fbpx Book review: Hook your Audience (volume 1) | Ecsite

Book review: Hook your Audience (volume 1)

  • October 2021
  • Education & learning
  • Book or article
  • Report

Colin Johnson is an Honorary Fellow of Ecsite and an educational consultant. His experience includes science teaching, teacher education, and directing a science centre. Here he shares his thoughts on Paul McCrory's toolkit of performance techniques to emotionally engage child and family audiences in interactive, educational presentations.

Paul McCrory, HOOK Training Ltd, 2021 pp339

ISBN 978-1-8384618-0-5 (paperback) 978-1-8384618-1-2 (ebook)

Science communicators of every stripe regard the ‘informal presentation’ as key to their professional output – but their interpretation of what a ‘presentation’ involves can vary from the crudely shouted messages above the heads of a passing crowd to the delicately engaging public conversations with an audience that only the best presenters can develop. Paul McCrory’s new book invites you to reflect upon all aspects of your presenting ability, and explains in detail how to hone your skills and your audience sensitivity to a point where a thoroughly professional job can be achieved.

Starting from the reminder that “in informal education, nobody has to listen to you”, Paul McCrory warns against being over-optimistic in the amount of scientific content you try to share, and advises caution in assuming from the start that a quiet audience is a receptive one. The key to success lies in finding the right kind of ‘hooks’ to capture the attention of your listeners, engaging them in a way that gives them the feeling that they, too, have a part to play in the success of the show. Good presenters, he adds, are not afraid to share something of themselves, and they exercise good judgement in how far to go in doing so.

As McCrory points out, the audience will at first be more interested in you than in anything you say or do. Freshness in every show is important, and skilled presenters can always give an impression of spontaneity within what is actually a very carefully planned event. There follows detailed support on how this can be achieved. The author then goes on to suggest the importance of “infecting the audience with your emotions” – a skill that needs developing with the greatest care. Well-considered advice is available here, too. Linked to this, and requiring equally careful judgement, is the ability to be ‘playful’ in public. You will already realise that the author has dissected these aspects of presenting skills with great care, and that he has clear practical advice to offer in all of them.

An informal science ‘presentation’ should never even attempt to be a piece of one-way communication. In addition to the subtleties already touched upon, there are explicit ways of engaging the audience, such as posing questions, dealing with the answers, and using volunteers to step forward and assist in the presentation.

Questioning skills are widely discussed in educational publications, both formal and otherwise, and this book offers a clear set of guidelines for posing questions to a large audience and – critically – for dealing with the responses they evoke. As for direct audience participation, “Make your volunteers heroes” says McCrory, and then he tells you how to do this. Finally, he addresses the difficult topic of using humour – such a personal and risky tactic with an unfamiliar audience, but one which can be powerful if well applied.

Appetite whetted? My account may have given you the impression that this is a book of hints and tips, but this would be misleading. The author does indeed provide a detailed summary – free of charge online (at https://www.hooktraining.com/hook-your-audience-summary/) – but the complete text extends to more than 300 pages of fully considered practical advice. Although the modest term ‘toolkit’ is used, this is a far from superficial treatment of the topic. (It is supported by a glossary of a dozen pages!)

There are references to the literature and also a list of recommended books. The short but perfect section at the end called ‘How to Improve’ begins “There is no single best way to develop your delivery skills as an informal educator. What is important, though, is that you find a process that works for you and that allows you to keep reflecting on what you do onstage. Reflection is key.”

So who should use this book? The answer is ‘many more people than you might at first think’. There are several reasons for this. Informal science presenters with good experience already will undoubtedly refresh their approach and reflect valuably on their existing skills. Beginners will have a compendium of the best advice – though they may come to appreciate its value more as they gain in experience. Swallowing this book whole at the first attempt will not guarantee success – but reading the summaries and thinking hard about what you’re about to do will prove hugely supportive. Perhaps even more importantly, this book should be read by those who manage and direct informal education programmes. It’s the opinion (and experience) of this reviewer that the standard of informal science presentations is extremely variable. I’ve seen audiences entranced, and leaving a science show bubbling with enthusiasm and enquiring chatter. I’ve also seen a 9-year old boy humiliated and brought to tears by an inept presenter who – after bamboozling him with an illusion – accused him in front of an audience of “lying”. If professional standards are to be raised, audiences and learners captivated, and the full objectives of informal science presentations are to be achieved, then this is the book to be read and applied. Order a set of copies now!


The full text of this book has generously been made available free of charge online by the author until the end of October 2021. Go to https://www.hooktraining.com/hya1/.

As a paperback through the Amazon regions which offer print books.
PDF ebook through https://payhip.com/b/E17lH
Bulk orders through www.hooktraining.com/hya1bulkorders

Full disclosure – I was just one of no fewer than 95 ‘beta readers’ who commented on early drafts of this publication. Setting aside any small influence I may have had, this process of consultation with so many people active in the field has ensured a publication which has been given a more severe ‘reality check’ than any other you may find.


  • hook your audience
  • engaging audiences
  • educational presentations