Don't Start At The Beginning
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Tracy Johnson
Don’t Start At The Beginning
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If you want to get the attention of listeners, you must hook your audience quickly, Nobody knows more about the importance of beginnings than novelists and screenwriters, but we think their rules of entertainment doesn’t apply to us.

After all, you are delivering four hours of entertainment every day. Listeners tune in to hear what’s going on in our lives and in our studio. We aren’t writing fiction, we’re doing a great radio show about US. That’s sarcasm, by the way, in case you didn’t pick up on it.

The Hook is the first step of a well constructed break, followed by Set-Up, Dress-Up, Payoff and Blackout-and it’s the single most important of the five. With that in mind, here are some guidelines from writers that you can apply to your show.

Here’s how you can become a better storyteller:

Hook Your Audience: Do NOT start at the beginning!

Advice for first-time novelists is, “Throw away the first chapter.” Chances are, chapter 2 is where it starts to get interesting. Start THERE, where the action begins!

What if you remove the first chapter of your break? The first 30 seconds or 2 minutes of a break? Too much? Yes, this means dropping the listener right in to the middle, but if it’s well crafted and compelling, they won’t care.

Get to the meat as quickly as possible. If you’re interviewing a guest, give just enough information to establish credibility. You might even ask the first question before you introduce the guest to hook the audience on the topic. Then, back up and put the question into context.

Don’t put too much emphasis on the amount of context the listener/reader really needs in advance. They’ll get it, if you develop the story in the setup.

Show, Don’t Tell

If you have to TELL your audience that they should care, you’re screwed. They either care or they don’t. It’s either relevant or it isn’t.

The motivation for caring should be inherent in the content. That is addressed in preparation, not in performance. Don’t explain it. Just do it and make it compelling enough to gain their attention.

No History Lessons

How long would you read a book that started with a complete historical perspective before the story begins? How long would you watch a James Bond movie if they explained the character’s history instead of showing the chase scene?

If you feel obligated to include the history, at least don’t put it up front. Bury it where it’ll do the least damage.To be fair, there are some topics where history is interesting and useful, but the historical overview won’t hook your audience.

MYTH: Credibility Is Important

How many times do you see a presentation where the speaker has bullet points and slides on their background? Nobody cares. It doesn’t make what they’re talking about better. And your listeners don’t care about you, either. They care about themselves.

Don’t try and prove how smart you are. If you have something to say, say it. Your brilliance will emerge. You don’t have to give your history or background.

This demonstrates your respect for the audience by caring about their time. When you care about the quality of their time, you’ll show it off by being entertaining, engaging, compelling and interesting. Or at least usefulBy being prepared.

Hook Your Audience: 7 Tricks

If you’re struggling with hooks, or just starting out, there are a few tricks. Use them to open breaks with an impact:

Begin with a question the listener wants answered

It doesn’t have to be a literal question, of course, but suggest a question that begs to be answered by piquing their curiosity. In a good movie, the viewer is immediately intrigued: “Who is this guy? Why is he in this situation? Will he get out of it? What’s this secret thing they keep referring to?”

Make them curious

Curiosity is seduction. Sometimes we suck the life out of topics, when they could be fascinating. Find passion in your topic. Preparation. If YOU don’t care – if you aren’t curious why should they?

Be provocative

Challenge a belief. Even if they instantly disagree, they’ll stay long enough to get mad at you. Start with your most dramatic and/or unpopular assertion. Get it out there. Don’t build toward it. Say it! Then support it (again, set up).

Evoke empathy

Start with a story about real people, or a character in a scenario they identify with.

Promise there will be conflict

We would rarely read a novel or see a movie if not for the promise of conflict. Tension and suspense are compelling. How will this turn out?

Mystery, suspense, intrigue

How many bad books and movies have you stuck with just because you had to find out who did it? Even bad movies or bad books. Look at your topic and find a way to add mystery. ANYTHING worth talking or writing about has potential for mystery which plays on their curiosity.

Conclusion: Hook Your Audience

The hook is the most important part of a story, and the critical part of your radio break.

Your job is to touch the audience emotionally in some way. They remember what they feel.

Your goal should be as author Paul O’Neil stated,

Grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into her windpipe in the second, and hold her against the wall until the end.

That’s a lofty goal, but you can start by just getting them to give you one more moment. One more tune in. Ten more seconds. Then another. And another. Every break, every moment. It will soon become habit.

This is one of the 7 points of reference for air personalities in my 7-point ratings tune up. I’ll show you how to have your best ratings period ever in an exclusive, free webinar on March 13, 2018. Get details and sign up for the webinar here.

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