How to Hook Your Audience: 3 Steps for a Catchy Opening

Angelina Jolie

The first few seconds of your presentation are pivotal. Will you capture your audience’s attention or will they lose interest for the next 15 minutes? With the rise of social media, the importance of those first few seconds cannot be understated. According to a LinkedIn internal study in 2018, viewer completion rate increased by 200% for videos made less than 30 seconds long. Facebook released a similar statistic:

“65% of people who watch the first three seconds of a video will watch for at least ten seconds and 45% continue watching for thirty seconds”

Facebook October 2015 Internal Data

In other words, people will watch content if it is short, but especially if you can hold their attention for at least the first three seconds. One of the best ways of doing so is having a strong, personalized opening constructed using the following 3 steps:

  1. Identify a common thread between your subject matter and the audience
  2. Make that common thread relatable (through a device like personal anecdote)
  3. Use the common thread to segue into your subject matter

In this post, we’ll break down how Angelina Jolie designed a personalized opening for her Women in Entertainment keynote of 2017.

1. Identify the Common Thread

Let’s start with step 1. What was the subject matter of Jolie’s speech? It was women empowerment:

  • There are many women around the world who fear to have their voices heard due to religious, governmental, or societal expectations
  • However, it is a human right for every woman to live her life in full expression of herself
  • We need to show solidarity with these women and champion their voices

Who was the audience? It was women in the entertainment industry.

What is a common thread between the two? One thread could be womanhood. With Jolie being a member of her audience demographic, she would be able to draw from her own experience to make this thread relatable and personal. It is in fact the thread she ultimately decides to go with.

2. Make the Common Thread Relatable

Watch the clip below to see how Jolie uses a personal anecdote/slice of life to make the common thread of womanhood relatable to her audience:

Presentation Clip 1

By giving the audience a peek into her own life, Jolie establishes a relationship of trust that instantly increases her credibility. Because the audience can now empathize with her as more than a source of information, but as a person just like them, they are more inclined to listen to what she has to say. Jolie does this by talking about experiences they all share as women – listening, thinking about others, and getting ready in the morning. The laughs and nods from the crowd validate how successful this approach was at creating that audience connection.

When thinking about how to do something similar for your own presentation, one of the most effective ways is making things personal. If it were a man presenting the same subject matter to the same audience, he could instead talk about his sister or his mother, or his girlfriend or his wife. Or a movie or book with a female protagonist that he knows everyone has seen. We each have a wealth of memories and anecdotes to draw from to make subjects relatable to our audiences.

3. Segue

At this point, your audience is hooked into what you have to say because, so far, it’s been about something they can relate to and care about. If you can make them realize your actual subject matter is just a few steps away, you will be able to successfully carry over that interest and enthusiasm into the rest of the presentation. Jolie accomplishes this through expansion of scope.

Building off her previous description of shared experiences, she begins to talk about how they, as women in entertainment, also share the experience of unfettered expression. Expanding that view out into the world, however, she points out there are so many other women who do not share in that opportunity. This smoothly drawn connection taps once again into the audience’s empathy. They empathized with Jolie when she made herself relatable and personable. Now they empathize with all the women in the world who are also so relatable but live in much more restrictive circumstances. Watch the clip below to see this technique of expansion of scope in action:

Presentation Clip 2

By the end of her speech, Jolie was successful at getting her subject matter across to her audience and it was in large part thanks to her well-designed, emotional, and empathetic opening section.


When creating your own presentation, follow these 3 steps to achieve Jolie’s mastery of the personalized opening:

1. Identify a common thread between your subject matter and the audience

2. Make that common thread relatable

3. Use the common thread to segue into your subject matter

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