From body language and confidence to messaging, there are many factors to keep in mind when working towards becoming a more effective communicator. But there is one simple tweak that can massively improve your communication skills: The use of hooks.
“A hook is simply something that gets that someone’s attention,” says copywriting coach and communication expert Katie Momo. “Hooks are key because attention is the new currency. Once someone listens to you, it opens the door to make the next step towards your goal possible. Whether your goal is to land your dream job or dream client, the first step is to get the right person paying attention to you.”
So before feeling overwhelmed about having to improve so many things in your communication game, master the art of hooking people and half the work will be done. The best part? The concept applies to pretty much any form of communication. “Hooks are everywhere — they’re such an essential ingredient in communication we don’t even realize they’re there. But we sure feel the effects of them,” says Momo. “If you’ve ever been sucked into a Forbes article from the headline, opened an email because you were curious, or binge-watched three episodes in a row because you literally couldn’t stop watching, you’ve been hooked.”
Here’s everything you need to know about leveraging the power of hooks on a day-to-day basis.
The three ingredients of a good hook
According to Momo, all hooks have at least one of three ingredients: benefit, avoidance, and curiosity (but you can also use the whole trifecta in a single opener for maximum impact).
The benefit is about focusing on the positive outcome of the topic you are addressing for your audience. “Speaking to the outcome they want is one of the fastest ways to get someone’s ears to perk up. And the more specific and quantifiable it is, the better,” says Momo. For example, you could hook your team into being interested in an initiative by telling them it will lead to 30% more sales.
Avoidance is about showing your audience the painful things they will sidestep or reduce. “People are highly motivated by avoiding things they don’t want to experience, so focusing on the negative things they dodge is surprisingly effective.” To build on the example above, you could say that your initiative will lead to 30% more sales without extra work or resources.
Curiosity is about getting people to want to know more. “Tap into the deep-rooted desire to satisfy curiosity by teasing the outcome they want. The only way to ‘close the loop’ is to keep them paying attention,” says Momo. “One of the easiest ways to evoke curiosity is to use the word ‘how.’” In the example mentioned above, curiosity is already baked in because your team will want to learn about the details involved in increasing sales by 30% without extra work.
How to use hooks in various settings
“Once you realize the subtle (yet powerful) psychological phenomenon of hooks, you’ll be able to naturally use them everywhere. You’ll find opportunities arise that were out of reach before, since people will find themselves drawn to you. It’s a quiet way of being persuasive, captivating and magnetic,” says Momo, who broke down how to use hooks in three common professional settings.
Hooking people in writing is all about starting strong. “Make the first sentence of anything you write pack a punch. Whether it’s an email subject line or the first line of a social post, start with a BANG. Think of it like a magazine cover — they pull you in while waiting to pay for your heirloom tomatoes and almond milk,” she says.
In a meeting
Asking a powerful question in a meeting can be a surprising way to get buy-in right from the start and drive a productive discussion about an idea. “If you’re in a meeting, asking a question that focuses on the outcome is the perfect way to raise curiosity and get mental buy-in to your idea before anyone even hears it. ‘What if we could [get this outcome]?’”
“Whether at work or in a social setting like a networking event, sharing a success story is the best way to hook someone’s attention. Storytelling makes you memorable and showcases your expertise in a natural way,” says Momo.
She recommends replacing the “So, what do you do?” opener with “Mind if I share a story about what I do?” to spark real conversation and connection and seamlessly transition into talking about your latest project or client in a natural way.
What to do if you feel awkward about using a hook
If the idea of using hooks makes you cringe and feel a bit icky, remember that it’s not about you but about serving the other stakeholders involved. “What do they want that you can help them get? Focus on that,” says Momo.
“It’s normal to feel awkward or stiff when you feel like it’s about yourself, but it’s human nature to help others. Activate that innate drive by shifting the focus onto how you can help the person you’re connecting with.”