The Hook Is The Key To Great Storytelling By Andy Meadows

In the age of short attention spans we currently live in asking someone to listen to a story is more challenging than ever. That’s because when they’re not thought out and preplanned stories tend to include too many unnecessary details and run long. Plus, by default most people tell stories chronologically, in the order it happened. The good thing about chronological storytelling is it’s easy for everyone to follow. The bad thing is that simplicity tends to make chronological stories pretty boring. Telling a story in that boring linear fashion also leaves out the most important part, the hook. That hook is without a doubt the key to getting people to listen through the entirety of a story, especially if we’re on the radio where we’re trying to keep the masses interested and engaged. 

Yet, despite how mission critical hooks are, they’re often left out entirely. Mainly that’s because crafting a hook is hard. It takes time to create by pre-planning on our own and coordinating with others to bounce the story off our colleagues or friends to find what works. But, that extra time is well spent because great on-air storytelling starts with identifying the hook since that’s what we tease to. So, we can’t write a good tease without first crafting that hook and without that tease we’re narrowing our on-air audience by not pointing everyone currently listening to our upcoming story.

Here are a few examples of good on-air hooks. The one my consulting mentor and friend Tracy Johnson often uses is similar to an old SNL bit. It’s from a talent he was coaching that told the story of having to back out on a Disneyland trip at the last minute because of other family commitments so he and his wife decided to tell their young kids that the park burned down. The hook he used to get into the story on-air was ‘You know what I love about having young kids…. You can totally lie to them.’ That’s a far more effective way to get into that story than just saying ‘the wife and I loaded up the kids in the car and started heading to Disneyland when we got a text…’ A slightly grosser and more risqué example is from when I was on air telling a story about a time I ran full speed into our bedroom wall while trying to make it to the bathroom to throw up one night when I was sick. My on-air hook was ‘I don’t think it’s gonna work out with my wife and I after what happened in bed last night.’ 

The Oppenheimer movie, which I just now got around to watching since we have two young kids at home, is another great example of storytelling that effectively uses a hook. Instead of going in order, Christopher Nolan made the choice to jump ahead early and let the audience see, but not hear, Oppenheimer and Einstein having a conversation that clearly disturbed Einstein. A scene that he doesn’t pay off until the end of the movie. Nolan’s use of this hook is so compelling it helped to get us all to commit to a 3-hour long movie. On air we’re only asking people to commit a few minutes of their life. However, when people are passively listening as they multi-task, looking for reasons to hit that seek or preset button, using a great hook is just as important.

What do you think? Do you struggle to create hooks or does it come easy to you and what are some great hooks you’ve used lately? Comment below or email me at

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