If It Doesn’t Target Emotions, It’s a Bad Hook

If It Doesn’t Target Emotions, It’s a Bad Hook

by Tracy Johnson

Everyone is aware that attention is at a premium. You have 7 seconds to hook the audience and get them interested. But even if the hook is interesting, it doesn’t mean they’ll be compelled to continue listening. That’s why your hooks have to target emotions.

When the opening line connects to how the audience feels, you have a chance to make an impact.

Human beings are wired to make snap decisions. Is this for me or is it not? Am I interested or not interested? It’s not a logical decision or calculated decision. It’s an emotional decision.

That’s why logical and informational hooks are a waste of time. Hooks that target emotions are the only way to tilt the scale in your favor.

How Hooks Target Emotions

Obviously, Singh interesting with a provocative hook immediately is important. And it’s easy to understand that appealing to an emotion is a good idea.

But what does it mean to target emotions in a hook? What type of hook gives you the best chance of grabbing that precious attention? There are hundreds to target, of course, as diagramed in Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions:

That’s probably more emotions than you want to target. So simplify it by focusing on Plutchik’s 8 core emotions:

Target Emotions: Fear

This may be the most powerful motivator. Television newscasts rely on this to attract viewers with terrifying teases. It’s common to hear teases that provoke fear, like this:

Will your children may be exposed to a potentially deadly virus…at daycare?”

It gets attention by sounding an alarm. It challenges the comfort zone. This is an extreme example, of course. But you get the idea.

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But along with fear comes the opposite: Safety and reassurance that all is okay in their world is also a strong emotion. That may fit your personality better, and it appeal is similar.


Anger inspires audiences, and is often used by news-oriented talk shows to cause outrage. The hyperbole and extreme points of view stir an emotional spark that can provoke action and reaction. Do you remember the classic movie Network? The television anchor, played by Peter Finch, created a passionate following with his phrase, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The same approach works today for dozens of hosts and personalities.

Hooking your audience with a line that causes instant anger may be polarizing, but it will keep them into your content.

Target Emotions: Sadness

You don’t want to over-use this emotion because it can be pretty depressing and affect your brand image, but appealing to sympathy or empathy can be a powerful way to get into a break. I’ll never forget the Monday morning after Princess Diana died (August, 1997). That morning, Jeff & Jer started their show by saying,

If you’re like us, you’re not feeling very good this morning. And we just can’t do our regular show. So if you want to talk about what happened, maybe we can be each other’s support group.

They took calls all morning long. Powerful.


The opposite of sadness is joy. There’s something contagious about celebration, hope and a positive outlook. Starting a break in a way that causes the audience to feel good should be a primary goal.

Target Emotions: Disgust

Disgust is an emotional response of revulsion to something considered offensive, distasteful, or unpleasant. You may think it’s close to anger, but it’s definitely unique.

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Though it’s one of the core emotions, this is hard to target in hooks, though it is a primary target for television news stations. It’s common to hear phrases like, “Coverage you can count on” or “The one you trust for traffic and weather” regularly.


If you can hook the audience by getting them to anticipate what’s ahead, you win. Anticipation includes hope, expectation and the feeling that something good, or at least interesting, is on the way. One tactic of effective hooking is giving the payoff to the story as the hook. For example:

I cut off the tip of my finger.

Though this is the punchline, it intrigues the listener to find out what happened that leads up to that end. Most personalities should learn to master this emotion more than any other.


Making a new discovery can also hook them, as long as it’s about something that actually matters to them. Informing with facts or details about the mundane isn’t exciting. It’s an ordeal.

For example

A new SUV is coming out, and it’s going to change your commute to work.

That’s not going to lure anyone deeper into the content. However, if you dress it up by targeting surprise, you have a chance:

How would you like to have your SUV drive you to work each day? We’re one step closer, and it’s going to rock your world.


The brain makes decisions at warp speed. Keep these key emotions in mind to give yourself the best chance of keeping listeners through a break.

Author: Tracy Johnson

Tracy Johnson specializes in radio talent coaching, radio consulting for programming and promotions and developing digital strategies for brands.

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