Aaron Patience-Davies shares a valuable lesson any presenter and storyteller can learn from journalism.

If you want to successfully grab people’s attention, you have to do it in the first 30 seconds. John Medina calls this the “cognitive hallowed ground” in his book Brain Rules. Locking the audience’s attention onto you from the start is how to have the maximum impact. And it’s why a good hook is so important.

All of which means you mustn’t ever – to borrow an expression from journalism, bury the lede.

A number of years ago during my first career crisis, I retrained as a journalist. More than any other lesson, don’t bury the lede was drummed into me over and over.

The lede is the sentence or paragraph that tells you what the key point of an article is, and entices you to read further. It should always be the opening line or paragraph.

Here’s a great one:

“Away in a manger on Bethlehem’s public square, a woman approached a statue of the baby Jesus one dark, December night. Then she stole it.”

Or how about this:

“More than a dozen bars used to wet the whistles of Mullan steelworkers in the heyday of mining – now there is one.”

Both are great opening paragraphs for articles, and both could easily be awesome hooks for a presentation or speech. They pull you right into their story and make you curious about what happens next. When you are telling a relevant story in a meeting or on a stage, this is exactly what you have to do.

Here’s Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone during an Apple keynote speech in 2007.

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything … Apple has been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world. In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple; it changed the whole computer industry. In 2001, we introduced the first iPod. It didn’t just change the way we all listen to music; it changed the entire music industry. Well, today, we are introducing three revolutionary products of this class.”

He gets to the key point very quickly, baits his hook and then reels you in. Once you are hooked, he can spend a bit more time on the more geeky techie stuff, the detail. He can do that – he’s already grabbed the attention of the audience in the first two minutes and he’s not letting go.

The key with a great lede is to know what point you want make. Take the time to define your practical and emotional objectives, and ensure you know what your audience want. Then spend the time crafting a great opening line to reel them in. And whatever you do, don’t bury the lede.

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