Tag Archives: Audience Analysis

What’s Your Hook?

What do professional public speakers have in common with champion prize fighters? They both have devastating hooks. One champion boxer may have a great left hook, another champion a great right hook. Every world class speaker has many great verbal hooks. Just as the boxer may set his opponent up for the knockout punch with a left hook or a right hook, so must the public speaker with his or her verbal hook which consists of the very first words out of his or her mouth.

What is a verbal hook?

A “hook” is anything that gets the audiences attention. A speaker can begin by asking the audience a question that requires a response on the part of the listeners. A rhetorical question doesn’t work well as a hook. A speaker may open his or her speech by presenting a shocking fact or statistic, that will get their attention. The speaker might even choose to open his or her speech with a personal story. Audiences like personal stories as openers. What you need to remember that every hook will not set your audience up for the knockout punch, the body of your speech. In order for you to deliver an effective knockout punch, your hook must not only get the audiences attention within the first 30 seconds, it must hold their attention for the punches to come. In order for your hook to accomplish that, whatever you use to hook your audience with must be relevant to the rest of your speech. For example, yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon. I might have opened a speech yesterday by telling the story of how I lost several very close friends during those attack. That story would have caught my audiences attention as an opener, but it wouldn’t have held their attention for the rest of my speech unless the rest of my speech pertain to those 9/11 events. A good hook not only captures your audiences attention, it will make everything else you say more memorable.

What kind of hook should you use?

The good news is that there are many great hooks to choose from, but not all of them work equally well with every speech. What would work well with one audience for a given speech might not work with a different for the same speech. This is another reason every speaker must master the art of audience analysis. In order to pick an effective hook to use with any given audience, we need to know what motivates that audience in the way we want to motivate them.

Personal stories are great hooks provided that the story is something that your audience can relate to and provided that it is relevant to the rest of your speech. The story must also be a true story. I once knew a speaker who had been hired to give the keynote speech at a fund raiser for a local animal shelter. His face was badly disfigured so he had devised this opening story about how he had been burned while rescuing puppies from a burning tenement building. The story was a masterpiece of fiction but it was fiction none the less. He captured the audiences attention, a few of the women were even crying, as they hung onto his every word. Things were going great until a few minutes into his presentation a man in the back couldn’t keep quiet any longer. He stood up and yelled out at the top of his lungs, “You are a fake. You hate dogs. You didn’t get those burns rescuing puppies, you got burned in a car accident. I know. I was there.” Well, that got the audience to wondering if the fund raiser itself was on the up and up and many needy animals went without funds because of that deceitful speaker. I know that this story is true because I was the man who stood up in the back of the room and accused him of being a fake.

Physical props work great as hooks too. Public speaking is all about making an oral presentation. If you suddenly reach down beneath the lectern and pull out a physical object that is critical to the subject you are speaking on, you will have captured your audiences attention and will have them in the palm of your hand for the duration of you speech. Not just any prop will do. It has to be something that will reach out and grab your audience in a vise-like grip.

I am a lifetime member of the NRA, the National Rifle Association and a Second Amendment activist. I was asked to give the keynote at a rally where most of the audience was in favor of stronger gun control. What was my hook? What were the props that I used to capture and hold their attention that night? After I was introduced and before saying anything at all, I slowly laid out on the table provided for me, some of the rifles, shotguns, and pistols that they would like to see banned. That really got their attention. Then, each of those legal and legally owned weapons were used to illustrate various points that I made throughout my 45-minute keynote speech. For me this approach worked because I had the credentials, which included a concealed carry permit for all the pistols I had displayed. The display of actual guns got their attention. I then combined that with true stories about how private citizens had used legally owned firearms to save their own lives and to save the lives of other citizens when their lives were threatened by armed criminals.

Startling statistics are an unbeatable hook. I used this one recently when presenting a speech on second amendment rights. I opened my speech with this question/statement: “Did you know that the four states in the United States—Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming has the lowest violent crime rates of all the fifty states and the District of Columbia?” of course, if you are going make that kind of assertion, you had better be able to back it up with some cold, hard facts. I did, the Uniform Crime Report published by the United State’s Department of Justice.

In conclusion.

Just any old hook will not do. You need the right hook for the audience you are presenting to. Quite often you will spend more time developing the right hook for each audience you present to then you will spend preparing the speech itself. One final word about props that could pose a threat to your audience’s safety, such as my weapons, make sure they are displayed in a safe manner. In the case of my weapons, they were displayed with their magazines removed, their bolts locked back, and with a trigger lock in place.


