Step 3: Design Your Hook

Episode Planning Guide

Amy Domestico avatar
Written by Amy Domestico
Updated over a week ago

If a listener isn’t hooked in the first 30 seconds of your show, they might turn their attention elsewhere. All it takes is the swipe of a finger or a click to navigate away from your podcast. Design a hook for the first 30-90 seconds of your show. You might have heard journalists, podcasters, TV hosts, and other content creators talk about writing hooks for their content. Many content creators call the hook a “tease” or a "lede". You’re setting the table and making your listeners curious about what they will eat.

The first step to crafting a compelling intro is to empathize with your audience. Why does the episode you've planned interest them? Is there a specific guest or topic they're excited about? Is there something that might elicit an emotional reaction? What fascinating questions, stories, and facts are explained during the course of the episode? If you start with the motivations and tastes of your listener, you'll be able to come up with a list of hooks to try.

There are an infinite number of ways to hook an audience. These strategies are pulled from top podcasts and radio shows: 

  • Use rhetorical questions, topic overviews, sound bites, and other content teasers to pique the curiosity of your listeners. Revel in mystery.

  • Tap into the emotions of your audience via storytelling.

  • Tell a joke or use a humorous anecdote.

  • Convey the practical reasons why a listener might be interested in this week's episode.

Remember: Each segment, interview, and episode is an experiment. You can try a strategy over the course of a few weeks and look for signs that it's resonating with your audience (and pulling in new listeners!). As your show evolves, so will your intro.

A note on music: Make sure that you hook listeners into your show before you play music (or while you’re playing music). Music should be brief. The point of the first 30 seconds is to grab the attention of your listener. Many hosts play long music clips at the start of each episode and lose the opportunity to hook their listeners.

Below, we’ve put examples of hooks from a few different podcasts. Notice how they are all short and sweet.

ESPN Fantasy Focus

Most episodes of this show use a "just the facts" style lede - the hosts introduce the topics and themselves as quickly as possible so the main content can take center stage. Fantasy Labs, Move the Sticks, and Call Your Girlfriend use a similar approach.

Dinner Party Download

The Dinner Party Download is designed to “help listeners win their next dinner party”. Similar to a real dinner party, the show begins with an “ice breaker” - a very short 15-30 second joke that makes the listener laugh.

Underground Wellness Radio

Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness Radio hooks his listeners by creating a unique opening montage for each episode. He finds the best quotation from his guest and edits that over his short music clip. By the 2 minute mark, he’s teased his topic, introduced his guest, and begun the interview. Check out an example here.

This American Life

Ira Glass introduces a fascinating problem, question, or event to the listener and then brings in an interview soundbyte. He calls this the “prologue”. This is a "why" driven lede. The question of why the host chose to focus the show on a topic lures the listener. Serial, Radiolab, How Do We Fix It, and WTF with Marc Maron have a similar approach.

Action items

  1. Think about your favorite TV shows, podcasts, and books - How do authors and hosts hook you in during the first 30 seconds?

  2. Brainstorm a list of 3-5 hooks that might work for your show. Remember - you can experiment with new hooks over time.

  3. Choose the topic for your first show and design the hook.

Did this answer your question?