5 Ways to Perfectly Hook Your Audience


In a recent conversation with a corporate client, I asked for her opinion on what makes our workshops effective.

Her answer was to the point – “It’s the hook,” she replied.

“The hook,” she expressed, “is the ability to frame and position the workshop from the moment managers or employees enter the room. Your team always finds that one thing that gets them engaged, and that opens them up to the possibility that they might learn something new.”

Inspired by our conversation, I sat down to document the set of principles that has helped us to successfully engage participants in training over the years. These five principles are based on Adult Learning best practices, and both executives and learning professionals can use them to effectively create that ‘hook’ with an audience.

Without the ‘hook’, motivating people to learn anything – or take you seriously – will be unsuccessful. Whether pitching your company’s products and services to a client or delivering a training program targeting your organization’s high potentials, your hook is your direct connection to your audience.

I frequently have the chance to coach executives and trainers to create this ‘hook’ in their own workshops. Such was the case last month when I joined over 20 training consultants of *Berkeley LTC, an educational consulting company, at LIUNA Training’s **Annual Instructor Conference. As a best practice leader, LIUNA Training has for years successfully been using a methodology consistent with these principles to train their construction industry instructors. Throughout the week, the group of instructors that co-facilitator, Jenn Gemma and I trained, demonstrated how business and learning professionals from any industry can effectively engage an audience.

1. Know Your Audience… and Where They Might Rather Be

First, it is important to take stock of what you know about your audience. What is their attitude towards the subject of the workshop? Where might your audience rather be?

In presenting to construction crews, the construction instructors were aware that their participants would often rather be building than learning how to build in a workshop setting. In fact, in any industry, participants often consider their time spent on the job more valuable than the time spent in a training class learning how to do that job more effectively.

While it may not be possible to change participant mindsets, maintaining awareness of the participants’ perspectives keeps the trainer or presenter focused on what participants really need to understand so that they can tailor the workshop accordingly.

2. Grab Their Attention in the First 60 seconds

It is essential to use the first 60 seconds to engage participants in why your message is relevant to them. It can be tempting to skip this phase, jumping straight to workshop objectives, and forgetting that participants may not be quite ready to take in an abundance of information.

At the Annual Instructor Conference, the instructors got quite creative with ways to really grab the audience’s attention. For example:

Sharing a personal story. In talking about how a miscalculated load or an oversight in following safety procedures can cause problems, these instructors used the power of anecdotes to instantly relate to participants.
Making them laugh. Using humor right from the start of any workshop can put everyone at ease and provides a release that helps participants get down to business.

3. Ask, Don’t Tell
Before assuming that everyone in the room has experience in the subject matter, find out what they already know. One of the most important principles of adult learning is that people need something to hang the new learning or information on. This can be achieved by:

Using Visuals. Passing around photographs or showing a video clip related to the topic you are about to explore is an effective way to generate thinking about the subject matter and to find out what the participants know. For example, the instructors used photographs of the different types of scaffolds used in construction to trigger what participants already knew about selecting the right scaffold for the right project. Not only did this activate their prior knowledge, which is key to helping people learn – but it also provided valuable information about what participants did not yet know.

Posing questions. Active questioning aids participants in remembering what they already grasp about a subject. In addition, peers are able to learn from other participants’ responses. Sharing information with peers not only helps participants to recall their knowledge, but also gets them bought in to the subject matter.

4. Work Backwards from Your Objectives

Now you are ready to share the workshop’s objectives. The point of this exercise is to work out what the participants need to know by the end of the day – or hour – you have with them. To follow this principle effectively:

– Have specific & measurable objectives. As one instructor put it, “… you have to work backwards to go forward.” When sharing workshop objectives with your audience, it is best practice to frame this stage with the statement, “By the end of this workshop participants will be able to…’”

– Choose the appropriate volume of content. While it can be tempting to share absolutely everything you know on a subject, exploring a subject in depth rather than breadth is often the best approach. In response to one instructor presenting on the effective use of different types of hammers, another instructor commented, “You took a small thing and made it huge.” This shows that by being deliberate in your focus, you are most likely to engage rather than overwhelm your audience.

5. Appeal to Emotion as Well as Logic

If you followed the above steps, you likely succeeded in ‘hooking’ your audience into a receptive state to learn. While you have convinced them logically that you have something value-add to share, you have also connected with them emotionally. In the words of one instructor, the first few minutes of the workshop should “leave them wanting more.” Once you have accomplished this, participants will be open and ready to learn.

These instructors did this so effectively as I coached them to enhance their training throughout the week, that I ended up learning a thing or two from them about asbestos, load calculations and hand tools – subjects which up until that point, I had little knowledge of at all! Their ability to engage a construction novice like myself, in such specialized areas, clearly demonstrates that finding that hook with your audience, in any industry, is a big part of what being a true professional is all about.
** LIUNA Training’s Annual Instructor Conference (AIC) is attended by over 300 of its labor instructors annually. At AIC, instructors continue their professional development and gain accredited professional certification as adult education and training professionals.
* Berkeley LTC is an educational consulting company that specializes in experiential learning, curriculum design, instructor development, and reflective practice.

Interested in learning more about Hilgart? Click here.