Audience Analysis

Audience analysis involves gathering and interpreting information about the recipients of oral, written, or visual communication. Back in the day when I got my start as a freelance writer, I was told to not even consider querying any magazine with an article idea until I read, no, not read, analyzed 6 months to 1 year of back issues of that magazine. I was told to analyze the articles to see the slant or approach the published writer took to their subjects. The tone they used, the voice they used, the level of the vocabulary they used, all provided valuable information about the magazine editorial preferences, as well as those of their readers. The display ads told the writer about the readers economic and social status. Everything between the covers provided valuable insights for the writer and helped him or her craft their query letters and send them to the right target market. Audience analysis does the same thing for the public speaker. The techniques involved in gathering the information is different and more involved but the purpose behind doing an audience analysis is the same. Let’s begin by looking at the kinds of data a speaker gathers while performing an audience analysis.


I love acronyms. An acronym can be defined as a pronounceable word made up of a series of letters or groups of letter taken from other words. In some cases, as in this case, we can transform a single word into an useful acronym. For the public speaker getting ready to do an audience analysis, each letter in audience points the speaker towards certain type of data that he or she needs to know about his or her audience. What does A.U.D.I.E.N.C.E. Stand for?

  • A nalysis
  • U nderstanding
  • D emographics
  • I nterest
  • E nvironment
  • N eeds
  • C ustomized
  • E xpectations

We will now look at each of these items in greater detail.

A is for Analysis.

We should begin our audience analysis by determining who will be in the audience we will be presenting to and the number of people that will be in our audience. The size of the audience is especially important at this point because it will determine whether we will need to use a microphone or not.

U is for understanding.

How much the audience already knows about the subject you will be presenting on will determine how much background information you will have to present before getting into the real meat of your presentation. For example, if you are presenting on the flight characteristics of a new single-engine trainer to an audience consisting of flight instructors and other aviation executives, you will know that you will not have to define terms like “Roll”, “Yaw”, and “Pitch”. Audience understanding will determine the vocabulary you can use for your presentation.

D is for Demographics.

Demographics is data on the age range of the people in your audience, their educational background, their social-economic status, and their sex. For example, if you are presenting on the benefits of Final Expenses Insurance Plans to high school seniors, you will know that they will not feels the need for this kind of insurance that a group of senior citizens would. Audience demographics determines the approach you take in making a presentation.

I is for Interest.

Why did they come to hear your presentation? Did they come because they have a sincere interest in the topic you are presenting, such as the senior citizens in my last example, or, perhaps, like our high school seniors, they came because it was required of them? To put that same question a different way, will the people in your audience have a real and pressing need for the information you will be providing them? The urgency that your audience has for the material you will be presenting on will determine how hard you will have to work to hold their attention during your presentation.

E is for Environment.

In this case the environment that I’m talking about is the speakers environment. You need to acclimate yourself to the area in which you will be presenting from. Will you be speaking from a stage or raised podium or will you be on the same level as your audience? If there is no stage or podium, will everyone in the room be able to see and hear you? If you plan to go down into the audience during the Q&A, are the aisles between the seats wide enough for you to move easily?

N is for Needs.

You need to be aware of your audience’s needs as well as your needs as the speaker. If you are presenting in a large room with no raised platform to speak from many of those in the room may not be able to see you easily. In this case the need of your audience is to be able to see you. Your need as the speaker is to be seen by all those in your audience. Your need as the speaker is to get the people who requested you to speak to provide you with a platform to speak from. Your audience has a need to hear you. If you are presenting in a really large room or in a room with really bad acoustics, you have the need to be heard. You have the need for a sound system. If you move around a great deal during your presentation, you will have the need for a wireless microphone.

C is for Customization.

Depending on your assessment of your needs and your audience’s needs and the accommodations that the event coordinator can provide you, you will need to adapt to your speaking environment so that your audience can benefit the most from your presentation.

E is for Expectations.

The last letter in our acronym stands for Expectations, your audience’s expectations, not yours. You need to know what your audience came to hear, what they came to learn from you. You need to know what their needs are and then you must meet those needs. If you fail your audience in this respect, two things will happen and neither of them will be good for you and your career as a speaker. First, they will never pay good money to hear you speak again. Second, the event coordinator will never hire you to speak at one of his other events ever again.

Unlike with writers who can study six to twelve months of back issues when doing his or her audience analysis, you cannot study your audience in advance, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you can get the answers to all of these questions by visiting the venue where you will be speaking and by talking with the event coordinator. The event coordinator is paying you good money to speak, so it is in his or her interest to provide you with everything you need to make your presentation a success. That’s the rule. Of course there is an exception to every rule. You may run into a lackadaisical event coordinator from time to time who is anything but helpful. As a rule, you chances of encountering one of those is slim unless you are speaking for free at an event that was free to attend.