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Nayomi Chibana

Written by: Nayomi Chibana

April 1, 2016

12 Presentation Hooks Used By the Best TED Presenters

ted presenters presentation hooks

“Today, you will learn something that will add 10 years to your life.”

“20 years from now, your job won’t exist.”

“Did you know that more people have access to a mobile phone than a toilet?”

Presentation starters like these are key to grabbing your audience’s attention and making the most of the time allotted to you.

Instead of thanking the audience, making an unrelated joke or apologizing for a technical issue, why not dive right into the subject matter with a gripping statement or thought-provoking question?

To help you craft your own killer presentation starters, we’ve sorted through some of the most popular TED talks in history and created this list of the most effective ways to start a presentation.

(Many of these presentations starters are successful because they appeal to human emotions such as curiosity, awe, surprise or fear. You can read more on creating viral content that triggers emotional responses in this post.)

How to Start a Presentation

1 Make a provocative statement.


“I want to discuss with you this afternoon why you’re going to fail to have a great career.”

One surefire way to get your audience’s attention is to make a provocative statement that creates interest and a keen desire to know more about what you have to say.

The presentation above, for example, does just that by making a surprising first statement that inspires surprise, amusement, curiosity and fear at the same time.

With 4.8 million views and counting, this talk by an economics professor draws you in precisely because it steers clear of the traditional talk, using blunt humor to enumerate all the irrational excuses people make for not pursuing their dreams and passions.

2 Incite curiosity.

“I need to make a confession at the outset here. A little over 20 years ago, I did something that I regret, something that I’m not particularly proud of. Something that, in many ways, I wish no one would ever know, but here I feel kind of obliged to reveal.”

Another way to grab your audience by the collar is to incite curiosity. In this popular TED talk viewed over 15.4 million times, career analyst Dan Pink succeeds at getting the entire audience to look at him intently, waiting for his next word, by resorting to an opening statement that builds suspense.

Since human beings are by nature curious creatures, most people in the audience were probably asking themselves “What did he do?” and imagining all sorts of possible scenarios.

3 Shock the audience.


“You will live seven and a half minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.”

In many ways related to the previous two presentation starters, this hook involves making a counter-intuitive or paradigm-shifting statement that goes against a popular belief or simply shocks due to the perceived impossibility of the proposed statement.

This introduction by game designer Jane McGonigal, for example, achieves a level of surprise by making a seemingly improbable assertion. After hearing this kind of statement, most people will want to listen to your entire talk, if not out of genuine interest, then at least for the sake of pacifying their incredulity.

(By the way, she makes good on her promise by revealing a game she designed to boost resilience, which is backed by scientific research.)

4 Tell a story.


“When I was seven years old and my sister was just five years old, we were playing on top of a bunk bed…”

As covered in a previous post, storytelling is the key ingredient that separates good, engaging presentations from bad ones that lack a clear message and persuasive delivery.

In his popular talk on the secret to being more productive, psychologist Shawn Achor tells a childhood story to lead into the effectiveness of positive psychology. He then goes on to provide concrete evidence backing his claim that pursuing happiness, rather than productivity for its own sake, actually makes you more–not less–productive.

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5 Be authentic.


“I’m going to tell you a little bit about my TEDxHouston Talk. I woke up the morning after I gave that talk with the worst vulnerability hangover of my life. And I actually didn’t leave my house for about three days.”

Another way to draw your audience into your own world is to tell a revealing personal story. This is certainly not easy but, when done right, can quickly spark interest in your topic and build an emotional connection between you and your audience.

In Brene Brown’s talk on confronting shame, she begins by admitting that she felt embarrassed over the revelations she had made in her massively popular TED talk on embracing vulnerability.

6 Quote an influential person.

One of the easiest ways to start a presentation is to quote an influential person. In these cases, it’s best to use a pithy, short and relevant quote to catch your audience’s attention.

In the widely viewed video above, for example, writer Andrew Solomon quotes Emily Dickinson to begin his talk on depression, an illness he asserts affects many more people than the official figures suggest.

The quote is particularly powerful and effective because it eloquently describes the state of depression from the point of view of a person who is feeling all the emotions associated with it.

7 Begin with a captivating visual.

To introduce this fascinating TED talk on how movements really get started, entrepreneur Derek Sivers uses some surprising footage to support his statements. They are especially captivating because they debunk widely held beliefs on the matter, proving that it takes more than just a charismatic leader to start a revolution of any sort.

8 Ask a question.


“Do you think it’s possible to control someone’s attention? Even more than that, what about predicting human behavior?”

In this attention-grabbing presentation on the flaws in human perception, world-famous pickpocket Apollo Robbins starts off by asking the audience a question that leads right into the meat of his talk, which has been viewed worldwide more than 10.5 million times.

In these cases, it’s best to pose a question that will really get your audience thinking and, in the best possible scenario, challenge their prevailing beliefs or preconceptions on a certain topic.

9 Use silence.

Another effective technique–which should only be used if you’re a seasoned presenter and are able to maintain your composure throughout–is to leverage silence to command a room.

Watch, for example, how musician Amanda Palmer starts off her talk by not saying a word, simply breathing in and out and using props to communicate her message.

Although you may not want to resort to both silence and using a prop in your presentation, this is a very effective dramatic technique that, if done right, quickly draws all eyes to you.

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10 Start with a prop.

Considering that the audience’s gaze is attracted by motion and visual objects, another way to hook them right from the outset is to use a prop.

Take a look at how best-selling author Susan Cain uses a physical object to visually complement her opening story on her first summer camp experience. It not only adds a dramatic effect, it also keeps viewers eyes on her while on stage.

11 Tell a relevant joke.


“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar.”

Humor is not only a good way to break the ice and endear the audience to you right from the outset, it can also be very effective in getting your point across if it’s relevant to your talk.

Lie detector Pamela Meyer, for example, deftly uses both humor and an element of surprise in her opening statement as she tells the audience that the person to their right is probably a liar. This gets the audience to laugh and then focus on her topic at the same time.

She goes on to give some shocking statistics (such as that on any given day, we’re lied to up to 200 times) and delivers an intriguing talk that has been seen close to 13 million times.

12 Use the word “imagine.”


“Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary.”

Lastly, there are times when leading your audience to use their imaginations is the best bet. You can prompt them to do this by using the commands “imagine,” “think of” or “picture this.”

Plane crash survivor Ric Elias, for example, uses this technique in the video above to quickly thrust his audience into the central scene of his harrowing story.

What about your next presentation? Have you thought about how you’re going to set the mood for your talk? If you have an effective presentation hook or starter in mind that you don’t see here, don’t hesitate to share it with us in the comments section below.

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We’re stingy and don’t share emails with anyone.

About the Author

Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

5 responses to “12 Presentation Hooks Used By the Best TED Presenters”

  1. […] TED how-to-start-a-presentation […]

  2. […] Find more useful tips on how to engage your audience with storytelling techniques here or how to hook your audience with these effective presentation starters here. […]

  3. […] RELATED: 12 Presentation Hooks Used by the Best TED Presenters  […]

  4. Greg Holly says:

    Nice to read and watch. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and wanted to say thank you for answering all the questions on my mind.

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