How to Grab People's Attention

Woman yelling into a megaphone

How would you like to be one of those rare people who can reliably and consistently get the attention of others?

In this hectic, fast-paced world, it can be tough getting anyone’s attention. But you’re more likely to succeed if you quickly arouse interest, generate curiosity, and make an impression. One way to do that is with a hook—that is, an opening statement or question that quickly grabs attention.

“Quickly” in this context typically means thirty seconds or less, because whether you’re communicating via an email, an article, a formal proposal, a casual request, a presentation, or any other way, mere seconds may be all you’ll have to pique interest.

As one example of a hook, reread the opening sentence of this article. Sure, you’ll need much more than thirty seconds to make your case or present your points, but if you can’t capture attention within those initial seconds, it may not matter to your listener what follows.

To find the hook for a given message, think about what’s unusual, exciting, interesting, or dramatic about the message. In other words, what stands out?

Whatever your answer, try to incorporate it into an attention-grabbing sentence that’s concise, dramatic, and geared toward the recipients. It can be a rhetorical question, an eye-opening fact, a startling assertion, an intriguing statistic, a striking image, or a “what if” scenario, among other possibilities.

For example, you might open a proposal for improved data storage with the little-known fact that more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. In pointing out the risk of underestimating the competition, you might create a compelling image by asking, “Did you know that ostriches can run faster than horses?” Or you might present an amusing statistic in a serious, eye-opening context, such as “Can you imagine anything more devastating than losing your data and not having a backup? When you lose your remote control, there’s a 50 percent chance that it’s stuck between your sofa cushions. Not so with your lost data!”

Questions may be more effective as hooks than statements because they get the reader or listener involved. Then again, statements that are provocative can be very effective as a hook. For example, consider Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, which she opened with “You will live 7.5 minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.”

By incorporating a hook into your most important written and spoken communications, you’ll be more likely to capture attention, create a memorable impression, and get what you’re seeking.

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