sit down to craft your presentation; learn as much as you can about them.

Spend some time with your audience before you are scheduled to present, whether it’s at coffee, lunch or even in the meeting room itself. Instead of locking yourself in the lavatory to rehearse your lines, sit among them and be with them as much as you possibly can. Think about who they are, what they do and put yourself in their shoes before you even step onto the podium.

2. Hold an image

The very first thing you need to do is to think about what mood you want to create from the very first moment; how do you want your audience to feel? Do you need to come across as passionate or humbled by an experience or journey ahead or perhaps even somber in delivering serious news? Whatever emotion you want them to feel hold that word and image in your head as you get up to speak.

3. Be in the room

Don’t launch into your presentation immediately, instead take a moment to ground yourself and breathe. Be totally present with your audience by holding the silence for just a few seconds (3 will do). Take in the entire room, then individual members of your audience by sending them all your unspoken thoughts of goodwill. Don’t say a word until you make eye contact with at least one kind soul that you’re drawn to and then speak your first sentence as though you were talking directly to that person.

4. Don’t start with the obvious

Resist the urge to do what everyone does and say ‘it’s lovely to be here, I’m delighted to be speaking to you, or you wouldn’t believe the difficulty I had getting here today.’ Tell them something they don’t already know that’s relevant and important to them.

Begin by telling them who you are by sharing a personal story or an experience which will immediately illustrate you’re message and show them you’re human; one of them.

Help them to connect with you first and make certain it’s relevant to your audience and your message.

5. Spell it out

Now connect your personal story to why you’re here today, what you learned and what you have to share that you’re so passionate about. Get straight to the point. Don’t tell them how many offices you have or how long you’ve been around; make an immediate connection between your story and your message – what’s so important for them to hear.

6. Explain the journey

Give them a very brief agenda. Not a bullet point list but a simple, clear idea of the journey you’ll be taking them on. Map out the journey you want to take them on in a way they will want to make sure they don’t miss any part of the ride.

7. Make a promise

In one sentence make the most challenging promise you can comfortably guarantee them. Let them know the benefit they will gain by listening to what you have to say. i.e. ‘In the next 20 minutes you will learn tools and strategies to increase your sales by 20%’.

The internet is saturated with presentation blogs telling you to grab your audience’s attention with a shocking statistic, a question, a powerful quotation or a startling assertion and a whole raft of other useful techniques. Done mindfully all of these tips can work to great affect and we would encourage you to consider them.

Whatever you do though don’t try to ‘hook’ them, try to be present and help them to be the same and to feel something.

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image: Courtesy of

Share this article

Leave a comment